Historical and natural resources fill this state-owned isle, and fascinating area side trips beckon as well.
By Lazelle Jones
FMC magazine, February 2009
Most everyone’s heard of Jekyll Island, a barrier island along the coast of southern Georgia. It’s situated near Brunswick, and especially hard to miss if you’re a snowbird who migrates north and south along Interstate 95 twice a year. As a resident of the western United States, I’m not a frequent I-95 traveler, but I found Jekyll Island to be well worth its popular reputation.
In addition to the drama of the ocean and the pristine and bucolic landscape that surrounds the island, area shopping and dining opportunities await. Plus, Jeykll Island is truly motorhome-friendly, with one of the great but low-profile RV parks (Jeykll Island Campground) in the southeastern United States.
Jekyll Island was named after a British supporter of the colonization of Georgia, Sir Joseph Jekyll. Interestingly, one of his great-great-great nephews befriended writer Robert Louis Stevenson, who used his friend’s surname in the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The centerpiece of the island is the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Listed as a National Historic Landmark, the hotel was part of a complex of buildings constructed near the turn of the century (circa 1880) for the rich and famous. The Jekyll Island Club was originally founded as a hunting club and escape spot for the likes of Marshall Field, J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and William K. Vanderbilt.
The hotel’s manicured grounds along the water’s edge, huge reflecting pools, and elegant original structures tell of another time when opulence was enjoyed by the uppermost elite. Today one of the things visitors must do while here is to dine in one of the beautiful hotel dining rooms, which are open for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The hotel is part of a significant historic district that itself has been granted National Historic Landmark status, all located on the causeway side of the island.
Only a couple of blocks from the hotel is the new Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which opened in June 2007. It’s a sanctuary for sick and injured rare and endangered tortoises and other sea creatures, and already boasts successful rescue stories. For a small entry fee you can visit fascinating exhibits and, for a bit more, take a behind-the-scenes tour. For more information, visit www.georgiaseaturtlecenter.org; (912) 635-4444.
At Jekyll Island, you can fish right along the shore, or try your luck at freshwater spots. With all the choices around for fishing, this is one impressive spot, if you’re an angler. And you always have the option of going offshore with charter boat fishing excursions and kayak rentals.
Golfers also will be glad to learn Jekyll Island has a total of 63 holes, located at three 18-hole courses and one 9-hole course “” enough to occupy a few days, at least!
Speaking of rentals, rent a bicycle if you don’t bring your own, and travel with pedal power. You can make your own tour and stop as you like. Bird-watchers will especially appreciate a slow tour just to admire all the many species they will find. The island’s small size (approximately 7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide) makes it very easy to bike all the way around.
Many of the old buildings here are made of what is called tabby, a material settlers creatively concocted because there were no quarries that could provide stone. Tabby is a concrete-type material that was created by mixing water, sand, and lime. The lime was harvested by firing (to super-high temperatures) clam shells from the old shell beds where Indians had for centuries harvested their bountiful catches along these seashores. Once the firing process was completed, the shells were added to the other tabby ingredients and allowed to set up and harden.
With its pristine, natural settings, Jekyll Island is one of those places you can stay for quite awhile. But if you’re willing to explore more of south Georgia, get in the towed car or motorhome and head back to the mainland. Following are a few other places in south Georgia that merit a day trip.
Georgia’s South Shore: Go To Eat And Explore
A dining experience you’ll discuss for years to come all starts in nearby Brunswick. After crossing the bridge that takes you off Jeykll Island, make an immediate right turn and head north across the huge, space-age bridge that lies directly in front of you. Just across the bridge on the right-hand side is Lady Jane Cruises, where you can board the shrimp boat Lady Jane and join in on the catch and then feast on the harvest.
With Captain Larry Credle in the wheelhouse and his son Clifford directing the deckhands outside, the Lady Jane winds its way out though the ocean inlets to sea beds that are rich with shrimp just waiting to be harvested. The Lady Jane doesn’t go out in the open ocean, so those who may be concerned about seasickness should know it’s not a problem. Once the shrimp beds are reached, giant nets are lowered from a boom and then dragged along the bottom. The crew pulls in nets full of sea life. Everything is dumped on a giant stainless-steel table, where the shrimp are separated and the remaining creatures are returned to the sea. In a matter of minutes, the shrimp are steamed and then become the main entrée of a much larger, delicious feast the crew has prepared. The whole experience is just delightful. For more information, visit www.credlesadventures.com or call (912) 265-5711.
From Brunswick, head south on Interstate 95, then jog west off Exit 14 to the little town of Woodbine. It’s worth the drive (approximately 25 miles) if you like country music. At the old Woodbine High School, you can enjoy the Woodbine Opry. The showcase is usually offered in the old auditorium of the school, but that room is being restored now, and until renovations are finished, the show takes place in the cafeteria. Also, after renovations are complete, the tradition of offering dinner in the cafeteria prior to the show may be resumed. Check for details before you visit.
Currently on Friday nights you can hear acoustic bluegrass and gospel music; on Saturdays, it’s country music (with amplifiers). On Saturdays you’ll hear tunes popular during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Personally, I found it to be an excellent alternative to being at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Admission is free, but donations are accepted (a fund-raising raffle is held). Music starts at 7:00 p.m. For the latest news about the opry, visit www.woodbineopry.com or call (912) 576-3027.
It’s not far from Woodbine to Kingsland (approximately 11 miles south), where many colorful murals decorate the old brick buildings in the downtown area. There’s an eatery in town called Mango’s Cafe that, without a doubt, will be enjoyed by everyone. When you enter you might scratch your head and ask, “Why here, in this small town?” But here it is, and folks from all around come to embrace the atmosphere and enjoy the excellent food. Operated by husband and wife David and Brittany Oropeza (he is from Venezuela and she is from nearby Brunswick, Georgia), the restaurant offers cuisine that is a fusion of all kinds of different recipes from across Central America and Latin America. For more information or directions, call (912) 576-1000.
Next, head back to the ocean and the town of St. Marys, where a full day easily can be spent enjoying the casual atmosphere of this seaside community. As in many provincial areas across America, there is a cemetery that the locals testify is visited by spirits from the past. Centuries-old headstones with elaborate epitaphs make this the perfect place to stroll and wonder whether any of this folklore is true.
S t. Marys’ quaint old downtown has pastel buildings that were constructed with tabby, and attractions include a submarine museum, as well as the Cumberland Island Museum and Cumberland Island Visitors Center. Here also is one of the very best places to enjoy a guided kayak tour. Led by an expert guide from Up the Creek Xpeditions and Outfitters, a typical paddling excursion can last as long as you wish. Dolphins and a wide variety of marine life are seen as you move through fresh water, into brackish water, and finally into sea water. Experiencing the coastal waters of south Georgia by kayak is as good as it gets. To learn more, visit www.upthecreektrips.com or call (877) 878-4327; (912) 882-0911.
No matter how much of this part of southeast Georgia you explore, when it’s time to go, you will probably find yourself calculating how soon you can return. Make plans to see it, either before or after FMCA’s international convention in Perry this March.
Jekyll Island Welcome Center
901 Downing Musgrove Causeway
Jekyll Island, GA 31527
Jekyll Island Campground
1197 Riverview Drive
Jekyll Island, GA 31527
The campground has pull-through spaces, full hookups, 30- and 50-amp sites, a store, a laundry, showers, bicycle rentals, and more.
(Georgia Department of Economic Development)
75 Fifth St. N.W., Suite 1200
Atlanta, GA 30308