JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. — Jekyll Island is celebrating 75 years as a state park, which opened up some of the most beautiful parts of the Georgia coast to the public.
However, it wasn’t always accessible for all.
"In 1947 ... Governor Thompson had campaigned on the promise that he would make Jekyll Island a playground for everyone," explained Tom Alexander, Director of Historic Resources for the island.
“At that time, the Jekyll Island Club was still the private owners of the island and Governor Thompson knew the club was in serious decline because of income tax, two world wars, the Great Depression," Alexander said. "He decided he would have Jekyll a state park.”
The state of Georgia bought the island for $675,000 in 1947.
Driftwood beach is probably what you think of when you think of Jekyll Island, but the history goes deeper and darker than just the beauty and the landscape. The island is honoring and respecting that in the seven miles that it spans.
It may have 75 years as a state park, but the island history goes back 6,000 years.
"We had Native Americans," Alexander said. "We had the Timucuan people that had actually migrated up from the Jacksonville area."
The island is home to some of the darkest parts of American history: Slavery.
St. Andrews Beach is the site where the last known slave ships arrived in America.
About 500 African slaves were brought here. Historians are still working to preserve their names.
After the island opened to the public, St, Andrews Beach was one of the first in Georgia where African Americans could gather.
The island also has a rich history during the Gilded Age when Rockefellers and Vanderbilts had homes on the island, which still stand today.
Many of the historic mansions are made available to tour. Some have even been transformed into cottages, where you can stay.
“In the very early 1900s, about a 6th of the wealth of world was represented in this club’s membership," Alexander said.
That was all before it became a state park. Now the history and beauty is accessible to all.