Home Travel Armchair Adventures: Joy and Treasure on Georgia’s Jekyll Island

Armchair Adventures: Joy and Treasure on Georgia’s Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island
Sunrise in Jekyll Island, GA

By Evelyn Kelly, PhD 

The Spanish moss on the old oak trees waved us to the Georgia coast and Jekyll Island, the former haunt of the rich and famous. Leaving the rumble of I-95, we float on a paved road on the savannahs of sawgrass on either side. A feral sow and ten piglets run along the side of the road. 

Toll Gate 

There is a $10 fee to use the causeway to the island. Cars in the other two lanes are zipping on, and the gate goes up and down, but the one in front of us is jammed. The driver of a black truck tried to pay the toll with $1 bills and has jammed the machine. We sit for 30 minutes before someone comes to fix it. 

After our delay, we joyfully move across the causeway to one of the many hotels on Jekyll Island. We lavish in the aroma of the salt breezes and think about what General James Oglethorpe must have felt when he had the idea of founding a colony to empty the debtors’ prisons and bring “the deserving poor” to a new land. 

Jekyll Island Seafood 

We cannot go to coastal Georgia without eating seafood, so we headed to Zachary’s Riverhouse, an old restaurant with an ambiance to match. Being Southerners, we are familiar with grits. We ordered shrimp and andouille cream sauce over cheese grits and blue crab cakes with remoulade sauce and hush puppies. 

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Touring in the Rain 

It was misting, but it did not take the joy from Jekyll Island. We donned rain gear and headed to the Mosaic Museum which told the history of Native Americans, Spanish missionaries, English settlers, French planters, millionaires, modern residents, and tourists. We rode the tram around the island, entranced by the stories told by the ranger-historian of its many occupants. 

The beauty and solitude appealed to a group of people who founded the Jekyll Island Cottage colony. The great industrial barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries—the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, J.P. Morgan, the Pulitzers, and the Goulds—built cottages and a clubhouse between 1888 and 1928. 

Mark Twain coined the term “the Gilded Age” in a novel. It meant everything was covered with gold on the outside but not much on the inside. This led to fanciful newspaper articles: the streets were paved with gold, houses were studded with pearls, door knockers were diamonds, and the people took baths in warm milk. Of course, these were tales. The cottages were not as elaborate or pretentious as the homes in Newport or the Hudson. 

We hide, you find 

Jekyll has a treasure hunt every January and February. Volunteer “beach buddies” hide up to 200 plastic-colored balls in the park. If you find one, take it to the welcome center for a gorgeous glass ball made by local artists. We enjoyed talking with the ranger who “hid” the balls daily. People come from everywhere to participate in this treasure hunt.