Native Americans feasted here, colonists built a fort and the Smart Set of the 1920s came for vacations. A site of human occupation for more than 5,000 years, Fort George Island was named for a 1736 fort built to defend the southern flank of Georgia when it was a colony. Today´s visitors come for boating, fishing, off-road bicycling and hiking. A key attraction is the recently restored Ribault Club. Once an exclusive resort, it is now a visitor center with meeting space available for special functions. Behind the club, small boats, canoes and kayaks can be launched on the tidal waters.
Built in 1928 atop the shell middens left by natives hundreds of years ago, the Ribault Club was a product of its times. For wealthy northerners and citizens of Jacksonville, the club epitomized the care free and fun-loving attitude of the post-war 1920s. Like so many businesses and fortunes, the club suffered the financial downfall of the Great Depression and changed hands many times before the Florida Park Service purchased it in 1989. Today, through a partnership between the Florida Park Service, the National Park Service and the city of Jacksonville, the Ribault Club stands restored and houses the park's visitor center, as well as meeting and reception rooms available for rent. Now, visitors to Fort George Island can once again experience a taste of the glamour that attracted people to the club more than 80 years ago.
In 1989, as part of the Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) program, the state of Florida purchased 581 acres on Fort George Island. The purchase ensured the preservation of a number of natural and cultural resources for the public to enjoy.
Members of the Ribault Club in the 1920s and 30s participated in a variety of recreational activities, including lawn bowling, yachting and golf. The golf course was designed in the Scottish-style, meaning more natural landscapes and fairways. The Florida Park Service continued operating the golf course through 1991. Since then, the course has been allowed to return to its natural state.
The Thompson Tabby House dates to the mid-1800s, although the exact origins of the unfinished home are unknown. The home is named for Charles Thompson who purchased the island in 1854 and is the most likely builder of the home. The structure is built of tabby, a hardened mixture of crushed oyster shell, sand and water. Tabby was an ideal building material, using items easily found in the local area.
Take the opportunity to step back in time with a drive along Fort George Road with its canopy of live oak trees. Learn even more by taking a virtual ranger tour along the Saturiwa Trail, which follows part of Fort George Road. A CD of the tour is available from the Ribault Club or ranger station for use in your car's CD player.