A living link to one of the most glamorous eras of American history, the Jekyll Island Historic District is also one of the largest ongoing restoration projects in the southeastern United States. A visit to this 240-acre riverfront area is like stepping back in time to the Gilded Age, with croquet grounds, manicured gardens, and even ferry boats with names like the Rockefeller and the J. P. Morgan.
The Historic District essentially comprises the buildings and grounds of the old Jekyll Island Club, not only a full-service resort complex—consisting of the main building and several amazing “cottages” that are mansions themselves—but a sort of living history exhibit chronicling that time when Jekyll was a gathering place for the world’s richest and most influential people.
The Queen Anne-style main clubhouse, with its iconic turret, dates from 1886. Within a couple of years the club had already outgrown it, and the millionaires began building the ornate cottages on the grounds surrounding it. The Chicora cottage is gone, demolished after the supposedly accidental gunfire death of Edwin Gould in 1917, with only a hole in the ground remaining, but most of the others have been fully restored as lodgings. In 2000 a renovation took place for the most magnificent outbuilding, the 24-bedroom Crane Cottage, a Mediterranean villa that also hosts a fine restaurant. The most recent renovation was the 2010 reopening of the Indian Mound Cottage, once William Rockefeller’s vacation getaway, to tours.
The Jekyll Island Museum (100 Stable Rd., 912/635-4036, daily 9am-5pm, free), in the Historic District at the old club stables, houses some good history exhibits. The museum also provides a number of guided themed tours (daily 11am, 1pm, and 3pm, $16 adults, $8 ages 6-12) focusing on the Historic District, including the popular “Passport to the Century” (which includes entrance to two restored cottages) and “In the Service of Others” (focusing on the support staff of the golden age of the Jekyll Island Club). You can also purchase a guidebook for self-guided tours of the Historic District.