Island History

A history of discovery.

Jekyll Island has been a vacation destination for more than 3,500 years. The island’s earliest inhabitants were Native Americans who traveled to Jekyll Island to hunt, fish, and gather shellfish. When French explorers first arrived in the area in 1562, tens of thousands of Native Americans are thought to have inhabited present-day Coastal Georgia.

The first permanent settlers on the island, however, were British colonists, establishing fortifications along the coast and claiming the territory for England. General James Edward Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia in 1733. He gave Jekyll Island its present name in honor of Sir Joseph Jekyll, a financial backer of the young colony. Oglethorpe then assigned Major William Horton to build an outpost on Jekyll Island to protect Fort Frederica on nearby St. Simons Island.

With the help of his indentured servants, Major Horton built the island into a relatively prosperous plantation. After his death in 1749, the island went through a series of owners before finally being purchased by Christophe Poulain DuBignon in 1792.

The DuBignons enjoyed a successful business raising Sea Island Cotton on their plantation for nearly a century. Following the Civil War, Christophe’s great-grandson, John Eugene DuBignon, marketed Jekyll Island as the perfect site for a hunting club.

In 1886, the island was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club, a turn-of-the century vacation resort patronized by the nation’s leading families. Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.”

The Club Era eventually came to an end as a result of World War II. In 1947, the island was sold to the State of Georgia for use as a State Park, offering opportunities for recreation and pleasure along the Georgia Coast to everyone. Today, the Jekyll Island Authority manages the island for the State of Georgia and the enjoyment of its citizens.

Jekyll Island Timeline

1500 B.C.

The earliest known archaeological sites on Jekyll Island suggest that this island has been a destination for more than 3,500 years.

1500 B.C.

Colonial Era

1562

French explorers first arrived in the area.

1562

1733

General James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia and named Jekyll Island in honor of Sir Joseph Jekyll, his friend and financier from England.

General James Oglethorpe

General James Oglethorpe

1733

1735

Major William Horton was granted Jekyll Island. He created a plantation from which he provided food to the soldiers and families of Ft. Frederica, on St. Simons Island.

1735

1736

Diplomacy of Nations took place on Jekyll. The English, Spanish, and Creek Indians met on the island in an effort to settle their differences through diplomacy.

1736

1742

The Spanish retreated across Jekyll Island following their loss at the Battle of Bloody Marsh. They destroyed Horton’s house, outbuildings, crops and livestock as a parting blow against the English.

1742

1747

William Horton purchased a Great Copper Pot for the purpose of brewing beer on Jekyll Island, which became recognized as Georgia’s first brewery.

1747

1778

Jekyll Island property owner John Martin was judged guilty of high treason “by traitorously adhering to the King of Great Britain,” resulting in the island’s confiscation.

1778

Plantation Era

1792

Christophe DuBignon, a French émigré fleeing the French Revolution purchased property on Jekyll Island.

1792

1814-1815

British ships attacked Jekyll Island several times, with raids continuing even after the War of 1812 officially ended. Christophe DuBignon later testified “my house was plundered at four different times by said British.” When the British departed, 28 enslaved men and women departed with them.

1814-1815

1858

The Wanderer yacht landed on Jekyll Island, Georgia, with an illegal cargo of slaves from Africa. This was one of the last groups of enslaved Africans sold into captivity in America.

The Wanderer ship

The Wanderer

1858

1862

Robert E. Lee ordered a withdrawal of Confederate troops from the island. Confederate troops occupied Jekyll Island and built gun batteries during the early years of the Civil War.

1862

Club Era

1879-1885

Newton Finney, and his brother-in-law, John Eugene DuBignon, a descendant of Christophe DuBignon, collaborated to turn Jekyll Island into a private hunting club for some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals.

