31•81, the Magazine of Jekyll Island: Vol 4, No 2

Page 1


Our new overwater restaurant, bar, and live music venue delivers coastal comfort food, ice cold drinks, breezy open-air dining, and stunning riverside sunsets.

If there’s a line, it’s worth it.


The Lost Era

Shortly after WWII, the island fell into near-ruin and teetered on the edge of survival


When B.B. and Otis

Played Jekyll

Late in the Jim Crow era, the island was a hot place for legendary black acts to perform

48 A Cleansing Fire

Conservators use fire to decrease wildfire risk and improve the island's biodiversity


Under the Trees

Camping on Jekyll is a costfriendly way to see the island … and make a few friends, too


Gazing at Jekyll's night sky is both more complicated and exactly as simple as it sounds

1 brian austin lee Spring/Summer 2020 • Vol. 4 No. 2
jekyllwharf.com 833 315 7988 No frills. No fuss. Just favorites.


...to a new tradition.

Year after year, their footprints appear on our sandy shores. They don’t return for the expected. They don’t stay for the same routine. They want to leave their prints on natural beaches, wander trails winding beneath wild canopies. Join them in the adventure. Find your way back. jekyllisland.com

2 all photos by brian austin lee traces Act II Once a cultural hotspot, the island's amphitheater awaits a comeback flora The Mighty Magnolia A sweet Southern icon has deep roots on Jekyll fauna Bunnies, Bunnies, Everywhere These island cutie pies are fruitful by multiplying guardian Preservation and Salvation Taylor Davis and team save and protect old Jekyll Island firsts Holding On to the Magic Tallu Fish loved Jekyll Island, so she started a museum artisan Pastry Pro The man behind Jekyll’s most scrumptious sweets my jekyll Chris Nowicki Days of 4-H camps and marsh walks paths Time Traveler The Horton Road trail links two island eras 12 14 16 19 22 25 28 72 19 16 25
jekyllisland.com Sunrise on Driftwood Beach 7:18am 1:15pm Fishing with dad at Clam Creek 9:12am 11:48am Lunch at the Historic Wharf 4:45pm Step back in time at Horton House Sunset picnic at St. Andrews Beach 7:46pm 3:15pm Ice cream break 2:30pm
Exploring the Georgia Sea Turtle Center A round of mini golf
find your way back...

Roseate Spoonbills get their pink coloration from the crustaceans and other aquatic invertebrates they eat.

Dear friends,

100 James Road • Jekyll Island, GA 31527 jekyllisland.com

executive director

Jones Hooks director of marketing & communications

Alexa Hawkins

creative director

Claire Davis

Photography courtesy of Jekyll Island Authority unless otherwise noted. This magazine was published by the Jekyll Island Authority in cooperation with Atlanta Magazine Custom Media. All contents ©2020. All rights reserved.


Sean McGinnis

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about 31 · 81

Published twice a year, 31·81 pairs stunning photography with thoughtful articles to tell the stories of Georgia’s unique barrier island.

Jekyll Island lies at 31 degrees north latitude and 81 degrees west longitude.


To subscribe at no charge, sign up at jekyllisland.com/magazine.

To update your subscription information, email magazine@jekyllisland.com.

editorial director

Kevin Benefield

design director

Cristina Villa Hazar editor

John Donovan

associate publisher

Jon Brasher

travel sales director

Jill Teter

production director

Whitney Tomasino

I always enjoy hearing people describe their feelings when they find their way back to Jekyll Island after being away, whether for just a few days or a longer period. As they drive past the towers on the causeway, their worries fade away and their spirits lift higher. Any stress from their daily lives just disappears. I hear it time and time again. That’s because Jekyll is a place not just for relaxation; it’s a place to recharge and feel rejuvenated. The island has provided an escape from the pressures of daily life for generations, and it continue to do so even in these trying times.

Today, it’s difficult to imagine a time during which a place of respite is so important, as not a single corner of our world has been exempted from the impacts of the Coronavirus. But we are grateful that Jekyll Island continues to offer many of the experiences that travelers are looking for: uncrowded beaches, fresh air and natural spaces. And the Jekyll Island Authority’s more than 350 employees understand their vital role during this difficult moment, having undertaken extraordinary efforts to ensure a unified approach to the health and safety of those living and working on Jekyll Island, and those looking to visit for a while.

The way we travel and interact with one another may have changed, but the enchanting natural beauty and fascinating historic places on Jekyll Island have not. Our pristine landscapes — from the variety of beach shorelines to the majestic maritime forests to the vibrant marsh habitats — still await you. The power of this singular island to inspire and uplift is undiminished. So many of us need a place to experience wide open spaces, spend time with people we love, engage in healthy recreation, or simply rest and reflect. Jekyll Island is that place.

Whether you are visiting for the first time or are returning to make new memories, we invite you to leave your cares at the causeway and welcome you to Jekyll Island.

4 5 jeremy harwell welcome
On the cover
Photograph by Brian Austin Lee Jones Hooks JEKYLL ISLAND AUTHORITY BOARD OF DIRECTORS Joseph B. Wilkinson chairman St. Simons Island, GA Mark Williams commissioner, dnr Atlanta, GA Joy Burch-Meeks Screven, GA William “Bill” H. Gross secretary/treasurer Kingsland, GA Hugh “Trip” Tollison Savannah, GA Dr. L.C. “Buster” Evans Bolingbroke, GA Robert “Bob” W. Krueger vicechair Hawkinsville, GA Glen Willard Richmond Hill, GA Dale Atkins Baxley, GA
The power of this singular island to inspire and uplift is undiminished."

From Sand to Stars

For many of us who live in an LED world, filled with streetlights and headlights and the ever-present man-made glow of urban and suburban landscapes, the quiet blackness of a Jekyll Island night can be overwhelming. Maybe even a little scary. When you're used to all that artificial help, finding your own way through the night can be challenging.

That all-enveloping darkness is one of a number of breath-sipping surprises that greet first-time visitors to the island. Newcomers have been trekking here for years to enjoy sunshine and Jekyll's beautiful beaches, of course. But after they get here, when the sun sets and the island slips into darkness for the first time, those Jekyll Island rookies often find themselves swept away by the beauty of the night. Especially the night sky. In Georgia, there may be no better time and place than a Jekyll Island beach at night to feel awed and small at the same time.

In this issue of 31•81, The Magazine of Jekyll Island, Atlanta native Elizabeth Florio takes you on a stargazing trip around the island (page 30), pointing out the best spots and the best ways to make the most of our spectacular nights.

Day or night, the natural beauty of Jekyll is its biggest draw; its beaches, its flora (page 14), and its fauna (page 16). All that nature, though, needs a helping hand once in a while. Rebecca Burns has the story of how local conservationists use carefully controlled fires to keep the island's forests healthy and teeming with life (page 46).

Keeping Jekyll's rich history intact—see Tony Rehagen's story on a sometimes forgotten era of the island's past (page 38)—is another big task, as a quick ride through the Historic District shows. After all, those cottages and other buildings, many well more than a century old, don't take care of themselves. That's where Taylor Davis and his team of volunteer preservationists come in (page 19).

There's lots more in this issue of 31•81 including Jewel Wicker's look back (page 56) at a period when blues legend B.B. King and Georgia native Otis Redding, among others, made Jekyll Island a regular stop for some of the biggest black entertainment acts of the time. And don't miss Jennifer Rainey Marquez's talk with a much more modern star; longtime Jekyll Island Club pastry chef Carl Sears (page 25). The Club's key lime pie is truly unbeatable.

