On this Memorial Day, I’m writing to you in a place far from hoME – miles and miles down the coast in Georgia. This is a place steeped in history – like much of Maine and other coastal communities – and being surrounded by that history has, on this particular holiday, enhanced my understanding of this important day and my thankfulness to those who have given, or risked, their lives for our country and our way of life.
There are elements of this place that strongly call Maine to mind – particularly the ocean and marshes – although it’s a very different coastal experience from the rocky, rugged coast of Maine. It has been soothing to be close to the ocean again – I miss it and the outdoor activities that go hand-in-hand, being so far inland in Charlotte. And so today, I hope to share this place with you through my post, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to come, visit, see, and do.
Nick was asked to attend a conference for work over this holiday weekend, and since they were sending us to such a beautiful spot – Jekyll Island, Georgia – we readily agreed. We followed a recommendation to stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, a lovely, luxurious hotel with a rich history. In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to be a winter retreat for America’s wealthiest families – the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Morgans, Pulitzers, and more. The Club officially opened in 1888, and over time, some families built “cottages” for themselves on the property.
Today, we would not describe these structures as remotely cottage-like. Intended to house both family members and servants, two of these large homes have been restored and are actively used for hotel guests. Nick and I stayed in the Sans Souci, pictured below, which was built in 1896 and owned in part by J.P. Morgan. The other restored home, the Crane Cottage, was built in 1917 for Richard Teller Crane, Jr., and is the largest and most lavish of the cottages.
This resort effectively combines the best of history and modern conveniences – our room was both spacious and charming, with a working fireplace and stunning crown molding. The sensation of walking along the same halls as those individuals who played such a significant role in making America what it is today is both fascinating and sobering.
Although the island is small – about 7 miles long- there is much to do and explore. On Saturday afternoon, shortly after our arrival and the set-up at the Convention Center, we enjoyed our first on-island dining experience – at the “Rah” Bar (I appreciate their humorous spelling) on the pier directly across from our hotel. We enjoyed fresh, wild caught shrimp and two Pina Coladas – and while the shrimp were slightly overcooked (making the peeling a little challenging) they were still quite tasty, and the Pina Coladas were delicious – the bartender didn’t skimp on the rum, a welcome surprise, as that is often the case.
On Sunday, Nick headed off to play golf with the other conference attendees, and I decided to rent a bike and cycle around the island. I must admit – I can appreciate the irony of my selecting this mode of transportation. I used to actively protest cycling around Acadia National Park on family vacations, and I still don’t really like to bike. Regardless, I thought it would be a good way to get some exercise and see the entire island. Roughly 18 miles and two hours later, my seat was incredibly sore and I was exhausted, but it was worth it, and I’m better able to appreciate why my parents wanted us to get around that way in Acadia.
Every moment on the Club property is like a scene from Gone with the Wind – from the formal dining room, with its ornate carvings and columns, plantation shutters, and view to the lush scenery outside to being outside – surrounded by old, old oak trees that are heavy with the Spanish Moss that epitomizes the coastal South.
Most of the bike ride was breathtaking – from my ride along the Intercoastal Waterway to the striking views of the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side – I was able to see and experience the island lifestyle in a way I couldn’t have otherwise. Where the Club is quiet, with the soothing grace of the old South, the Atlantic side of the island, with its wide, flat beaches, has more of the bustle and activity that you’d expect from a modern vacation destination.
One of my favorite things about this area is that it still feels a bit remote and rural – it has far fewer people than a vacation hot spot like Myrtle Beach, Charleston, or Savannah, and I love that. Perhaps that also means fewer dining and shopping options, but that’s fine by me – I’m not high maintenance about those things (after all, I grew up with only the Maine Mall to shop in).
I hope, if you decide to vacation down south, that you consider visiting this idyllic, picturesque place. True, it’s a bit further than some of the destinations I mentioned above, but I have to say – it’s well worth every extra moment in the car, plane, or boat.
Happy Memorial Day!