1879-1885

1886

The island was purchased by the Jekyll Island Club, which Munsey’s Magazine called “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world….” For those who represented 1/6 of the world’s wealth at the turn of the century, the Jekyll Island Club became an exclusive retreat. Families with names like Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, and Baker built the elegant Clubhouse and “cottages” in Victorian architectural styles.

1886

1910

Senator Nelson Aldrich led a party of financial leaders to Jekyll Island to create the forerunner of the Federal Reserve, today’s modern banking system.

1910

1915

The first transcontinental telephone call was made in the United States. Presiding over the ceremonies by telephone were President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, DC, Alexander Graham Bell in New York, Thomas Watson in San Francisco, Henry Higginson in Boston, and AT&T President Theodore Newton Vail on Jekyll Island, GA.

1915

1924

Jekyll Island became a testing ground for the future of golf, resulting in the use of a lighter golf ball and steel-shafted clubs.

1924

1926

Walter J. Travis designed the island’s seaside course for the exclusive Jekyll Island Club, Great Dunes Golf Course. Travis declared he “was enthusiastic over the prospects at [Jekyll] for one of the most beautiful courses in the country.” Travis passed away in 1927, and never saw the course completed. Great Dunes opened in January of 1928.

1926

STATE Era

1947

The state of Georgia purchased Jekyll Island from the Jekyll Island Club through condemnation proceedings for $675,000.

1947

1948

Jekyll Island opened to the public as a State Park.

Historic State Park

Jekyll Island opens as state park; 1948

1948

1950

Jekyll Island Authority was established by Governor Talmadge and tasked with developing the island into a resort.

1950

1954

Drawbridge to the island was completed and opened, and Tallu Fish founded the Jekyll Island Museum, operating out of Indian Mound Cottage.

1954

1955

Perimeter road around the island was paved. A Beach Pavilion was constructed at one of the only beaches open to African Americans in the south during segregation.

1955

1956

Peppermint Land Amusement Park opened.

1956

1958

The first beach hotel on the island, Jekyll Estates, opened.

1958

1959

The first black-owned motel, The Dolphin Club, opened, and later became a group camp and youth center.

Historic 4-H Center

Dolphin Club & Motor Hotel; 1959

1959

1961

The Aquarama was completed, and construction began on the first 18-hole golf course.

Jekyll Island State Era

Jekyll Island Welcome sign; around 1960s

1961

1965

Funding was provided to pave the grass strip at the airport and construct a small support building.

1965

1969

The fishing pier was built on the north end of the island.

1969

1978

Jekyll Island’s historic district achieved Landmark District status, becoming known as the Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District.

1978

1982

Construction of the first bike path began.

1982

1983

The Dolphin Club, along with the auditorium and beach pavilion, were leased to the University of Georgia for 4-H summer camp, and later year-round youth environmental programs.

1983

1984-1986

The original Clubhouse of the Jekyll Island Club was renovated and later opened as a hotel.

1984-1986

Revitalization & Today

2007

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center opened in the renovated power plant of the Jekyll Island Club.

2007

2010

The Hampton Inn opens, the first new hotel built on Jekyll Island in over 30 years.

2010

2010

Great Dunes Park opens as a reimagined beachfront park with picnic pavilions, an activities deck, play areas, bocce ball and volleyball courts.

2010

2010

Once an indoor tennis court for guests of the Jekyll Island Club, a joint venture between the Jekyll Island Authority and the Jekyll Island Club Hotel restores the Morgan Center to a conference center.

2010

2012

The new Jekyll Island Convention Center opened.

Jekyll Island Convention Center

Jekyll Island Convention Center; opened 2012

2012

2015

A pinnacle year for revitalization, the new shopping center, Beach Village, and hotels Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island and The Westin Jekyll Island open. The Jekyll Island Foundation also completes their Horton Pond and Skeet House projects.

Beach Village Sidewalk Sales

Jekyll Island Beach Village; opened 2015

2015

Step inside Jekyll's history.

Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum, brings to life the rich history of this barrier island through compelling audio-visual experiences and interactive exhibits.