So settle in. Spend a few days (and nights). We're proud to bring you the stories of a place that is truly special; past and present, from sand to stars.

1 Jewel Wicker, entertainment and culture reporter, enjoys writing about music, film, TV, and more for publications such as Billboard, Teen Vogue The Hollywood Reporter,

and Atlanta magazine. The Atlanta native also worked with Spotify to curate 30 stories honoring songs and women for black history month, which became the basis for a two-day pop-up exhibit in New York.

2 Brian Austin Lee is an award-winning photographer. He is often encircled by the charm of Jekyll Island as a team member of the Jekyll Island Authority. In addition to this magazine, his work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, O The Oprah Magazine, and Atlanta magazine. The UGA Grady College alumnus currently resides in the Golden Isles.

7 contributors A curated selection of American and fair-trade handcrafted jewelry and gifts that are sure to evoke precious Jekyll Island memories for years to come. 32 Pier Road | 912-635-2643 | thecottageji.com editor’s note 6
2 1
In Georgia, there may be no better time and place than a Jekyll Island beach at night to feel awed and small at the same time."
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Act II

Jekyll’s amphitheater, once a cultural fixture, awaits its encore

Through a sea of Spanish moss in a forest just north of the firehouse on Stable Road is an amphitheater. More than 40 years ago, its 2,000 seats were filled with residents and tourists watching popular musicals as wood storks soared overhead and stars lit the stage.

Today, the venue lies in wait for the next curtain to rise.

After it was built in 1972, the amphitheater quickly became the center of the island’s rich theater scene. North Carolina playwright Paul Green brought history to life in the musical Drumbeats in Georgia, advertised as "the story of a state's birth and struggle." Running

for three summers from 1973 to 1975, the theater helped revitalize other historic structures on the island, including the servants quarters and Villa Ospo Cottage, which provided lodging for dozens of performers.

The amphitheater continued to be a hub for musical theater over the next three decades. Various university companies took up residence. Florida State University produced as many as four shows there every season until 1983, when the University of Georgia theater department took over for four years. By 1989, Valdosta State University produced plays there.

Longtime Jekyll resident Pat Overholt remembers seeing five Broadway musicals a season at the

amphitheater with her fellow island residents and those from elsewhere in Glynn County. The theater companies were regional, but they employed homegrown talent, so locals could watch their neighbors perform. Attending shows became a regular part of island culture.

"We arrived on Jekyll Island in 1987 and saw shows there for about 15 years before it was closed,” Overholt says.

When Valdosta State University left in 2004 after state budget cuts, the theater’s owner, Jekyll Island Authority, expanded programming. Visitors could catch film screenings and concerts. But the amphitheater closed in 2005 and, in the years since, has fallen victim to the elements. Hurricanes have damaged the stage beyond repair.

Since at least 2013, some have been looking for ways to restore the famed venue and bring back the musicals that once graced the stage. Though other developments across the island have taken priority in recent years, reviving the amphitheater is still on a lot of to-do lists.

In late 2019, JIA executive director Jones Hooks noted

interest among some local hoteliers to reopen the amphitheater as an events space. He suggested that a promotions company might want to partner with the hotels to draw musical acts and other entertainment options. While the venue would need renovations to its stage, its concrete-and-metal bleachers are mostly intact. And the setting itself—next to a pond, nestled among the trees on the west side of the island—makes the amphitheater a one-of-a-kind Southern showplace just dying for a show.

A second act may yet be in the wings.

courtesy of mosaic, jekyll island museum
brian austin lee 13
Since at least 2013, some have been looking for ways to restore the famed venue and bring back the musicals that once graced the stage."

The Mighty Magnolia

A sweet Southern icon has deep roots on Jekyll

The magnolia, with its large, showy blossoms and tough, leathery leaves, is not unique to this region. It grows throughout Asia, too, and in other parts of the U.S. But perhaps no other tree is as closely identified with gracious Southern living as this grand old evergreen.

"Its blossoms have a powerful fragrance, which you'll see if you cut them and use them for decoration in your home," says Cliff Gawron, the Jekyll Island Authority's director of landscaping and planning.

Jekyll offers several spots for enjoying the trees, Gawron says, including the Jekyll Island Campground, the Crane Bicycle Path, and the shady avenue leading to Indian Mound Cottage. "Those were planted by [William] Rockefeller in 1918," Gawron says of the several magnolias on the path, "so they date back to the Club Era."

Named for French botanist Pierre Magnol, the trees' fruiting follicles produce red berries that are consumed and then scattered by birds. The trees also are noted for their often majestic height. "Some can grow to 80 feet, as you can see in our historic district," Gawron says.


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Marsh rabbits mate year-round, but they really hop to it during the spring, when you're liable to see more than 100 of them along Jekyll Island's causeway.

"You see fewer in the winter," says Jekyll Island Authority wildlife biologist Joseph Colbert, "but in the spring, especially when times are good, after some good rains that get the grass growing, you will spot a lot of them."

The rabbits' fecundity is key to their survival. "Their life is built around avoiding predation," Colbert says, "so their best defense is to breed as fast as they can."

The females produce up to six litters a year—they have a gestation period of about a month—

with an average annual production of 15 to 20 young. They conceal themselves in plush nests built from rushes, grasses, and leaves, and line them with hair from adult rabbits.

Marsh rabbits are popular in the animal kingdom. They constitute about 70 percent of the diet of bobcats and almost 100 percent of the diet of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. "They’re very important prey," Colbert says. They don't so much ward off predators as avoid them, taking cover under

dense vegetation. "You seldom see them out in the open."

A fun fact: They can swim. "I lifted a tuft of grass once," Colbert says, "and one exploded out of it and jumped in the creek, kicking its feet really fast and swimming to the other side."

These rabbits—they are, scientifically speaking, lagomorphs—are smaller and sturdier than their cottontail cousins, but they should not be confused with the swamp rabbit of Alabama. The Jekyll Island rabbits have a coat that is typically a dark, rich brown, and they feed on dense, scrubby plant life.

Hunting is prohibited on Jekyll Island, but the rabbits’ meat reportedly is lean and tender, Colbert says. "Given how good they taste, and how much easier they are to catch than things that will bite back, you can’t blame predators for eating them."

brian austin lee; illustration by amy holliday fauna
These island cutie pies are fruitful by multiplying
70 I Nort h Beac hview Drive | 9 I 2 .635. 2 2 I I holidayinnresortjekyll.com
Their life is built around predation,avoiding so their best defense is to breed as fast as they can." ! |
A place to make memories

Take a trip back in time and experience the rich cultural and natural history of Georgia’s most intriguing barrier island. Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum features in-depth interactive exhibits, stunning visuals and audio, and a new take on the island’s fascinating history.

Mosaic offers a variety of tours and programming for the whole family. Hop on an open-air tram tour through the Historic District, or take a guided bike ride to Horton House. At Mosaic, there’s something for everyone to discover. Learn more at jekyllisland.com/mosaic.

