My mother used to say, "All the things that you love about St. Simons are there because the Sea Island Company had a hand in preserving them," according to Jeanne Kaufmann, one of the co-founders of the St. Simons Land Trust and a lifelong resident of the island.


Jeannie and her mother and other coastal natives know that those far-reaching hands belonged to members of the A.W. Jones family and that they and the Sea Island Company are responsible for conserving thousands of acres of undeveloped land, leading efforts to preserve important historical and environmental features along the Georgia coast, promoting quality education in Glynn County, bringing revenue to the community, and providing employment to generations. They also know that what the family has done for St. Simons, Sea Island, Cumberland, Jekyll, and all of coastal Georgia is without equal.

Alfred W. Jones, Sr., Bill Jones III, and A.W. Jones Jr.
Photo courtesy of Sea Island Archives
The Joneses' commitment to community began nearly a century ago, when A.W. Jones, Sr. and his older cousin Howard Coffin, an automobile and transportation titan from Detroit, decided to open "a friendly little hotel" in the 1920's. The Cloister, a Spanish Mediterranean style hotel designed by renowned architect Addison Mizner, opened its doors in 1928 on Sea Island, one of the many tracts of coastal property acquired by Coffin.
Since that time, generations of families have played, worked, and lived on Sea Island. Couples who were married at the hotel often returned 50 years later to celebrate golden wedding anniversaries with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Throughout the decades as the Georgia coast has changed exponentially, enduring wars, economic upheaval, monster storms, high-density development, and now a pandemic, the constant has been A.W. Jones Sr.'s legacy of giving back and the generous work that has been continued by his children and grandchildren.
Although The Cloister soon became one of the most highly ranked luxury resorts in the world, there was a family-focused atmosphere created by the Joneses that gave the hotel its biggest draw. U.S. presidents -- from Coolidge to Carter to Clinton, along with a few Bushes and a Ford -- as well as prime ministers, queens, movie stars, famous authors, artists, and other dignitaries and celebrities loved the local lifestyle, the attention to detail, the respect for old-fashioned good manners and tradition, and the "heart for service" that was required of all company employees. Many of those guests returned year after year, mingling with families from across the country who spent nearly every summer vacation and holiday at the beach, enjoying Sunday lunches and family meals at The Cloister.
The original motor entrance at The Cloister
Luckily, the Jones family understood that the natural and cultural values of coastal Georgia were as important a draw to visitors and future residents as were the five-star resort amenities and genuine hospitality featured at the hotel. After the St. Simons Land Trust was founded in 2000, the Sea Island Company started encouraging guests of The Cloister and The Lodge to donate two dollars per room per night to the newly formed organization. Those voluntary contributions grew quickly and soon began generating roughly $100,000 a year to land conservation.
That initiative was the brainchild of A.W. Jones, III, the grandson of A.W. Sr. and known locally as "Bill III." As the largest landholders in the area, with at one time owning more than 65,000 acres of prime coastal property, "We've always felt a responsibility to be good stewards of that land," Bill said in an interview several years ago for a national magazine when he was President of the Sea Island Company.

"Over the years, we've donated thousands of acres of land to the state of Georgia," he said at the time.
"We feel that if it's not good for the community, it's probably
not good for us."
Bill Jones III
It was Bill's grandfather, A.W. Jones, Sr., who was instrumental in helping to secure a national seashore designation for Cumberland Island and in permanently protecting Jekyll Island through a Georgia State Park designation. The Jones patriarch also worked with Methodist Bishop Arthur J. Moore in acquiring land along the Frederica River on St. Simons Island that eventually became the United Methodist retreat, Epworth by the Sea.
His son, A.W. Jones, Jr., a great outdoorsman and gardener known for his faith, kindness, and generosity, took the helm of the Sea Island Company in the 1960's and continued the legacy of commitment to community and philanthropy. "The family made land donations to many churches on St. Simons, several of which are adjacent to Fort Frederica," wrote Dr. Valerie Hepburn, former president of the College of Coastal Georgia, in an article for the Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation when she was President and CEO of the Foundation. "In addition to supporting organizations of faith, those land donations ensured a conservation buffer around the historic fort and its stunning acreage on the river which Jones, Sr. had helped earn designation as a National Monument."
In addition, A.W. Jr. helped to found Frederica Academy and the Jones family donated land on St. Simons for the college preparatory school's campus. In the early 1960's, he and other family members helped to establish what began as Brunswick Junior College and is now the College of Coastal Georgia.

