January may seem like an odd time to plan a getaway to the Georgia coast, but it’s the perfect time to search for treasure – both natural and man-made – in one of the state’s loveliest sites, Jekyll Island.
In 1888, The Jekyll Island Club opened and, every January for 54 years, the wealthy elite arrived to escape the cold for the winter season. Owned by the State of Georgia since 1947, the island measures approximately seven miles long and one and a half miles wide and includes more than 8 miles of beach. Development is limited by legislative mandate, leaving sixty-five percent of the island mostly natural and undeveloped. You won’t find high-rise condos and cheesy beach souvenir shops, but instead a historic district, three golf courses, 20 miles of bike paths, and plenty of nature and wildlife. With average high temperatures in January hovering around the mid-sixties, a walk on the beach with a cup of warm coffee is quite pleasant. Add the lack of crowds to long stretches of sand, and you almost think you are on a private island.
If the sheer peacefulness isn’t enough to lure you to the coast, consider the annual Island Treasures event. Each day in January and February, two to five “treasures” are hidden around the island for lucky guests to find and keep. The treasures are glass floats, blown-glass spheres once used by fisherman in the early 1900s to keep nets and fishing lines afloat. In those days, the floats often came loose and washed onto shore, becoming popular finds for beachcombers. Today, the floats are no longer used by the fisherman, and while some may still be floating in the ocean, finding one washed up on shore would be very rare.
The Jekyll Island Authority has kept the treasure-hunt alive by hand-picking artists to create one-of-a-kind glass floats in an array of colors. Each float is marked with a special tag and can be registered at the guest information center for a certificate of authenticity and artist biography. Find a treasure and it’s yours to keep!
The possibility of treasure isn’t the only reward: Jekyll Island is a great place to explore while you hunt. Check out a few of my favorite places:
• Walk the southern tip of the island during low tide. Here you will find the remains of the shrimp boat, Mary Anne, which sank in 1996. Sand has covered the boat and all that remains visible today is the mast standing like a sculpture on the beach. The southern tip of Jekyll is also one of the most famous birding sites in Georgia.
• On the north end of the island, the ruins of the Horton House stand as a silent reminder of Georgia’s colonial history. As part of an effort by Oglethorpe to expand the settlement of the Georgia coast, Major William Horton settled on Jekyll Island and built a two-story tabby home in 1742. The frame of the home is still intact and preserved. It is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the state of Georgia.
• If you enjoy wildlife, don’t miss Horton Pond. Situated in the maritime forest, Horton Pond is found down a short dirt road off North Beachview Drive. The pond site is home to birds, fish, turtles, and alligators. This secluded spot is perfect for a glimpse of wildlife from a viewing platform.
• Driftwood Beach will amaze you with its beautiful driftwood and ocean views. This area was originally a picnic ground, but erosion, storms, and shifting sand uprooted trees and changed the landscape. The exposed limbs and roots of the ancient oaks and downed pines are bleached gray and etched by the wind, surf, and sand, creating works of art on the beach. This location, with its dramatic views, is a favorite spot for photographers – especially for a sunrise at low tide.
• Experience the history of the island by walking through the historic district or taking a guided tram tour. Wander the same grounds where families like the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Goodyears spent their winters. Here is where the first transcontinental telephone call was made in 1915. It is also the location of the 1910 meeting in which legislation was drafted to create the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Sans Souci, built in 1896, is a six-unit building considered to be one of the first condominiums built in this country. Most of the mansion-sized “cottages” still stand today, along with the Jekyll Island Club. The Faith Chapel, constructed in 1904, features gargoyles and brilliantly-colored Tiffany stained glass windows.
• As you hunt for your Island Treasure, take in the beauty of Jekyll and all it has to offer in history and nature. It is a unique place to escape winter doldrums. And don’t despair if you don’t find a treasure, you can purchase one at the guest center on the causeway as you head home.