Preservation and Salvation

Taylor Davis and team protect everything from ancient tombstones to opulent

19 guardian
100 Stable Road, in Jekyll Island’s Historic District • 912.635.4036
explorers welcome

The disheveled dining room smells like a high school woodshop and looks like a Bob Vila set, all sawhorses, table saws, and jagged collections of reclaimed heart pine and moldings made to look really old. Still, Taylor Davis doesn't hold back in extolling the virtues of the under-renovation Hollybourne Cottage, a gorgeous 1890 example of Jacobethan architecture, on the north end of the Jekyll Island National Historic Landmark District.

"We’re standing in the most important structure, in my opinion, on the coast of Georgia," says Davis, 37, hired in 2017 as the Jekyll Island Authority’s historic preservationist and charged with ensuring that the island's manmade treasures are not just standing, but shining, for decades to come. "That's not to say all the other buildings in our district aren't important—they absolutely are—this is just near and dear to my heart, where my preservation career started in 2004, working as an intern on this building."

Davis grew up on neighboring St. Simons Island with

a fondness for Jekyll’s architecture, including the midcentury beachfront hotels and the Aquarama, a 1961 modern indoor pool facility.

The historic district—the "millionaires' village," as Davis called it as a boy—was a particular source of wonder. His 1990s youth happened to coincide with a renaissance of historic preservation in the district, when high-level restorations led by early champions like Warren Murphy, a former JIA museum and preservation director, lent new life to landmarks such as Moss Cottage.

"When it comes to this, I'm standing on the shoulders of giants," Davis says. "They were able to save these buildings, essentially."

As Davis studied historic preservation at the University of Georgia, the Hollybourne Cottage remained shuttered and derelict, intriguing him even more. Hired as the JIA's first official preservationist in a decade, he's helped lead an exterior renovation that replaced cancerous, rusted iron lintels with bridge-grade concrete, made from molds of the originals. He’s hired local suppliers to make special knives in order to reproduce moldings that will match the originals. That same meticulous process—using a single historic photograph—has been applied to a bench in the foyer, too, recreated by two of the dozen volunteer craftsmen that Davis leads.

Retirees and part-time Jekyll residents are crucial to Davis’s preservation efforts, especially one devotee of two decades, retired electrical engineer Dick Tennyson of New York, whose service to Hollybourne earned him the Georgia Trust's Preservation of Service Award last year.

"What you see here, the majority of this work has been

done by these artisans," says Davis. "They’re doing this incredible stuff."

Davis bristles at the idea that Hollybourne would ever be "complete." Guardianship is perpetual. As the JIA's marquee preservation project, it consumes much of his time, but any given day might see Davis involved in less-glamorous undertakings: remedying a termite invasion at Moss Cottage, figuring out plumbing problems at another spot, or monitoring saltwater's wrath at Horton House or DuBignon Cemetery. It's all funded by island revenue; the admission you pay at the Mosaic, for instance, or that toll to cross the causeway.

"My focus is to try to keep the integrity of everything," says Davis. "We need to make sure these things stay around for future generations."

20 21 MINI GOLF, MAXIMUM FUN 912.635.2648 jekyllisland.com/minigolf A JEKYLL ISLAND TRADITION FOR MORE THAN 50 YEARS
Taylor Davis leads a team of student volunteers from the University of Georgia. Davis refinishes trimwork, restoring this Villa Ospo door to its original 1927 glory.

Holding On to the Magic

Tallu Fish loved Jekyll so much, she started a museum

As a child growing up in Waycross, Georgia, Tallulah

"Tallu" Fish was captivated by Jekyll Island.

"Her mother would bring her to Brunswick and they would look across the river to where the millionaires were," says Sarah Tallu Schuyler, Fish's granddaughter. "She thought it was a magical place."

Years later, after a career in journalism (she was editor of the Democratic Women's Club Journal of Kentucky and a columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville) and after the death of her husband, Fish found her way to Jekyll at last, hired by the state to establish the Jekyll Island Museum in Indian Mound Cottage, the former home of William Rockefeller.

"They gave her about 20 days to get it up and running," says Andrea Marroquin, Curator of Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum. Undaunted, Fish moved into the cottage's servants quarters and got to work. She salvaged furniture, decorations, porcelain, and taxidermy from surrounding buildings and cottages to recreate the splendor of Club Era island life. The museum opened its doors on December 11, 1954, the

same day the causeway to Jekyll Island opened to the public.

Known for her outgoing personality, Fish "was a woman with great big ideas," says Schuyler. One was to charge visitors to sit in the "Wishing Chair," an ornately carved chair that she may have found in the clubhouse.

"She came up with a story that if you sat in it, your wish would come true," says Marroquin. "It was one of the many ways she raised money for the museum."

Fish also put her 13 grandchildren to work when they visited every year.

"She would have us memorize a spiel about the Rockefellers and give tours to visitors," says Schuyler. The children also recited Marshes of Glynn, Sidney Lanier's ode to the local salt marshes, and gathered shells and sand dollars to sell in the museum.

"She gave us a nickel for every sand dollar," remembers Schuyler.

Fish, who lived in Indian Mound Cottage (once known as Rockefeller Cottage) for more than eight years until moving into her home on Bliss Lane, helmed the museum through the 1950s and '60s. She compiled the museum's archives and wrote several books and numerous articles about Jekyll Island.

Fish died in 1971, but the Wishing Chair and other items she collected are still in Indian Mound Cottage, along with her portrait, painted by her daughter, Betty Smith. (Her family remains connected to Jekyll as well. Schuyler and her husband live on the island, and Fish's 12 other grandchildren visit each year with their families.) A street near the beach, Tallu Fish Lane, was named in her honor.

"She loved this island and its stories, and everyone loved her, too," says Schuyler. "You would never forget her if you met her."


courtesy of mosaic, jekyll island nuseum firsts

Carl Sears

Pastry Chef

The man behind Jekyll’s most scrumptious sweets

72 1 Nort h Bea c hvi e w D ri v e | Jeky ll I s la nd , GA 3 1 52 7 9 1 2 63 5 2 25 6 | bea c hvi e w c lu b je ky ll .co m M e m orie s f or a Li f e ti m e

The Jekyll Island Club’s key lime pie contains just three main ingredients: sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and key lime juice. It may sound simple, but the tangy, creamy dessert—perhaps the island's most famous dish—is what keeps many guests coming back year after year (or, for those nearby, week after week).

"The hotel has been serving it since reopening in 1987," says pastry chef Carl Sears. "I've never changed the recipe. I think if I did, I would be shot."

Sears has been at the Jekyll Island Club since a culinary school internship 23 years ago. Cooking is his second career. He started out working for IBM in Atlanta after earning a degree in mathematics from Georgia Tech. But he grew bored with desk work after a few years, and he'd been baking since he was a kid, helping his mom roll out Christmas cookies when he was barely tall enough to reach the counter.

In some ways, Sears says, being a math whiz was a natural prerequisite for his career in the kitchen.

"Baking is a precise art," he says. "You can't taste and

change the recipe as you go. You have to do it by the book, every time."

Sears is constantly testing and perfecting new desserts for the Jekyll Island Club’s four restaurants. The menus change seasonally with the exception of a few mainstays, like that key lime pie. (A recent favorite: a s'mores torte with homemade marshmallows.) But the best part of the job, he says, is creating wedding cakes for the more than 100 couples who get married at the resort every year.

"The craziest one I ever did was probably a scale model of the hotel, in cake form,” he says. Grooms’ cakes often provide an opportunity for some fun.

