Throughout our 92-year history, dignitaries have chosen Sea Island for the same reasons that other guests have – our blend of gracious Southern hospitality combined with an incredibly beautiful, private natural setting. Southerners have a love of passing stories down from generation to generation and we at Sea Island are no different. Many of our favorite stories are associated with the visits of dignitaries. We hope you enjoy being steeped in our lore. And the next time you visit us, take a look at the photographs on the walls of The Cloister hallways and imagine the stories they could tell.
Then and Now.
The Sapling is Planted
U.S. Presidents have been planting oaks at Sea Island since the first year of our opening with President Calvin Coolidge planting one on Christmas of 1928. However, this tradition got off to a shaky start as Coolidge planted the wrong kind of tree, a water oak, not a live oak. Miesse Baumgardner, Sea Island’s longtime head of landscaping, replaced the tree with the correct, longer-living oak, when he came back from Christmas vacation.
The Tradition Continues
President Bill Clinton planted our most recent Presidential Oak in 2012 while he was visiting friends on Sea Island. As you can tell from the picture, Mr. Clinton came straight from the golf course in his golf attire to plant his tree. Spot the special ceremonial shovel that is used for each planting.
If These Trees Could Talk.
Take a virtual stroll through the commemorative oaks planted by distinguished dignitaries while on Sea Island. And the next time you’re at The Cloister, be sure to carve out time to spend under these majestic oaks.
1928 – President Calvin Coolidge
1946 – President Dwight D. Eisenhower
1952 – Queen Juliana of The Netherlands
1978 – 50th Anniversary Oak
1979 – President Gerald Ford
1981 – President Jimmy Carter
1988 – Oak Honoring Mr. and Mrs. Alfred W. Jones, Sr.
1991 – President George H. W. Bush
1994 – Lady Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain
2000 – Millenium Oak
2004 – Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain
2004 – President George W. Bush
2012 – President Bill Clinton
Commemorating the G8 Summit.
A great source of Sea Island lore is the 2004 G8 Summit. For its tenth anniversary, Sea Island created a commemorative video of team members sharing their favorite memories from the Summit. Hear what led a Yacht Club captain to be considered a threat to national security, the story behind Jacques Chirac's infamous (at Sea Island) special request for lunch and learn why Sea Island was ultimately chosen as the venue to host this historical event.
A Regal Retreat.
A look into the Sea Island Company archives reveals snapshots of milestone visits from America's First Families and foreign dignitaries. Travel through these visits in this article from Sea Island Life Magazine.
A Few of our Favorite Stories.
This dignitary is a ship, the oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat, Old Ironsides, which visited in 1931. The ship was in essence returning home as its sternpost and many of its timbers were cut at Cannon’s Point on St. Simons and shipped from Gascoigne Bluff. Howard Coffin, the founder of Sea Island, joined the celebration by offering prizes and a visit to Sea Island to the student authoring the best essay about the ship. Over ten thousand essays were submitted.
Sarah Churchill, daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, held an impromptu wedding in 1949 to Anthony Beauchamp at the Sea Island home of Mr. and Mrs. A.W. Jones, Sr. Because it was impromptu, Sea Island quickly and creatively took it in stride, with our chefs providing a five-layer cake topped with a purple orchid, alterations done on what became the wedding dress, a hat borrowed from The Cloister’s general manager’s wife, and confidential plans concocted for a honeymoon location.
Her Majesty Queen Juliana
In 1952, Her Majesty Queen Juliana of the Netherlands visited for Easter. While the hotel’s assistant manager strongly urged the use of the hotel’s best china and silver at an outdoor supper, the Queen was instead served picnic style, on paper plates, with wooden forks and paper cups, in keeping with what had already become a Sea Island tradition. The queen was taught how to pry open an oyster and was reportedly delighted that the staff – while having been trained to do otherwise – called her “Miss Queen.”
President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter’s visit during his presidential campaign attracted quite a bit of attention as he and Rosalyn rode bikes down Sea Island Drive, “led, flanked and trailed by a phalanx of Secret Service men, also on bikes.” His initial cabinet stayed at The Cloister, and Carter held a nationally televised press conference in the Solarium of The Cloister, where he is shown in this image holding newsman David Hartman’s son.
The Summit Burger commemorates the 2004 G8 Summit, when French President Jacques Chirac asked for a cheeseburger rather than the day’s planned menu.
Makes 2 Burgers
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 portobello mushroom caps, cleaned
2 pounds Vidalia onions, thinly sliced
1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons Boursin cheese, room temperature
1 yellow heirloom tomato, thinly sliced
1 red heirloom tomato, thinly sliced
2 iceburg lettuce leaves
2 tablespoons Kosher salt, divided
2 tablespoons black pepper, divided
2 Brioche burger buns
1. Whisk together balsamic and 4 tablespoons olive oil until emulsified; season with salt and pepper. Marinate portabello mushrooms for 30 minutes at room temperature.
2. Heat a large skillet over high heat and add remaining olive oil. Add onions and turn heat to medium. Cook down, stirring often, until caramelized. Onions should be golden brown, but not black or burnt on the edges. This will take about 20 minutes. Once caramelized, remove from heat and keep warm.
3. Meanwhile, place ground beef in a medium mixing bowl, and season generously with salt and pepper. Form two 8-ounce burger patties about 3/4 inch thick.
4. Pan sear or grill burgers to desired temperature. (We prefer medium rare.) Let rest in a warm place 2 to 3 minutes before serving.
5. Remove portobello from marinade, and grill or pan sear (whichever method you used for the burger) until tender.
6. Slice burger buns in half and toast both sides.
7. Assemble burger by placing caramelized onion on the bottom bun, then the burger. Add a dollop of Boursin cheese on top of the burger, followed by the roasted mushroom. Top with 1 slice each of yellow and red tomato, as well as the lettuce leaves. Top with the remaining half of the bun.
Let's be social. Social Media, that is.
Join us on Instagram as we further celebrate our tradition of hosting dignitaries. Gather around the table and host your dream virtual dinner party. Fill it with dignitaries, celebrities, athletes, and others with whom you would like to spend an evening. And as the host, don't forget to place food on the table!
A look back.
Take a return trip in time as we explore the traditions that make Sea Island so beloved. Historical photos pulled from the archives, magazine articles, nostalgic videos, and more. And create a taste of Sea Island in your home with favorite recipes associated with each tradition.