On a tour of what remains of the Reynolds Mansion on Sapelo Island off the Georgia coast, one can easily imagine the lifestyle of its last private owner, Richard Joshua Reynolds Jr. The son of the founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Reynolds lived a storied life and was described in his 1964 obituary in the New York Times as “an enigmatic combination of playboy, politician, financier and philanthropist.”
Although Reynolds owned lavish homes in New York, Florida and Europe, he considered his 44,000-acre Sapelo Island estate his primary home, particularly during the last two decades of his life. Reynolds bought most of Sapelo Island in 1934 and restored the mansion on its south end, where he entertained in lavish style even during the Great Depression.
A pre-Civil War plantation home, the original structure was built largely of tabby, a seashell mixture popular in the coastal area. After being severely damaged during the war, the mansion was rebuilt and restored by an early 20th century owner before being bought by Reynolds. Although his heirs sold their interest in the island to the state of Georgia, the 13-bedroom mansion continues to bear Reynolds’ name.
While there are stories of pirate treasure buried on the island, historians say that Reynolds is the likely source of any valuables that might have been squirreled away there. Reynolds, who had lived through the 1929 stock market crash, feared another collapse of world financial markets and hid bearer bonds and even gold on the grand estate.
The current style of the building is faithful to its look during the Reynolds years and even is filled with items—right down to books in the library—that actually belonged to Reynolds family members. Some of house’s artwork suggests Reynolds’ sense of fun. A bathroom door, for example, has a drawing of a naughty flapper, sneaking a cigarette during the days when few ladies smoked.
A room now often used for meetings or parties features murals with wild animals, strong men, acrobats and other big top themes painted by Athos Menaboni. In addition to the Circus Room, other work by the celebrated Atlanta artist is present throughout the house.
Most of Sapelo Island, by design, remains natural and undeveloped, thus the mansion stands out—an opulent remnant of a bygone era. While much of the mansion is faded and worn in comparison to its condition in its heyday, rooms—and even the entire mansion—are available for rent. It’s one of the few public lodging on the island.
Guides at the Reynolds Mansion, which is now maintained by the state as part of a state park, readily share stories from the days when the Reynolds family lived there. For example, the servants at the time were instructed to refer to Reynolds’ illness as “severe asthma.” After his death, Swiss doctors confirmed that the heir to one of the world’s largest tobacco companies died of emphysema—an illness often associated with cigarette smoking.
Those who rent the facility can—for a fee—have some of the estate restored to its former glory. The large pond in front of the house, which is said to represent the world’s oceans, can be cleaned and filled for those who want to spend a few hundred extra dollars.
There’s no bridge or causeway to the island; it can be reached only by boat. There’s a ferry from the Sapelo Island Visitors Center that takes approximately 20 minutes trip to make the seven-mile trip to the island.
All bookings require a two-night reservation with a minimum of 16 adults. The Reynolds Mansion can accommodate up to 29 guests. The rate, which includes lodging and meals, is $180 per person, per night, plus a 7 percent tax on non-exempt reservations. Children 6 and older are charged the full rate; those 3-5 are charged $75 per night. There is no charge for children 2 and younger. For more information, visit http://galodges.com/lodges/reynolds or call (912) 485-2299.