Sears has sculpted a cake bust of Mr. T and an Arkansas Razorback. Last year, one of his cakes made news when Josh Reddick, an outfielder for the Houston Astros who grew up nearby, hosted a Spiderman-themed ceremony. One half of the tiered wedding cake was traditional white fondant, the other half decorated like the front of Spidey's suit.

After nearly a quarter-century at the Jekyll Island Club, Sears has no desire to hang up his spatula and move on. He loves uncovering new bits of history about the resort (which dates to 1888), trading ghost stories with hotel workers, and strolling along Driftwood Beach when his shift is over.

"Coming to work here every day, you never get over how beautiful it is," he says. "The island becomes almost ingrained in you. I came for an internship, but it turned into family, and I never wanted to leave."

26 27
Fresh. Seasonal. Handcrafted. Casual sophistication inside, ocean breezes outside, and the perfect firepit for after dinner drinks. Come. Enjoy. Stay a while. jekyllclub.com | 866 869 6907
Opposite page: The workday begins before dawn, as Chef Sears prepares all baked goods from scratch. Above: You'll only get to try Chef's proprietary chocolate mousse recipe at the Jekyll Island Club Resort.

“I remember that first marsh walk very, very well. I was a little scared I would see an alligator but I think I had watched too much ‛Crocodile Hunter.’ There were hundreds of fiddler crabs running everywhere, and we came back covered in mud ... it was wonderful.”

—chris nowicki, of savannah, attended several georgia 4-h camps on jekyll island as a teenager. the marsh walk, a hands-on exploration of jekyll ’ s salt marsh ecosystem, continues to be a favorite activity for campers.

As told to JENNIFER SENATOR Photograph courtesy of Camp Jekyll

29 my jekyll

My first attempt at serious stargazing ended in embarrassment. I'd traveled to Jekyll Island with my mom and young daughter, three city girls armed with binoculars and a Sky Guide app. Conditions were optimal, the February air clear and bracing, the moon a day shy of being new.

Stargazing Rule No. 1: For the sharpest view, pick a night with little to no moonlight.

I wondered about location, too. If you want to catch a sunrise, Driftwood Beach is your spot. But the lights of nearby St. Simons may interfere with constellation-spotting, I thought. Jekyll's remote southern beaches seemed better suited to the task. So we headed south.

Stargazing Rule No. 1:

For the sharpest view, pick a night with little to no moonlight.

By day, Glory Beach is a broad, inviting stretch of sand pockmarked with seashells, a favorite spot for birders. It's named for the 1989 film Glory, which was filmed here. To access the beach, a 200-foot-long boardwalk slices through a picturesque tangle of live oak, red cedar, and saw palmetto.

But by night, as we drove a lonely stretch of road to the Jekyll Island Soccer Complex, where Glory Beach and its boardwalk are located, the darkness deepened, broken only by my headlights and the reflected eyes of deer in the woods. Pulling into the deserted parking lot, we caught another pair of green eyes; an opossum, who shuffled under the boardwalk in no particular hurry. I switched off the engine and the world was blotted out. We had driven five hours from Atlanta. All that stood between us now and an epic view of the heavens was a 200-foot walk in blackness like this city girl has rarely experienced through a thicket probably teeming with wild critters. (Visceral fear trumps reason. I had an actual lump in my throat. Some moonlight, I thought, would be nice.)

"Scared off by deer and an opossum," my mom said as we lay down on our backs in the parking lot of the soccer complex. "We really are city girls."

Stargazing Rule No. 2: Bring a blanket. All that craning will get to your neck.

all photos by brian austin lee

Stargazing Rule No. 2:

The truth is, there's not a bad place to sky-watch on Jekyll. That's the opinion of Dawn Zenkert, coordinator of the UGA 4-H Tidelands Nature Center. "When I put my garbage out, I go, ‘Oh wow, look at the stars!'" she says. Zenkert moved to the island some 20 years ago, just in time to catch a meteor shower. She lay on the beach watching green streaks paint the night. There are certainly more remote destinations in Georgia to stare at the night sky, and one certified dark sky park, Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee Swamp. (If you're game for a nighttime paddle over gator-infested waters, good for you.) But for an easy-access vacation locale, Jekyll gets pretty dark. The majority of the land is undeveloped. To protect sea turtle hatchlings that follow the horizon to the ocean, artificial beachfront lighting and even flashlights on the beach are forbidden.

Stargazing Rule No. 3: Use a red LED flashlight. The longer wavelength preserves your night vision and, conveniently, doesn't bother sea turtles.

About four times a summer, the Tidelands Nature Center hosts astronomy nights on a deck overlooking a saltwater pond. Attendees are shown a PowerPoint tour of the sky before glimpsing the real deal through telescopes. They learn about things like circumpolar constellations, which never set below the horizon. In the Northern Hemisphere, these include Ursa Major (the Great Bear containing the Big Dipper), Ursa Minor (home to the North Star), Draco the dragon, Cepheus the king, and vain queen Cassiopeia, whose famous W shape traces a woman's body as she reclines in a chair combing her hair. The most important thing to know

34 35
Bring a blanket. All that craning will get to your neck.
The Mississippians saw the Milky Way as a “path of souls,” a springboard to our final destination.

Stargazing Rule No. 3:

Use a red LED flashlight on the beach at night.

about stars is that they're always there; we just can't always see them. As the earth journeys around the sun, different stars shift into our nighttime view. The same holds true for planets, but as moving targets with varying orbital speeds, planets have less-fixed schedules. Venus, the brightest celestial object after the sun and moon, will retreat in May this year, ceding her majesty to Jupiter and Saturn. (Tip: If the light doesn't twinkle, you're looking at a planet, not a star.)

Dillon Marcy, coordinator of the Georgia Southern University Planetarium, grew up studying the constellations in Brunswick and St. Simons. He has two favorite landmarks in the summer sky: "Scorpio makes an easyto-find J hook, and the main part of Sagittarius looks like a teapot. In between them you can point to the center of our Milky Way, where a supermassive black hole is located."

In enhanced photographs, the Milky Way appears as a volcanic rend in the sky, glowing orange and blue. Standing on a Jekyll beach on a moonless night, you might be able to distinguish a dim white arc. In most places you won't see anything at all. Though it's now fading from our light-polluted view, this galactic streak has long transfixed humans. The Mississippians, an ancient Native American civilization that flourished in the Southeastern United States, saw it as a "path of souls," a springboard to our final destination.


A red LED flashlight is friendly to both sea turtles and astronomers. Ordinary white light flashlights are not permitted on Jekyll beaches from May to October.

A stargazing app lets you point your smartphone at the sky and identify objects. Options include Sky Guide, SkyView, and Night Sky. Be sure to use your dimmest phone setting.

A blanket or towel will save your neck.

Binoculars (optional) are easy to bring along and, as a bonus, can be used for bird-watching during the day.

For novices, the naked eye and a clear forecast will do just fine.

Stargazing Rule No. 4:

Leave your equipment alone for a while to enjoy the whole sky.

In 1886, Northern business tycoons put Jekyll on the map by founding an exclusive resort community. The Jekyll Island Club drew Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and one Robert C. Pruyn, who in 1893 financed the Pruyn equatorial telescope at the Dudley Observatory in Albany, New York. It would serve science for more than six decades. In 1911, club member Andrew Carnegie funded the completion of the Hooker Telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles, the most powerful instrument of its time.

