From the earliest days since my husband J.L. and I married we’ve taken our summer vacations at the beach. We are blessed to live near the Smoky Mountains and love visiting and hiking there often, but we also love the special beauty and peace of the ocean. Our first beach trips took us to beaches on the North Carolina coast like Myrtle Beach and Litchfield Beach and to panhandle spots like Panama City and Destin. But one summer in the 1980s, when our children Max and Kate were small, we discovered Edisto Island, a quiet little South Carolina place that quickly stole our hearts, calling us back summer after summer.
From a contest entry in the 1980s, I won a long weekend at Fairfield Glad in Crossville, TN, with the understanding that we’d look at property, of course. I told the man who called, “Look, if we wanted to consider buying vacation property it wouldn’t be in Tennessee, it would be at the beach.” He answered, “We own a beach property at Edisto Island, South Carolina. I can send you there instead.” I thought, Why not? We were headed to the Carolinas for a summer vacation soon. An extra weekend not far away from our Myrtle Beach destination might be fun.
J.L. and I had never heard of Edisto at the time, a less developed barrier island nestled on the South Carolina coast about half way between Charleston and Beaufort. And later that summer, as we headed down rural Highway 17 to the island for the first time, with vast marshlands spreading on either side of the road, we worried we might be lost. But eventually we arrived at the island—only eleven miles in length and facing the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean.
We quickly found Edisto to be a place of hidden beauty dotted with charming beach homes and villas tucked under shady trees along quiet roads. The island, then and now, had no hotels or high-rise buildings and only colorful local restaurants and gift shops. Bike trails twined around delightful pathways, locals and visitors fished the inlets and creeks, and beach access points on nearly every block wound their way through sea oats and sandy dunes to the beach. It was simply lovely. We settled into a spacious villa, with two bedrooms, baths, a full kitchen, laundry, and a screened porch, on a picturesque street by a sleepy lagoon, the road lined with crepe myrtle in glorious bloom and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. A cute tram, like the one at Dollywood, carried us down to the ocean and back if we didn’t want to drive the few blocks to it. The broad beach was serene and beautiful, without the noisy crowds at Myrtle, and we could leisurely cook many of our meals at the villa without dragging tired children to a crowded restaurant.
At the end of our “free” days on the island, the children begged to stay on—and with no upcoming guests scheduled at our villa—we were able to stay on another week at Edisto, for less than the motel at Myrtle. Every summer after, our little family returned to Edisto, staying in villas or beach homes, sharing happy times and building sweet memories before heading home to Tennessee relaxed and peaceful. Edisto is not the ideal vacation place for everyone. It’s remotely located and not close to a bustling city, entertainments, shopping malls, theatres, or elegant restaurants. Days at Edisto are spent reading or walking on the beach, splashing in the waves, biking around the bike trails, and playing games on the screened porch with a paddle fan drifting lazily overhead. It’s a place for folks who enjoy simple pleasures.
The island has changed over the years since we first visited, of course. The old drawbridge was replaced with a long, arched causeway over the Intracoastal Waterway and more homes, villas, restaurants, and shops dot the island’s roads now. In the peak summer vacation weeks more tourists flock to the island, too, than before. Preferring the quiet, J.L. and I usually vacation off-season now but we find more things still the same than changed at Edisto. It will always be a special place to us, rich with the memories of the years.
I’m writing a new Edisto trilogy of novels now to bring others to the island, and to special places around Beaufort and Charleston, through my stories. The first, set in the 1980s, looks back to the island thirty years ago, while the next two will advance to more contemporary times. The first book, CLAIRE AT EDSITO is complete, and I am starting the second RETURN TO EDISTO now, with EDISTO SONG soon to follow. These novels are scheduled to publish starting in 2019. I hope you will love visiting at Edisto through my books … but don’t worry, there are many more Smoky Mountain novels to keep entertaining you, too.