Monday, February 25, 2008

Watch Your Wallet and Jekyll Island

My beer buddy Luther keeps alive the warning "Watch out for your wallets, your wives and daughters, and Jekyll Island. The Georgia Legislature is in session." Luther is old-school. He remembers state legislators lining up for Jekyll junkets, discharging their grave responsibility to oversee real estate owned by Georgia taxpayers, while throwing historic beach parties for good old boys, with barbeque, booze and sort-of gorgeous girls in the spirit of what happens on Jekyll stays on Jekyll.

The Georgia Legislature created the Jekyll Island Authority to preserve and take care of this unique natural resource. Now the Jekyll Island Authority, political appointees of the Governor, aided an abetted by the legislature, is moving inexorably towards commercial development of the pristine state park that would feature a 64-acre town center, 277 condos, 160 time-share units, and three hotels with 725 rooms I could not afford, 102,000 square feet of retail space, and a new convention center. This will occupy the main part of Jekyll's beautiful natural oceanfront, eliminating four oceanfront public parking lots in favor of private development. Critics charge the development will decrease the percentage of affordable hotel rooms, making high-end rooms the norm within the park. The sale price of the new condos is expected to average over a half a million dollars each. Public debt to provide the infrastructure for the development begins at $84.5 million. This is what Republicans do: outsource government services, like hiring Hessian security forces in Iraq, and sell off public property to developers. Can anybody say, goodbye to the sea turtles and other precious and sensitive wildlife habitats?

Jekyll Island was named not for the bipolar physician and recreational chemical experimenter of the Robert Louis Stevenson story but rather for another Englishman, Sir Joseph Jekyll, a pal of Georgia colonizer James Oglethorpe. Nonetheless, the island was long mis-spelled Jekyl Island, until the modern Georgia Legislature, always sticklers for improvement of statewide literacy, corrected this error. For most of its early history, Jekyll Island was a family-owned and prosperous cotton plantation. Fifty years after importing slaves to the United States was outlawed, the last slave ship to Georgia soil arrived at Jekyll Island from Africa with 465 involuntary illegal immigrants. When plantation life ended, owners of Jekyll Island came up with the idea of selling the island to Yankees as a winter resort. The resulting Jekyll Island Club was eventually joined by the rich and famous including Marshall Field, J. P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and William H. Vanderbilt. The first transcontinental telephone call was made from Jekyll Island by the president of AT&T, to Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas A. Watson and President Woodrow Wilson, and Jekyll Island hosted the creation of the Federal Reserve System. Along with the rest of the country, Jekyll Island fell on hard times during the 1930’s. However, in 1946 M E Thompson, (of Georgia's Trio of Governors fame) wanted to purchase one of Georgia's Sea Islands and open it to the public as a state park, and Jekyll was purchased by the state in 1947.

The wonderful photos included herein are by Kristina Simms, longtime friend of my wife’s and mine. After a career teaching in the central Georgia public schools, she has earned her retirement as grass roots Democratic activist, an advocate for mental health, and photographer of the beauty of Georgia.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter

1 comment:

Tina said...

Well-stated, Bill. And thanks for the nice words about the photos.
Retirement has its benefits and, along with the taking up of new causes, taking up new hobbies is one of them. :-)


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