To be sure, a complex instrument like that can help unlock many secrets of the sky. But a portable telescope or a good pair of binoculars will reveal details like the moons of Jupiter or the elliptical shape of Andromeda, our nearest galaxy. And for novices, the naked eye and a clear forecast will do just fine. Take it from Marcy, who has an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy and knows a nebula from a star cluster. For him, the allure of stargazing is basic: "We're barely a grain of sand compared to the earth, the earth is barely a grain of sand to the sun, and if you look out on a dark night, you see thousands of other stars. That puts things into perspective."

Though there isn't a bad place to stargaze on Jekyll, when pondering your insignificance, an oceanside seat can't be beat. On my second attempt, I learned that a short walk along the beach near my hotel afforded ample darkness. The water was a roaring shadow. The sky was littered with stars, the showiest orbs


MID -JULY: Jupiter and Saturn will be in opposition, making our two biggest planets extra bright.

AUGUST 11 -12: During the Perseid meteor shower, you can see as many as 100 meteors per hour.

DECEMBER 13 -14: The Gemini meteor shower will correspond with a new moon, making for a spectacular light show.

ANY MONTH: Check out spotthestation.nasa.gov to see when the International Space Station will pass high enough over your destination to be in view. You have only a few seconds to catch the exciting sight.

backstopped by a crowded mosaic of fainter specks. Holding up my Sky Guide app, I scanned the names of what I saw. Stalwart Sirius, the dog star, the brightest star in the night sky (and actually two stars). The red giant Betelgeuse, recently dimmed by a cloud of circumstellar dust, triggering false hopes of a supernova. The Pleiades, a tight, adorable cluster that the Japanese call Subaru. Eventually I set down my phone and basked in the beauty and hugeness of it all.

Stargazing Rule No. 4: No matter what equipment you bring, leave it alone for a while.

When astronauts enter space and look back at our fragile blue marble, a cognitive shift called the overview effect occurs. Political divisions disappear. Borders suddenly seem petty. A wider view of home is born. Most of us will never experience that perspective. Lying beneath this glittering dome is surely the next best thing.





Shortly after World War II, as the onceopulent island lay nearly deserted, no one knew if Jekyll would survive

MODERN JEKYLL ISLAND has always been synonymous with breathtaking beauty and indulgent relaxation. Whether through the Gilded Age opulence of the private Club Era or the more accessible family atmosphere of the State Era, the island has earned its reputation as a naturally stunning destination for those seeking to escape the workaday world on the mainland.

But there was a brief period, after World War II drained the vivacity out of the Club Era but before the state of Georgia breathed

life back into the island, when Jekyll was a largely forgotten land. Abandoned by its wealthy patrons and not yet known among regular vacationers, Jekyll was a place overrun by wildlife and vegetation, where few but prison work crews ventured.

It was, in other words, 9-year-old John Dykes's paradise.

"It was 200 percent different than it is today," says Dykes. "We would just run around the island. We had a wonderful time."

Dykes first came to the island in the

photos courtesy of mosaic, jekyll island museum unless otherwise noted. 41

summer of 1954, months before the causeway bridge was completed. The state had gained control of the island in 1947 through a condemnation decree, paying a mere $675,000 for it (or about $7.8 million in 2020 dollars), a bargain that has been compared to the purchase of Manhattan from the Native Americans. At the time, Jekyll had been largely closed to visitors while being prepared for public use. Dykes's father, James Marion Dykes, a businessman and a member of the Georgia legislature from Cochran, had leased Sans Souci, the Crane Cottage, the Mistletoe Cottage, and the Jekyll Island Club's

Clubhouse from the state in hopes of opening them up for the tourists that were sure to come.

When young Dykes arrived that summer, his accommodations were far from luxe. He and his family were bunking in an old mansion with wardens of the convict camp that had been placed on Jekyll to do the manual labor of fixing the place up.

The prisoners rebuilt roads where palmetto roots had blocked passage, installed drainage ditches, picked up trash and debris, and dug foundations for houses and motels.

Meanwhile, Dykes and his younger brother had their run of the island.

They walked and biked everywhere. They went to the vacant beach to swim and cook clams from Clam Creek. They baited hooks with shrimp and fished croaker and sheepshead off the lone pier. They'd tag along with the game warden to watch turtles lay their eggs at night. And they explored the empty buildings that had been pillaged in search of their treasures.

The motherlode was the Jekyll Island Club, which had fallen on hard times since the breakout of World War II. The rich patrons had stopped coming, the local labor was drafted into military service, and the

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Goodyear Cottage (above) and Moss Cottage (right), Spring 1948. John Dykes, photographed at his home in Columbus, Georgia greg miller photography
“It was 200 percent different than it is today,” says Dykes. “We would just run around the island. We had a wonderful time.”

difficulty of operating during wartime forced its closing in 1942, effectively ending the Club Era. The owners had always intended to reopen, but the grand place was left waiting, frozen in time, for more than a decade. The doors remained unlocked.

Dykes and his younger brother rode the pull elevator up and down, stopping on each floor to roam the darkened halls. They dueled with fireplace-poker swords. In the basement, they found a room locked with chains but managed to squeeze through the double doors and find stacks of dinnerware and piles of silverware. Dykes still has a table knife with the Jekyll Island Club seal.

One day, Dykes and his brother found a ladder that led into the Clubhouse turret. There they found a naval flag and a club banner that had once flown high above the grounds; two more souvenirs to cherish.

John Dykes recently donated several souvenirs of his childhood to Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum, including a 13 star nautical flag (top), and a Jekyll Island Club pennant, 1890-1920s (bottom) that he had discovered in the Clubhouse turret. One of Dykes's prized possessions from his time on the island: a silver dinner knife from the Club Hotel
greg miller photography

The first Steps Back

The island opened to the public as a state park in 1948. The Jekyll Island Authority, established in 1950, focused its first efforts on getting the ocean side of the island ready for regular use, even as the Historic District sat in disrepair.

The causeway opened in 1954, making the island more accessible to curious vacationers. But Jekyll was far from an overnight tourist success.

Mason Stewart was 16 in '57 when he took a job as a lifeguard on Jekyll. In the summers, a truck would pick him up in Brunswick, along with other lifeguards, for their shifts monitoring a growing number of visitors staying at the Sam Snead Buccaneer Hotel (where the Hampton Inn & Suites currently stands), the Wanderer Motel (now the Holiday Inn Resort) or another of the new hotels up and down the coast. "All of the activity was on the beach," says Stewart. "It was a very interesting time. There was no liquor on the island in those days and not a lot of nightlife other than the miniature golf course."

In those days, the island belonged to the young, who came

across the new causeway from the mainland. Stewart says there wasn't a lot of drinking and partying going on, though he does happen to know that you can fit a surprising amount of vodka inside a plastic hula hoop. But if you had a car, you could drive right up to the beach.

"On summer evenings, if you were a teenager, it was the beginning of the rock 'n' roll era," he says. "You could lay out your beach blanket, turn your transistor radio to WAPE out of Jacksonville, and watch the sunset. Driftwood Beach was a secret that only us lovers knew about. We kept that to ourselves."

The beauty of Jekyll would not remain a secret much longer. Under the guidance of the JIA, careful development along the ocean coast continued, while the island's natural splendor was preserved. In the 1970s, the Authority turned its attention to the Historic District, renovating and rehabilitating the cottages and the Jekyll Island Club, which reopened as a luxury resort in 1985. In recent years, the JIA has worked to connect Jekyll's present to its past, setting up markers

that detail island history all the way back to the Native Americans' time. The history of the island is now delineated; the Colonial Era, Plantation Era, Club Era, State Era and today.

