The architecture of Hollybourne Cottage on Jekyll Island is rare — but the public’s opportunity to see and understand it may be even more rare.
The 11,200-square-foot home, built in 1890, is among the earliest private homes constructed as part of the historic Jekyll Club. Saturdays through the end of May, visitors can see its spectacular architecture and tour a decades-old preservation effort.
“Charles Maurice, the home’s original owner, told his architect, William Day, that he wanted wide, open rooms without the use of support columns,” said Will Story, a Jekyll Island Museum interpreter. “He didn’t think it could be done, but Mr. Maurice, who was a bridge builder, used bridge-building techniques in the home’s construction.”
The resulting effect is large, airy rooms with plenty of space the Maurice’s used for entertaining and welcoming guests. The home’s four stories include an attic and the only basement in the club’s original cottages not to employ pumps for water removal. Normally, the cottage is off-limits to visitors, but every May, which is National Historic Preservation Month, the Jekyll Island Museum invites guests to see the cottage up close.
The tabby walls of Hollybourne Cottage are “unusual” for homes of the era on Jekyll, Story said, adding: “The style is Jacobean, which is a subset of Tudor style and was popular during the late Medieval and early Renaissance times.”
Although generations of Maurice family visited the home during winters, the property was eventually acquired by the state of Georgia when it purchased the property in 1947. At the time, the remaining descendants of Charles Maurice and his wife, Charlotte, were sisters Marian and Margaret Maurice. They were reportedly so furious about the manner in which Georgia acquired Jekyll Island that they returned to Pennsylvania never to visit Georgia again.
“(The Maurice sisters) eventually did purchase another home in Florida,” Story explained. “But when they would travel from Pennsylvania to Florida, they would drive around Georgia, through Alabama, to avoid having to come through Georgia.”
Decades of neglect saw the cottage fall into disrepair, and a shortcut construction method used by Maurice and his builders threatened the cottage further. When the home was built, wooden frames were constructed, and wet tabby cement was poured around the frames into molds. The water leached into the wood, “and essentially started to rot the frames from day one,” Story said.
The cottage saw little effort toward its preservation, until 19 years ago, a winter Jekyll Island resident approached the Jekyll Island Authority about volunteering to preserve it, said Jessica Scott, a spokeswoman for the authority. Since then, a cadre of volunteers, including the advocacy group Friends of Historic Jekyll Island have worked to restore and preserve the former millionaire’s winter home. While all of the labor toward restoration has been volunteer, the friends group has raised at least $70,000 and the authority has contributed additional funds toward materials for repair.
Taylor Davis, a historic preservationist with the authority, said since first seeing the cottage in 2004, the work volunteers have done is astonishing.
“Really, this is all due to volunteers,” Davis said of the repair work. “They’ve been moving mountains. I remember coming here when I was a graduate student in 2004, and when I came back full-time in February, it was like seeing night and day.”
So far, volunteers have restored several rooms on the main floor, along with a few rooms on the home’s second floor, where its bedrooms are found. Although the restoration is ongoing, preservationists intend to leave some of the home unrestored. The goal is to use it as a teaching tool for preservationists and the public to learn about what it takes to bring a century-old house back to life.
“The goal is not to have the house as a museum, but more of a showcase of what goes into historic preservation,” Davis said.
The two-hour tours of Hollybourne Cottage will be offered at noon and 2 p.m. Saturdays through the end of May. Tours begin at the Jekyll Island Museum, 100 Stable Road, Jekyll Island. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 7-16 and free for children 6 and younger.
Space is limited, so museum staff recommend people make tour reservations by calling 635-4036.