The ruins of once-grand Chichota Cottage spring to a new life
BY DENISE K. JAMES
Even if their story has been shrouded by the passing of time, some places reveal their histories in a certain mood, in the setting, and in remnants left behind. The site of Chichota Cottage is such a place. Tucked into the Historic District of Jekyll Island, these ruins once were the stately home of New York City contractor David H. King Jr., the developer of (among other projects) Madison Square Garden, the Washington Square Arch, and the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty.
Chichota Cottage, built in 1897, was purchased two years later by the Gould family who, like many members of the Jekyll Island Club, would visit their second home to enjoy the peaceful, essential beauty of the island by hunting, biking, and exploring nature, according to the Jekyll Island Authority’s historic preservationist, Taylor Davis.
Tragedy struck the Gould family during a trip in 1917, when Edwin Gould Jr. was killed in a hunting accident. While out with his tutor, Edwin tried to club a raccoon with a loaded shotgun, and the weapon discharged into his abdomen. Devastated, the Goulds never returned to Chichota, and the estate was finally razed in 1941.
“By all accounts, it was in bad shape when they tore it down,” Davis says. For years, virtually the only trace of the majestic home was a pair of marble lions that once guarded the entrance. They remain today.
In 2018, rehabilitation of the site began. A great deal of passion still is being poured into the work. But to make the ruins accessible to as many visitors as possible, the first item on Davis’ to-do list was to add an access path and ramp, ensuring the site met the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In addition, a number of beautiful original terra cotta quarry tiles were salvaged and incorporated into the courtyard rehabilitation project, along with careful reproductions of other tiles. Students from the University of Georgia’s Coastal Field Studies program, along with preservation volunteers, contributed to the project.
Thanks to a recent donation to the Jekyll Island Foundation, Chichota’s improvements continue. Part of what once was the cottage’s basement is being repurposed as a patio, ideal as an outdoor classroom or event venue and with a ramp and stairwell that include a safety railing leading into the space. The former swimming pool is partly filled with gravel, sand, and pavers, leaving a comfortable edge for guests to perch and enjoy presentations.
Davis admits that recent supply sourcing delays (including a holdup in the last known production of the replica quarry tiles) have presented some hurdles. “We’re specific with the pavers we’re using [on the patio] … and it’s a challenge finding comparable materials to match what we already have,” he notes. “But with the group effort of our volunteers, JIA staff, contractors, our interns, and generous donations, it’s coming together.”
Preserving the beauty of the Chichota site is paramount. Much of the original vegetation will remain part of the property, and the landscape architect is “excited to plant kumquat trees,” according to Davis, in the property’s former kumquat grove.
“We’re letting the vegetation come back—climbing vines, creeping figs—and it’s taking the feeling from the past and recreating it,” he adds.