Some of the history lost during the Club and State periods is gradually returning to Jekyll. Furniture and other items from cottages are being replaced. And in 2019, Dykes donated the two flags he had found in the Jekyll Island Club turret to Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum. He had held on to them for 65 years.

"We visited the Club and walked around," he says. "Everything has changed for the better. The credit goes to the people that were taking care of it and the people who promoted it. They're doing what they can, and I'm proud of that."

Bridging Club and State

Before the state of Georgia could pull Jekyll Island out of its “Forgotten Era” and open the isle to the masses, it first had to create a way for people to get there. Previously, the island was only accessible via boat—usually a yacht owned by one of the wealthy Club Era patrons. It wasn’t until 1954, seven years after the state acquired Jekyll, that the original drawbridge was completed, officially opening the Jekyll Island Causeway. That drawbridge was replaced in 1996 by the taller concrete bridge that stands today.

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“You could lay out your beach blanket, turn your transistor radio to WAPE out of Jacksonville, and watch the sunset.” —Mason Stewart
Jekyll Island lifeguard Mason Stewart in 1959. Mason Stewart and his wife, Barbara, at the Jekyll Island Mini Golf course in 1958.


On May 2, 2017, lightning struck Jekyll Island, igniting tall pines near the marina and causeway. The blaze ultimately consumed 10 acres. Though bad luck triggered the flames, as a bit of good luck would have it, the Georgia State Patrol was conducting training nearby and used a helicopter to help with water drops. In a few days, the fire was extinguished. But three years later the effects are still visible in the scarred and dead trees near the entrance to the island.

To prevent future fires and to conserve the island’s natural resources, the Jekyll Island Authority embarked on a plan: set small fires to prevent larger ones. For the layperson, fighting fire with fire seems paradoxical. But it’s an historically proven process to reduce the risk of blazes getting out of control and to keep natural habitats healthy.

JIA conservation Land Manager Yank Moore and Park Ranger Ayron Moleen closely monitor the controlled burn near Oleander golf course.

Just the Prescription

"Prescribed fires are like going to the doctor," says Ken Parker, a wildland fire specialist with the Georgia Forestry Commission. "To get well, you might be prescribed a course of medicine. A burn plan is like a prescription for the forest."

Fire is essential to the health of forests, particularly those in the Southeast. The ancient method of fire-starting—by lightning strike—maintains the balance of forest growth. Naturally occurring fires spread over millions of acres each year, reducing undergrowth and clearing space for grasslands. In the modern world, though, fires are extinguished quickly by firefighters and contained by human development, with roads and other construction acting as firebreaks. It disturbs the forest's natural cycle.

"Prescribed fire is just man mimicking what Nature does naturally," says Parker, who has more than a quarter-century of experience with the practice, including 22 years in timberland management and five years running the wildland fire certification program for the state forestry commission.

The three major goals of prescribed fires are to:

1) Improve public safety by reducing fuel that can build up in a forest

2) Enhance natural habitats for native plants and wildlife, and

3) Manage timberland.

Most prescribed burns address a combination of these factors. On Jekyll, the key objectives are public safety and ecological conservation.

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“Prescribed fires are like going to the doctor. To get well, you might be prescribed a course of medicine. A burn plan is like a prescription for the forest.”

Georgia’s Burn Masters

“Saying you can’t see the forest for the trees is a good adage,” says Ken Parker, wildland fire specialist for the Georgia Forestry Commission. “If the forest is too overgrown, the trees can’t flourish. If there are too many trees, the forest is not healthy.”

In Georgia, a leader in using the technique to manage forests, an average of 1.3 million acres of land are consumed by prescribed fires each year, Parker says. In 2020, because of heavy rainfall, the total is likely to be under 1 million acres.


"Fire is needed in Southeastern forests like rain is needed for the rainforest," says Joseph Colbert, wildlife biologist with the Jekyll Island Authority.

When fire consumes the tangles of undergrowth in a forest, new plants can grow, providing nourishment for animals and pollinators. Fire creates clearings with more sunlight and grassland for grazing animals. Fire can clear trees around wetlands, offering access to water for creatures such as salamanders. Without the

natural pattern of fire moving through forested areas, habitats suffer.

Prescribed fire on Jekyll enhances conditions for a range of species. One of the goals is restoring grassy areas, which include meadows of distinctive rose-tinted muhly grass, or sweetgrass. "[It's] the habitat for so many species," says Colbert, who wrote his master's thesis on prescribed fire in maritime grasslands. "It is essential and has ecological benefits."

To become certified as a Georgia prescribed fire specialist, a person needs:

• Two years of experience in prescribed fires

• Five fires under your belt as a “burn boss”

• Completion of a two-day course

• A passing grade on an exam

—Rebecca Burns

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“Fire is needed in Southeastern forests like rain is needed for the rainforest.”
Moleen and Wildlife Conservationist Joseph Colbert supervise the blaze. Moleen ignites dead palmetto underbrush. (L-R) Colbert, Moore, Moleen, and AmeriCorps Wildlife Conservation Member Mallory Harmel

Fewer Fuels for Fire

Regular fires reduce dropped pine needles, fallen leaves, and overgrown brush on the forest floor. This buildup, also called “duff,” can serve as an accelerant for a fire. Prescriptive burning reduces duff and thus lessens the chance of a fire burning uncontrollably.

"Most prescribed fires are on one-, three- or five-year rotations, but in areas of Jekyll, fire has been suppressed for 50 or 60 years," says Yank Moore, JIA's conservation land manager. "The fuel loads have built up." In most wooded areas, duff is a few inches deep. But in the northern end of Jekyll, it has reached levels several feet high, Moore says.

Duff not only provides fuel for potential wildfires, it suppresses plants essential for wildlife. Just as a layer of pine straw prevents weed growth in a suburban yard, accumulation of pine needles in a forested area prevents growth of the grass and plants animals need.

Reducing that build-up will take a long and carefully outlined plan of prescriptive burns, Moore explains. Duff will be burned off a few inches at a time, and only under ideal weather conditions. It could take years to reduce fuel loads to a healthy level. But the payoff will be significant.

"We are not burning to burn," Moore says. "The goals are to improve diversity of both the wildlife and plant communities on the island."

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“We are not burning to burn. The goals are to improve diversity of both the wildlife and plant communities on the island.”
Harmel and Colbert keep a close eye on a burn.

Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke

"Before a match is dropped, a lot of planning goes into prescribed fires," says Parker, the wildland fire expert.

Weather, wind, and how wet (or dry) the area is all are considered. Burners also consider the specific plants or trees in an area. In coastal regions such as Jekyll, waxy plants such as saw palmettos create a unique challenge because, while they can be slower to ignite, they can burn with great intensity.

When planning a fire, as much attention is paid to smoke as flames. Some of the factors affecting smoke include the moistness of the fuel, wind conditions, the height the fire might rise, and the potential for fog. Particulate matter in smoke bonds to the water in fog and increases visibility problems. All of these factors are included in the dispersion index, which indicates how well and how quickly smoke might clear. "There is a lot of science that goes into planning a burn," Parker comments.

