Jekyll Island History by Tyler E. Bagwell
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Sea Island, Georgia
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The Early Years of Sea Island, Georgia

By Tyler E. Bagwell

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Palm Grove, Long Island
In the 1920s Sea Island, a small coastal isle located near Brunswick, Georgia, was known by the name Long Island and a business called the St. Simon-Long Island Company was its proprietor. This company, composed mainly of Brunswick residents, realized that real estate near the beach would become highly desirable following completion of the causeway between Brunswick and St. Simons Island. During the 1924 year, the St. Simon-Long Island Company constructed roadways and house lots on the island and created a causeway connecting it to St. Simons Island. The F.J. Torras Causeway, then dubbed the Brunswick-St. Simons Highway, officially opened in July of 1924. By December of that year the Long Island causeway, a simple dirt and mud road through the marsh, was inaugurated.

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First Street, Long Island
Spectators were soon visiting Long Island by car, spending time on the beach, and viewing the house lots for sale. By the summer of 1925 a pavilion was erected near the beach and dances were held at the structure on a regular basis. Although Long Island became popular with sightseers, it was soon sold due to financial difficulties. Harold H. Martin in his book This Happy Isle: The story of Sea Island and the Cloister explains, "Coastal Georgia's citizens were happy to come to Long Island to bathe in the surf, picnic on the beach, and dance at the two-story brown-shingled pavilion with its breeze-swept upper veranda overlooking the sea. Unhappily, they were much less interested in building a summer residence there. Though more than hundred lots had been sold, the Long Island Company was broke."

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Tolomato Golf Club
In 1926 Howard E. Coffin, a Detroit automobile manufacturer, bought Long Island and renamed it Glynn Isle. Coffin, owner and resident of Sapelo Island, also obtained large tracts of property on the southwestern side of St. Simons. With these land holdings, Howard Coffin and his real estate business, the Sea Island Company, soon began constructing a resort. Local residents were encouraged to get involved in the project by purchasing stock in his development company.

On St. Simons, the Sea Island Company built a boat landing on the Intracoastal Waterway side of the island near the F. J. Torras Causeway, and a golf course was erected in the vicinity of the Retreat Plantation ruins. While plans were made for the construction of a hotel on Glynn Isle, the former Long Island beach pavilion was completely remodeled. It was decided though, that the previous road system and the arrangement of house lots on Glynn Isle would be retained.

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Sea Island Pool
In the spring of 1928 the first 9-holes of the golf course, designed by golf professional Walter Travis, was finished. In the early years the course would be known as the Tolomato Golf Club. Howard Coffin, interested in historical preservation, painstakingly saved on the golf course many of the structures and ruins of the plantation. For instance, an old tabby barn used to store corn was converted into the golf clubhouse.

The remodeled beach pavilion, dubbed the Glynn Isle Casino, was ready for vacationers by June of 1928. An article in The Brunswick News announced that the Carolina Gamecocks Orchestra would perform all summer at the structure. The Carolina Gamecocks, explained the June 1928 article, "...are undergraduates of the South Carolina University, and ...have an international reputation for their fine music."

With the opening of the golf course and Glynn Isle Casino, the Sea Island Company needed immediate accommodations for guests until the construction of the hotel could be finished. A refurbished warship, called the Amphitrite, was obtained and docked at the company's boat landing on St. Simons. This large multi-storied ship, referred to in period newspaper articles and advertisements as the "floating hotel," operated throughout the summer of 1928.

A June 20, 1928 article in The Brunswick News offers a description of the vessel. The Amphitrite, it states, "...is equipped with every modern convenience and appointment; has seventy-two available rooms... each equipped with telephones, electric fans and handsome furnishings...cool and spacious promenade decks on each floor... [and] There is a large and comfortable roof garden on the upper deck, furnished especially for lounging parties and protected from the weather by handsome awnings..."

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Cloister Hotel
96-year-old J. Wesley Wellman of Fancy Bluff remembers viewing from the north end of Jekyll the Amphitrite moored at the Sea Island Yacht Club. Mr. Wellman, a Jekyll Island Club employee in the 1920s, recalls that from Jekyll the boat appeared to be a three-storied barge that at night could clearly be seen by the glow of the ship's electric lights.

By October of 1928 the hotel on Glynn Isle was built and in operation. Addison Mizner, a noted Palm Beach architect, designed the structure and also influenced the Sea Island Company into calling it The Cloister, the name of one of his resorts in Florida that had gone bankrupt.

In the book This Happy Isle: The story of Sea Island and the Cloister, Harold H. Martin states that Addison Mizner designed the Glynn Isle Hotel "... in the Spanish motif-the low red-tile roof, the sunlit patios, the grand lounge with its high beamed ceiling and clerestory windows, all reminiscent of the dream hotel he had built in Florida. And out of sentiment perhaps, he persuaded them to name it "The Cloister."

By the 1930s Howard Coffin and the Sea Island Company would change the coastal island's name from Glynn Isle to Sea Island.


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