And in 1986, he and shareholders of the Sea Island Company (including his siblings, Marianna Kuntz, Kappy O'Connor, Howard Jones, and their children) donated ten acres of Land to the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. Nine of those acres became the home of Wesleyan United Methodist Church at Frederica. At the same time, ten additional acres were donated to Christ Church Frederica with the caveat that both churches give back an acre each to create a garden in memory of John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism in the 18th Century. That tranquil, azalea-filled garden is adjacent to Wesleyan United Methodist Church and across Frederica Road from Christ Church and Fort Frederica National Monument.
Wesley Gardens, Frederica Road, St. Simons Island
Photo by Golden Isles CVB
Ann Jones Chandler, one of A.W. Jr.'s three children, remembers those special Sunday lunches on Sea Island, the alfresco meals at the Beach Club, and dinner dances at the hotel. But mainly she remembers a Sea Island that ended at 36th Street, when there were only two houses on 10th Street, when Ocean Forest was still a wilderness, when she and friends "would get on our bikes and be gone all day," gathering chicken eggs at the stables and riding horses in the ocean on "swim rides" and when her father rose each day at 5:00 AM, took her mother a cup of coffee, and then walked down the dirt road and through a rickety gate to fish at an area that today is gated in a different kind of way at the northern tip of Sea Island. Her father always had a large garden in those days, too, growing southern vegetables such as squash and tomatoes. It was more of a bucolic upbringing for her and her siblings and cousins than it was life at a high-end resort.
Her generation of Joneses -- Ann (the oldest of A.W.'s children, "and the bossy one," she says), Bill III (16 months younger than his sister), and baby brother Jim, who is an award-winning, nationally recognized artist, along with their many cousins who are the children of Marrianna, Kappy, and Howard -- have all continued the tradition of giving back to community with faith and conservation as the cornerstones of their philanthropy.
"Road in the Woods" by artist Jim Jones, in The Cloister
In 2005, Bill III spearheaded an effort to create the Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation and encouraged philanthropy across the region. Today, he serves on the board of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and is a former trustee of The Nature Conservancy. Both Bill and brother Jim have served terms on the board of the St. Simons Land Trust (as well as countless other nonprofit organizations), and all three siblings are Charter Members of the Trust.
Jim Jones among SSLT supporters and board members
at the dedication of the Mildred Huie property in 2018
Today, Bill III is a current member of our board of directors, providing expertise in land acquisitions and fundraising, as well as deep knowledge about the coast's cultural influences on the state and the region.
It was also Bill III who led efforts to bring the 30th annual G8 summit to Sea Island in June 2004. Although by that time the original Cloister hotel was in the middle of a major renovation, world leaders from Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom were in attendance. U.S. President George W. Bush followed in the tradition of American presidents before him, including his father, and planted a live oak tree during the international conference.
Bill and Sally Jones standing next to President George W. Bush
as he plants a live oak on Sea Island during the 2004 G8 Summit.
White House Photo by Eric Draper

As Dana Pope Manning, the former Development Director and Deputy Executive Director of the Land Trust, said in a recent interview for an oral history project on SSLT, "The Jones family had always been such good stewards of the land. They owned the majority of the developed property on St. Simons and were very thoughtful on how they developed. . . . I think their philosophy and what the Land Trust goals were, were in sync."
There is an ethos among many leading American families that to whom much is given, much is expected. Although members of the Jones family know they are fortunate in many ways, it is the sandy roads of undisturbed barrier islands, the stunning beauty of maritime forests, childhoods filled with long summer days running through wilderness trails, fishing and hunting and riding horses into the ocean, attending church with loving parents and grandparents, being surrounded by cousins and nature that make them feel privileged. These are the foundational elements of their lives, their north stars, what has informed their giving and their lasting positive impact on coastal Georgia.
As Jeanne Kaufmann's mother always said, nearly all the things we love best about this part of the world is because the Jones family had a hand in conserving or creating it. It's difficult to imagine a legacy finer than that.
It's also difficult to conceive of a way to adequately thank one family
for their leadership and wisdom, their benevolence, and
their passion for protecting Georgia's coast.
But we will continue to try . . .
On behalf of everyone who has invested in
land conservation and supported the St. Simons Land Trust over the years,
we extend heartfelt gratitude to
Ann, Bill III, Jim,
Marianna, Kappy, Howard, and their children and spouses.
And of course we thank those two gentlemen who started it all --
Alfred W. Jones, Sr. and his son, A.W. Jones, Jr.
Bill and Sally Jones with Frances and Dennie McCrary at the Land Trust's 2020 Oyster Roast
Photo by Chris Moncus Photography

This feature is part of a series of 20 in 20 Spotlights created to

celebrate the Land Trust's 20th Anniversary and to

showcase a sampling of the many generous people, organizations, and business partners

who have played major roles in land conservation for the past two decades.