Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Beach Vacation without the Crowds

            If your vacation calls for a detox from the debilitating effects of modern life, if you’re craving a big dose of nature, you’ll be happy to hear that your remedy is only a 20 minute boat ride from the Isle of Palms.  Step aboard the hourly ferry and exhale.  You’ll feel like the King or Queen of the Nile as you cruise the Intracoastal Waterway to the parallel universe of Dewees Island.  No traffic lights, just trees; no cars, just golf carts; no noise, just birdcalls and lots of peace and quiet.  Over 95% of the 1,200 acre island is in its natural state with only 64 secluded houses flanked by one of the most pristine and private beaches in the country. 

            In 1989 Hurricane Hugo decimated the coast and left Dewees Island’s habitat in tatters.  Two years later John Knott surveyed the damage and claimed that "the environment and development are natural allies." He envisioned building a community with environmental considerations as the cornerstone. Dewees’website brags that “all the rules of traditional beachfront real estate development were broken,” in a “process driven by restoration, preservation, not destruction and removal.”  Private boat docks, golf courses and manicured lawns are prohibited.  Homeowners are required to use indigenous plants, natural surfaced driveways and energy- and water-efficient designs.  Dunes were renourished using boardwalks, sand fencing and the requirement that all houses be built away from the shore.  The result is a self-selected group of environmentally attuned homeowners.  About 12 families live full time on the island.  Two or three even send their children to school on the mainland, commuting by ferry. The kids’ unique perspectives are derived from a combination of learning with their peers and running barefoot in the freedom of their island home.  Luckily, many of the homes are available for vacation rental.
    Some of the allure of visiting Dewees is the proximity of Charleston, especially for those who live elsewhere.  But many locals take advantage of the destination for romantic weekends or extended family gatherings. Often there’s a matriarch or patriarch who has the means to be the host and the desire to create priceless family memories.  “Kids love it out there.  They feel like Huck Finn,” says Emily Watson of Dewees Rentals.  Readers who’ve envied the lifestyle of island children growing up in the 1950’s as described in Josephine Humphrey’s Sullivan’s Island will find it here.  Kids can run around unattended, crabbing and fishing and exploring without danger.  Family time might include hitting the beach at sunrise with the island’s turtle team to identify nests or help hatchings scamper to the water.  Kayaks sit ready to grab and explore for alligators and birds in the marshes. The resident naturalist and two summer interns lead programs like creek floats, fishing, crabbing and a colorful golf cart parade.  Adults can enjoy concerts, art shows and happy hours in the beautiful Huyler House community room.  A salt water swimming pool, tennis courts, game room with ping pong, a nature center, fishing and crabbing docks and picnic tables on most beach boardwalks add to the fun. 

            Every house is unique.  Right beside the Huyler House community room are one-bedroom condos that adjoin the pool and can comfortably sleep two for under $2,000 a week.  The top of the line Ocean Retreat provides three bedrooms (two are master suites), a gourmet kitchen, exquisite artwork, sprawling screened porches and an ocean view for $4,000 per week.  Most houses have a few staples in the kitchen but vacationing on Dewees requires planning and simplifying.  Few clothes are needed but packing the food is tricky.  Ferry passengers are often hauling carefully packed bins knowing they can’t run down to the corner for milk or juice. There are wheeled carts at the boat Summer rentals fill up fast, often six months in advance. 
docks to help load the luggage and two hospitality interns are on hand during the summer to greet new arrivals.   Once on the island, all transportation is by golf carts which are included as part of the house rental fee.  Bicycles are also a great way to experience the island and can be transported on the ferry.  One guest remarked, “The lack of automobiles alone brought me back several shades of sanity.”
            The inconveniences of the location have been minimized as much as possible.  In the case of emergency, there are fire and medical responders on the island and a helipad.  Trash and recycling is handled by barge. Some things just require patience.   I’ve often seen painters and plumbers on the ferry headed to do repairs and barges of building materials, even bulldozers, en route.  But Dewees visitors and residents happily accept these obstacles as the trade-off for the simplicity, luxury and seclusion of Dewees. 