For Moore, Colbert and the rest of the Jekyll team charged with implementing the island's fire prescription, a key ingredient is patience; waiting for ideal weather conditions. Fire can't be started too soon after rainfall. And it can't be started in too-dry conditions, for risk of rapid spreading. It can't be started when the air is still and smoke will accumulate. And it can't be set when wind gusts could spread flames.

Colbert stresses that visitors to the island who might be there on the day of a planned fire should understand what's happening. "One day of prescribed fire on a day with ideal conditions for a burn with a little bit of smoke is way better than three or four weeks of smoke and burning when lightning strikes," he says.


rom her home in College Park, Georgia, south of Atlanta, LaVances Givens rattles off fond memories of Jekyll Island during the summer of 1959. Fresh out of her first year at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University, following its 1988 merger with Atlanta University), the Savannah native spent the summer as a cashier in the dining room of the new Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel. She stayed there with several other student workers, most of whom were from Macon. Among the crowd, she met a head waiter who would become her husband.

The Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel was situated on St. Andrews beach, the only spot in segregated Georgia where Black people were allowed to come in contact with the ocean. It was a vacation hub for Black families and a hangout for locals, who often held picnics and reunions there. "People just came by the droves," Givens recalls. "You couldn't even see the sand."

St. Andrews became more than a simple summer hangout, though. It also served as a regular stopover on the Chitlin' Circuit, the informal name given to a series of venues, many in the South, where African-American musicians and entertainers performed to black crowds during the Jim Crow era. Local historians say blues great B.B. King and Georgia-born Otis Redding were among the national acts to perform at St. Andrews beach on the circuit.

Few outside of the area know the history of the historic beach and facilities that dotted the section of the coastline on the southern side of Jekyll Island. That's due, in part, to the relatively short-lived heyday that the place enjoyed. It might also be attributed to the fact that many of the more traditional news outlets of the time—the white-owned and white-run press—didn't take an interest in what happened there.

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photos courtesy of mosaic, jekyll island museum

When it opened to the public in August 1959, the Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel became the only hotel where Black visitors could stay, sitting steps away from the only beach on Jekyll Island where Black patrons were allowed. A couple months before its unveiling, on June 28, 1959 the Atlanta Daily World—the first successful African-American newspaper in the United States—ran an advertisement for the new inn. The ad boasted a hotel of "50 luxurious rooms and suites" with wall-to-wall carpeting, air conditioning, televisions, and telephones in the rooms. A month later, the World noted the significance of the establishment's location: It sat near the spot where the slave ship Wanderer, in 1858, became the last vessel to bring enslaved Africans to Georgia.

The dining room at the hotel, Givens recalls, could hold about 50 patrons. It featured a slot machine that took dimes. "It might have been illegal," she says now, laughing.

But the biggest draw of the complex may have been the Dolphin Club Lounge. Tyler Bagwell, a speech communications professor at the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick, has written two books and released two documentaries on the history of Jekyll Island. In an article on segregation on the island, Bagwell described the lounge as a "dance floor with a horseshoe-shaped bar and a small stage in one corner of the room."

In the early days of the Dolphin Club, Givens remembers Atlanta jazz organist Cleveland Lyons regularly playing at the lounge on weekends. Before long, national artists stopped by, too.

White performers who came to Jekyll Island often played at whites-only places, including an auditorium in the Historic District and the grand Aquarama, a combination convention center/entertainment complex with meeting rooms and an Olympic-sized heated swimming pool. After the Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel opened, Black performers and the patrons looking to see them had the Dolphin Club Lounge. But that soon changed.

Dr. J. Clinton Wilkes's request to host a large gathering of Black dental professionals in 1960 resulted in the construction of an auditorium to be built near the Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel, to satisfy the legally dubious "separate but equal" doctrine that grew out of the adoption of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution almost a century earlier.

The Jekyll Island Authority quickly constructed a simple building, christened the St. Andrews Auditorium. Through the early '60s, the auditorium was used for family reunions, dances, and the occasional concert.

With the beach pavilion that had opened there in 1955 — complete with dressing rooms, a concession stand, and a covered picnic area — the Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel, the Dolphin Club Lounge, and the new auditorium at St. Andrews beach, the area quickly became a resort area for Black families throughout the state and beyond.

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Jekyll Island—mainly the Dolphin Club Lounge and the St. Andrews Auditorium (as bareboned as it was)—also grew into a stopover on the Chitlin' Circuit. In an interview conducted by the Jekyll Island Authority in 2013, the late historian Jim Bacote remembers "top entertainment of the era" playing the auditorium, which he described as "basically a tin building, and with no air conditioning."

Andrea Marroquin, Curator for the Jekyll Island Authority, said the museum has been able to confirm that, along with Redding and King, Millie Jackson, Percy Sledge, and Irma Thomas performed at St. Andrews beach.

According to Bagwell, concert promoter Charlie Cross brought Jackson, Sledge, Clarence Carter, Tyrone Davis, and Li'l Willie Johnson to the Dolphin Club Lounge. Both the Jekyll Island Authority and Bagwell said Redding was the last big act to perform in St. Andrews Auditorium, in 1964.

As it turned out, the Circuit didn't last. Jim Crow laws were struck down by the mid '60s, most notably through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the ensuing years, the island integrated and most of the venues closed.

Today, Givens has lost touch with many of the people she remembers from her time at the Dolphin Club and Motor Hotel. Several have died. But she hopes those memories of St. Andrews beach are not lost to future generations.

"It’s a part of the history of the island," she says.

From 1950 to 1964, St. Andrews beach served as the only section of Jekyll Island that allowed Black visitors. In an interview with the Jekyll Island Authority in 2013, historian Jim Bacote recalls a demonstration in 1963 in which he and several others attempted to enter a bath house in an attempt to desegregate the island.

Following Bacote’s death in 2018, the College of Coastal Georgia's Tyler Bagwell told the Coastal Courier that others were denied access to a nearby golf course, the Aquarama's indoor swimming pool, Peppermint Land Amusement Park, and some motels. "A lawsuit was filed,” he said. "In June 1964 it was ruled that the state-operated facilities at Jekyll Island would be integrated."

Bacote said the integration led to many of the Black-only establishments closing. "[W]ith us being able to go to the Aquarama," he said, "we didn’t want to go down [to St. Andrews] anymore."

This page, top: Millie Jackson. Above: Percy Sledge. Right: Clarence Carter


Jekyll Island Campground is a cost-friendly place to stay amid natural wonders ... and maybe make a few friends, too


Illustrations by KAVEL RAFFERTY


mid-February, and chilly morning winds are whipping Jekyll Island's shores at 25 mph. Walk a few steps into Jekyll Island Campground, though, and two words spring to mind: "sanctuary" and "enchanting."

The antithesis of a cookie-cutter, roadside parking lot for RVs, this quiet campground is almost fully shaded by towering longleaf pines and century-old oaks. Up in the high branches, the Spanish moss, ablaze with sunshine, merely sways in the breeze. Kids in T-shirts hustle by on bikes. Golf carts are everywhere; almost as ubiquitous as the palmettos, which lend a tropical touch at ground level. Everyone nods hello.

This setting stole Brian Hiebert's heart in 2005. He'd retired and trickled down from Vermont with his wife, Joyce, to visit what the avid campers had heard was one of Georgia's best kept secrets. They've come back every year since. "This is our winter home now, and we love it," says Hiebert, seated in a folding chair beside his firepit and trusty fifth-wheel Jayco camper. "The weather in Vermont? This morning, it was 12 below!"

