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Close your eyes. The year is 1928. Hear the laughter and cheers over the roaring twenties music. The smell of illegal liquor in the air. Woman giggling as they show off their Charleston dance moves. You turn around, only to bump directly into Winston Churchill, or maybe it’s Nelson Rockefeller. This was the allure of the once uber exclusive Ribault Club.
Unless you’re looking for it, it’s easy to miss this old Florida gem on Fort George Island.
Just outside of Jacksonville, Fort George Island Cultural State Park protects the island’s history of 6,000 years of continuous human occupation. From the native inhabitants, such as the Timucua, to the slaves and planters of Kingsley Plantation, to the Jazz Age guests of the Ribault Club. This island has been part of it all.
A Little History Of The Ribault Club
Built in 1927 as a winter recreational resort for the rich and famous, the Ribault Club became known for its “large house parties”. Originally, the property had 14 bedrooms, a library, and a 9 hole Scottish golf course. The club was so popular that by 1930 it had to add an additional lodge for its 350 affluent guests.
However, the impacts of the great depression eventually forced the sale of the club.
After several failed attempts to develop the island into a residential and resort community, the Ribault Club became part of the Fort George Island Cultural State Park in 1989.
Suffering from several fires and heavy vandalization, the Ribault Club was in disrepair. In partnership with the city of Jacksonville and the National Park Service, the Florida Park Service renovated the property and opened it to the public in 2003.
Check out the lobby for fascinating photos showing the state of the club before restoration.
Learning About Fort George Island
Today, the Ribault Club serves two primary purposes:
- It serves as a free Visitor Center to Fort George Island.
- The stunning property rents as a backdrop to many weddings.
As we weren’t there for a wedding, we enjoyed the engrossing displays on the island’s history. It’s set up as a timeline, moving through history from 12,000 years ago to present.
The first room focuses on the nature and geography of Fort George Island. I loved trying to guess the native animal sounds.
The second room moves through the island inhabitants, the culture, and archaeology finds. It also provides insight into the Ribault’s history. For instance, entertaining famous guests, like Nelson Rockefeller and even Winston Churchill.
Along The Fort George River
Before heading over to the Kingsley Plantation, we took a walk around the backside of the Ribault Club.
Behind the building provides access to the Fort George River. Though there is no beach, there’s a boat ramp to launch canoes and we saw plenty of folks fishing. It’s a lovely spot to just take a walk along the riverside.
Getting To The Ribault Club
Located in Fort George Island Cultural State Park, it’s an easy trip from Jacksonville, or an easy stop on the way to Amelia Island.
- From Jacksonville, make your way to Heckscher Drive (exit 41 off I-295). Follow Heckscher Drive for about 9 miles, to Fort George Road where you’ll make a left.
- When you come to the fork in the road, take a right, following the paved road.
Can’t make it to the Ribault Club? This tour done by WJCT, a local public media outlet, provides a good view of the area.