Jekyll Island History by Tyler E. Bagwell
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Hotel St. Simons, St Simons Island, Georgia
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The Hotel St. Simons:
A turn of the century island resort

By Tyler E. Bagwell

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Late 1800s photograph of the Hotel St. Simons (courtesy of Betsy Bean)
In 1888 a large wooden hotel was erected on St. Simons Island by a business called The Brunswick Company. The structure, located in the vicinity of present day Massengale Park, was three-stories in height and included in its design a stately tower and a majestic wrap-around porch. The resort, dubbed the Hotel St. Simons, offered ocean view rooms and could accommodate up to three hundred vacationers. The hotel also included twenty rental cottages, which were situated on the northern side of the structure.

Besides being the proprietors of the Hotel St. Simons, The Brunswick Company also owned the Oglethorpe Hotel as well as large tracts of property on St. Simons and in the city of Brunswick. During the 1890s furnishings from the Oglethorpe Hotel were often transported by boat back and forth to the Hotel St. Simons. In the book St. Simons Island: A summary of its history R. Edwin Green explains, "For summer when hotel occupancy was low in Brunswick, they would move much of the Oglethorpe Hotel furniture to their hotel on St. Simons... and then move it back to Brunswick for the winter."

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A circa 1910s postcard of the St. Simons coastline, located in the vicinity of the lighthouse, is pictured above.
A streetcar line, also owned by The Brunswick Company, operated between the Hotel St. Simons and a wharf located south of the lighthouse. Passenger boats made regular trips to and from St. Simons and Brunswick. Barbara Hull in her book St. Simons Enchanted Island writes, "A street car drawn by two little mules carried guests from the pier to the hotel, where a carefully-tended lawn stretched down to the beach. An orchestra which played for dancing helped to create an atmosphere of carefree gaiety."

On December 13th 1898 the Hotel St. Simons, which had operated for ten years, was destroyed by fire. Barbara Hull confirms, "...the Hotel St. Simons was closed because of the Spanish-American War, and then it burned late in 1898." With the destruction of the Hotel St. Simons, other inns on the island such as the Arnold House and the Bellevue Hotel gained in recognition and prosperity.

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A 1910s postcard of the New St. Simons Hotel is seen above. This postcard and other views of Glynn County could be purchased at the S. H. Kress & Co. store in downtown Brunswick.
By 1910 the New St. Simons Hotel, a resort constructed by businessmen from Waycross and located on the site of the razed Hotel St. Simons, offered vacationers year-round accommodations. Although not as Victorian architecturally as the Hotel St. Simons had been, the New St. Simons Hotel consisted of a three-storied structure built of wood and painted yellow. A large wrap-around porch encompassed the side of the hotel facing the beach and several rental cottages, complete with hotel maid service, were also available for short or long-term lease.

Frances Peabody McKay in her book More Fun Than Heaven gives a description of a trolley ride in the 1910s to the New St. Simons Hotel.  She recounts, "We filled two rows of seats as we bounced along on the narrow gauge track, down the dock, along the side of the road until it turned inland, then across the sand dunes along the beach, until we came to the big, impressive hotel... We were particularly impressed with the wide veranda and the big comfortable-looking white-painted rocking chairs at the hotel."

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Another postcard of the New St. Simons Hotel is viewed above circa 1910s. The roofs and front porches of the hotel rental cottages may be seen to the left of the inn and a water tower discerned to the right of the main structure.
During the evenings Frances McKay recalled having to wear formal attire or "Sunday outfits" in the dining room. Her favorite place to eat at the New St. Simons Hotel, though, was with the employees who dined at a table located on the back porch of the inn. From her observations most of the vacationers staying at the hotel came primarily from the Atlanta area.

In 1916 the New St. Simons Hotel burned to the ground and for a brief time the former Bellevue Hotel, a resort once located near the St. Simons pier, operated under the name St. Simons Hotel.


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