The campground was established in a forest at the island's northern end in the 1950s by two business partners from Thomaston, and it was known as Cherokee Campground until the Jekyll Island Authority took over the private operation in the 1990s. Today, the 179 campsites across these lush 18 acres are each a hot ticket, especially in late-winter months, which are commonly booked solid. (Reservations are accepted up to a year in advance, and staffers recommend calling at least six months ahead.)

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—Ronnie Douglas, longtime Jekyll Island Campground manager

Business is so strong, in fact, that a 90-day maximum stay was implemented on all sites a few years ago. It's a means of letting more people experience "roughing it" on Jekyll, insomuch as enjoying Netflix and fresh-caught redfish in your $70,000 RV is doing that. Seasons see the tenant mix change like the tides. A teeming snowbird habitat in fall and winter gives way to spring breakers around March, followed by RV rallies in April, campers from around the world in summer (especially Germans, for some reason), and then massive, annual family gatherings that can claim up to 60 campsites on Labor Day weekend.

Most coastal campgrounds in the Southeast stay busy. But

Ronnie Douglas, Jekyll's campground manager for the past 20 years, says friendliness, camaraderie, natural beauty, and Jekyll's bountiful

The Costs Per Day)

$32: Primitive tent site. At roughly 20-by-30 feet, these 15 campsites will fit a vehicle and two tents.

$47: The larger sites for RVs and sleeping trailers. Up to 90 feet long, they'll accommodate anything on the road.

Note: Holiday rates are about $16 more per night. Up to six people are allowed, per site. Reservations are required.

Rates and fees are subject to change. Visit jekyllisland.com/ campground for up-to-date rates.

Campground Basics

Check-in: 2 p.m. It's advisable to arrive before nightfall.

Checkout: Noon sharp. (There's a $15 fee for late checkouts.)

Speed limit: 5 mph.

Quiet!: From 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. (Large lights off, voices down.)

Leave at home: Generators (too noisy). Clotheslines (looks junky). Inflatable pools (same). Drones and fireworks (forbidden on Jekyll). Sidewalk chalk (it's just graffiti).

recreation options set his operation apart. One unique touch, says Douglas, is that all arriving campers are escorted to their sites by volunteer hosts, each a long-term guest (and most with northern accents).

"I hear this all the time: People, when they come across that causeway, and come across that last bridge on the island, they feel like they came home," says Douglas, a Jekyll native who lives in a camper on the grounds year-round. "Jekyll is different. Very laid back. People feel really relaxed, comfortable, safe. It's a good place to just come back to."

Guest service team leader Sumer Rehg, one of about a dozen campground staffers, provides a tour of the grounds on Douglas's personal golf cart, greeting all campers with a "Haaaay!" She weaves around the shower facilities and community room, where every kind of group activity—Zumba, sewing, book chats, quilting, movie nights, potlucks, bingo, and two-hour jam sessions on

Other fees: $10 cancellation fee. $3.75 for pets (Rehg: "Just don't bring anything weird"), first night only. $4/per person surcharge, per night, for more than six people on a site.

More: $25 bike rentals per day. 45¢ per piece of firewood.

Amenities: Restrooms, showers, Wi-Fi, and recycling are included in camping fees. Basketball and pickleball courts.

The campground store has all the essentials, from ice to Tylenol and dust that makes campfires glow blue.

Rates and fees are subject to change. Visit jekyllisland.com/ campground for up-to-date rates.

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pro tips

Alcohol is allowed, but only on your campsite. (Again: Quiet time begins at 10 p.m.)

Gnats and mosquitoes can be thick year-round. Use plenty of bug spray, Thermacell repellent devices, or fans. Campfire smoke usually does the trick, too.

Lock food away at night. Campground racoons and squirrels are notorious rummagers. (Encounters with any other wildlife, such as snakes and deer, are rare.)

Bring the golf cart, but follow Georgia safety rules: Seatbelts, headlights, rooftop strobes, reflective triangles on the back … it's all required.

Live chickens: verboten.

Be mindful of ticks in palmettos, especially in warm months. Look out for Fido, too.

Buying groceries on the mainland (Walmart, Publix, and Winn-Dixie are nearby options) will save money.

Cancellations happen frequently. Because there's no waiting list, snagging one of those slots is a matter of luck and perseverance. Call.

That Spanish moss might look pretty as tent décor, but it's likely teeming with chiggers.


Kids under age 14 have to be supervised at all times. No riding bikes after dusk without adult supervision and lights. You must be 16 or older to operate golf carts on the island.

walkers bicyclists

From the campground, walk a breezy three-quarters of a mile to the Clam Creek Fishing Pier, or roughly 10 minutes to famed Driftwood Beach at the island's northernmost end.

Thursdays—takes place. It's a veritable mini-city of people from other places, as evidenced by placards hanging at the front of RV guest sites with outlines of where they came from: Ohio, New Hampshire, Michigan, Indiana, New York, Wisconsin, even Wyoming and Ontario.

"I know a lot of Canadians like to go to Florida, and Florida's usually super-booked," says Rehg. "But we're only like 45 minutes away."

It all makes clear what Douglas says about this being nothing like a check-in, check-out hotel experience. "Campers are very sociable," he says with a laugh that suggests understatement. "They like to sit around a campfire, and they'll invite their neighbor over."

Carole Rivard, a Massachusetts snowbird who's been coming for five years, is one such campground socialite. She volunteers her time to help new guests get situated, comfortable, and relaxed.

"The people here are just like a little community, because they keep coming back," says Rivard. "The secret's out about Jekyll."

Jekyll's bike-trail system links with the campground and will take you virtually anywhere on the island, including to nearby historical sites Horton House and DuBignon Cemetery, or to see the alligators and turtles sunbathing at Horton Pond.


All campsites come with a fire pit and picnic table, but RV sites also include water, electric (up to 50amp hookups), sewage, and cable.

Satellite users: Request the newest section, opened in July, with less interference from trees.

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The Horton Road Connector Trail is a bridge between two Jekylls. Seven-tenths of a mile, the track of crushed limestone leads from the coastal wetlands surrounding Horton House to Horton Pond and the thick maritime forest of the island’s interior. The trail traces a road that first appeared on maps in 1918, during the height of the Club Era. But the route almost certainly dates further back into Jekyll’s past. It probably gave colonial settlers from the historic Horton House access to the island’s east side. The earliest Native American inhabitants perhaps traversed a similar route for some long-lost purpose. Today, the trail connects you to that history. Park your car. Feel the crunch of the crumbled stone underfoot. Walk among the ancient soft palmetto and black tupelo. Lose yourself in the timelessness of nature and those who walked before you.

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OEG R G I A SEATUR T LE CENTE R JE K Y L L ISLA N D Get up close and personal at Georgia’s only coastal wildlife rehabilitation hospital. 912-635-4444 • gstc.jekylli slan d.com REHABILITATION • RESEARCH • EDUCATION

New traditions.

Everything’s different out here. Our storied history and grand traditions remain at Jekyll Island Club, yet much has changed, including our new modern amenities and all-suite, beachfront escape –Jekyll Ocean Club. Here’s to new traditions and entirely new levels of comfort.

jekyllclub.com | 888 461 7881 | Jekyll Island, Georgia
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