Dewees Island rentals:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Misadventures in Paradise


            This was not the greeting I expected as my husband and I checked in at the Charleston airport for a long awaited trip to St. Lucia. “I’m not going to be able to issue your boarding passes because your passports expire in less than 90 days.” 
            “But we’re only going for a week.  We’ll still have more than two months remaining on them when we return,” I said.
            We insisted; we cajoled; we pleaded.  The plane left without us. 
            “I can’t imagine being more disappointed than I am right now,” I said as we sat in the cafĂ© fuming.  I’d spent months securing a writing gig at a luxurious hotel and arranging for complicated family responsibilities.  We had just finished 11 days of hosting over 20 family members during which the image of the St. Lucian hotel room, perched on a mountainside overlooking the ocean and twin peaks, had sustained me.  We had to fix it.  Even though it was barely 7 AM, we began making frantic phone calls:  trip insurance (no claim for this), the St. Lucia hotel, passport offices, the governor’s office (they’d help but it would take a few days) and American Airlines (they’d had our passport expiration dates since I’d booked the tickets months ago). 
The room we never saw. 

            This was not our first misadventure.   Twice we’d booked hotel rooms in far-flung places and bailed when we got there.  The remote beach and rocky shore in the Cayman Islands was unsuitable for our family with young children.  It only took one look at the garbage-strewn shore and dirty water in the Dominican Republic for us to rent a car and drive elsewhere. It had even happened closer to home at a chain hotel during the Savannah Jazz Festival.   The room reeked of cigarettes so we complained to the manager who said,  “If you think that room smells bad, you should come to my house.  It’s much worse.”  Uh, no thanks. 
            Mention misadventures and everyone has a story.  Two people told of missing trips abroad because their passports had too many stamps in them.  Not enough empty pages!  One of them was trying to leave on an expensive African safari he’d bought in a charity auction and lost thousands of dollars. 
            The worst misadventures involve the police.  We were stopped by two policemen in the Caribbean who showed us their radar gun indicating we’d been driving 2 miles over the speed limit.  It was a shake-down.  We gave them enough cash to buy themselves a nice lunch and drove off.  Our friend Jay wasn’t as lucky in New Orleans when a driver cut in front of him and his wife as they jogged across the street.  “What are you doing man?  You almost hit us!” he yelled as he swatted at the driver through an open window.  “I’m arresting you for assault, that’s what,” said the policeman in the unmarked car.  Instead of a weekend at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, he stewed in jail awaiting bail.
            Some misadventures require the police.  My widely travelled friends Steve and Laurie only found out afterwards that their cruise ship on the Nile had been fired upon by bandits from the shore while they slept. My friend Randy tells about taking a cab from La Guardia with an extremely agitated driver who continuously yelled into a cell phone while obsessively clawing with a back scratcher and repeatedly stopping in the middle of the expressway.  She dialed 911, poised to hit “send”.  Her son said later, “Sounds like a meth addict”.             
            Often misadventures end well.  My friend Ed recounts, “We took a red-eye and landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport early in the morning. Our brains were half-asleep.  Before we got out of the airport, I went to a money-changing kiosk to cash in dollars for Euros to rent a lovely apartment in Anne Frank's neighborhood.” He exchanged $1300 and took a cab across town to pay the landlord but discovered that he only had the equivalent of $650. “I took a cab back to the airport, talked my way through security, and got to the kiosk. I told the lady that I was a total idiot, but that I had walked away without checking my money. ‘I never make mistakes,’ she said, ‘but I will count today's cash.’ In another minute, the supervisor appeared with $650 in Euros. I instantly fell in love with the Dutch people.”
At Copamarina Resort in Guanica, Puerto Rico
            Back in Charleston I was very discouraged.  “I have bathing suits and flip flops in my suitcase. We are not going home.  We’re going somewhere warm!  Today!”  I insisted.  On the phone with American Airlines my husband asked the essential question, “Where can we exchange these tickets to go today that’s warm and doesn’t require a passport?”  Within 24 hours we were wading in the Caribbean in Puerto Rico.  “We fixed it.”  I sighed.  It had paid to be flexible and proved once again that the difference between a trip and an adventure is when things don’t go as planned. 

