Skip to main content

The Gilded Age

The Jekyll Island Club 
Source: Creative Commons :

Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, Jekyll Island served no real purpose. The island was plundered during the war, and the fertile land was not used as slavery was made illegal. This led to Newton Finney and John Eugene DuBignon to come up with a way to utilize the vast, untapped land. Their plan: to develop the island into a southern oasis for northern businessman in the winter. 

In 1885, Finney, DuBignon, and businessman out of New York petitioned to the Glynn County court system to allow them to start their club. On December 9th, 1885, the club was granted permission, and they began to sell “shares,” or memberships, for $600. Some of the original purchasers include J.P. Morgan, William Vanderbilt, Joseph Pulitzer, and several other of the world’s richest men. On Febuary 17th of the following year, the island was officially handed over to the club for $150,000 — almost 5 million dollars in todays money. 

Construction began immediately, and architects and builders from around the country were called upon to aid. In January 1888, the club officially opened its doors, becoming the “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world….” One Sixth of the world’s wealth was concentrated on the island, a statistic that is hard to comprehend today. Soon, the Rockefeller family joined in on the fun, and built a “cottage” on the island. The Jekyll Island Club was a place where the world’s richest could go and disconnect with the world. Many had their own cottages on the island, but the Club featured everything they could ever ask for: restaurants, hunting, golf, tennis, biking, nature, beaches. There was little that Jekyll didn’t have, and if the guests wanted something bad enough, they could afford to have it built. 

Several notable events happened on Jekyll Island during this time. The first was the creation of the Federal Reserve. In November 1910, a secret meeting was held at the Jekyll Island Club in which drafts of legislation were written and discussed. This legislation would go onto be the foundation for The Federal Reserve System, the a central banking system that essentially controls the United States economy. 

Another notable event that occurred at the Jekyll Island Club was the first transcontinental telephone call. The AT&T President, Theodore Vail listened to the phone call from the club on January 25, 1915. Joining him was Woodrow Wilson ,the President of the United States, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Watson, the CEO of IBM, and Henry Higginson. 

Amidst the Great Depression, the island and club began to diminish in size and stature. Its decline was furthered by the start of World War II, in which the billionaires saw themselves as targets on the east coast. As a result, they moved from the island almost overnight, and they abandoned their homes and belongings. Today, you can still visit the club and the many historic cottages surrounding it.  

The initial meeting discussing the future of the Jekyll Island Club. Source:

The Jekyll Island Club as it appeared in 1901. Source:

The first transcontinental telephone call in 1915. Source:

error: Content is protected !!