Once known as Fifth Creek Island by coastal Native Americans, Sea
Island was largely uninhabited.
1768 James MacKay, one of General James Oglethorpe's troop
commanders, acquired it as a land grant from King George III of
England, but he made no use of it. By the early years of the
nineteenth century, the island, then known as Long Island, had been
acquired by John Couper of Cannon's Point Plantation and his
business partner James Hamilton of Hamilton Plantation. In 1814 the
island was passed to James Hamilton when the partnership between the
two men was dissolved. Later the island was acquired by William
Audley Couper, son of John Couper, who in 1845 sold it to his
brother James Hamilton Couper. The Coupers used the island to
pasture cattle during the summer months. In 1888 the heirs of James
Hamilton Couper sold the island to James F. O'Shaughnessey, a member
of the Jekyll Island Club, to use as a hunting preserve. This
venture was short-lived, and the island was used for little other
than grazing livestock until 1921, when a group of local businessmen
formed a company to subdivide the island for vacation cottages. The
completion of a causeway between the mainland and St. Simons made
Sea Island accessible to the public in 1924.
Development as a Resort of the island
as a beach resort captured the imagination of Howard Coffin, an Ohio
native and a founder of the Hudson Motor Company. Coffin had
acquired nearby Sapelo Island
as a coastal retreat in 1912, and he began buying large tracts on
St. Simons in 1926. As a pioneer in automotive design, Coffin
envisioned how the transportation revolution brought about by the
automobile could transform the inaccessible Georgia islands into
tourist destinations, once the coastal highway, U.S. 17, reached
nearby Brunswick. His company, Sea Island Investments, bought Long
Island that same year, briefly renaming it Glynn Isle before
adopting the name Sea Island.
Coffin commissioned Addison Mizner, noted for his work in Palm Beach
and Boca Raton, Florida, to design a small hotel, which opened as
the Cloister in October 1928. A beach club, fishing dock, tennis
courts, and shooting school were built near the hotel. North of the
resort, a colony of private cottages developed along a three-mile
drive down the center of the island. A golf club, riding stables,
and yacht club for the Cloister were located on St. Simons Island.
1928 Coffin turned over the administration of the resort to his
young cousin, Alfred W. Jones, who steered it through the difficult
years of the depression.
Over the years the Cloister was enlarged from 46 to 286 rooms, which
were located in the original hotel and in a variety of surrounding
buildings. In 2003 the original building was razed, and construction
began on a new structure designed by Peter Capone. Capone's plans
closely follow Mizner's Mediterranean architectural style and
include a replica of his original turret. In addition, the hotel's
famous Spanish Lounge was dismantled and restored to its original
condition within the new building. Featuring seventy hotel rooms and
thirty suites, the new structure opened in April 2006.
Sea Island's cottage colony now has more than 500 residences. Ocean
Forest, a private golf club that opened in 1995, is located on the
northern tip of the island. Designed by Rees Jones, it was the site
of the 2001 Walker Cup Match.
In June 2004 the G8 Summit, an annual meeting of the eight largest
industrial nations to discuss economic and political issues of
global importance, was hosted by the United States on Sea Island.