Check document requirements and find help abroad here:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Boogie (Half-way) Down!

            What happened to my generation?  We joyfully danced in the mud at Woodstock and in the street with Martha and the Vandellas.  I hope we’re not getting stodgy and leaving all the fun for the younger music lovers.  There are plenty of chances within a half day’s drive of Charleston to jump back into the conga line.  Heck, we may even enjoy it more than we used to.  Age does have its advantages.  For example:   
  1. We don’t have to sleep on the ground, in the rain.  We’re totally comfortable insisting that comfort matters. At the Lake Eden Arts Festival in North Carolina you can make a pot of coffee and sip it on your bunkhouse porch as you listen to the music begin down the hillside.  At The Spirit of Suwannee Music Fest in Live Oak Florida you can even buy a park cabin to stay in. Or get really comfy at a B&B like Virginia’s Ambrosia Farms where breakfast comes right from the garden and Floydfest is just up the road.    
  2. Or we can sleep on the ground in the rain but not hassle with setting up. Strap your gear to a wagon and slide it onto the nifty trailer pulled by the shuttle buses at Floydfest.  They’ll dropyou right off at the campground ready to go.  Or drive your RV and make new friends.  Or check out any of the 8 Southeastern festivals where Dancin’ Dave’s Festival Camping “takes the rough out of roughing it” by setting up a first class campsite including everything from tents to portable showers. 
  3.  We can pay to play now. We may have been hippies or yippies or yuppies.    But now we can be VIP’s.  Ante up to sit on the stage, share a toast with the performers, get special parking, check in early and enjoy the swag of privilege.  Floydfest’s high rollers get benefits ranging from fully catered meals and bar to backstage massages.  At the Hangout Festival in Alabama, VIP’s can even enjoy the music from a stage-side hot tub.   We’re big shots now. We earned it.

4.  We invented “get your freak on”.  We embarrassed our children for decades and furthermore we’re old enough to not care what anyone thinks of us.  What’s in the back of your closet?  Tie-dye, gauze skirts, kilts and a belly-dance outfit? Glitter?  Feathers?  Why not?  Now post that photo on your Facebook page and tag your kids.
5.  It’s not just about the music.  There’s kayaking and fun runs, stand-up paddle boarding and bungee jumps, journaling and slam poetry, craft making and yoga. And that’s just what’s offered through many festivals.  Nearby there are fine restaurants, antique shopping, historic sights and wineries.  Explore, take a breather.  No one’s the boss of you.
6.  We've been there and done that so we know that the best moments at festivals are not always among the hordes. At the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival where the crowds at the headliner stage are the size of our hometown populations, we escape.  A few steps away, in the smaller tents, transcendent musical moments await.  Or we pick a smaller festival to begin with, like MerleFest in Wilkesboro, N.C. We can see Bruce Springsteen better on TV anyhow.
7.  We have an app for that.  We may have learned from our kids but now we’re adept at downloading the schedules to our cellphones, using Youtube to plan the bands to catch and buying music online afterwards.  We help each other by sharing earplugs and giving advice  such as the wife in front of Floydfest’s main stage that was overheard telling her husband, “You might want to take out your hearing aid for this band honey, it looks like it will be a little loud”.
8.  “Be Here Now” is our generation’s motto.  We know where the off-switch is on our phones.  We don’t watch the world through a viewfinder.  We don’t need to tweet, text and tantalize our friends.  Hush; be still, we’re listening to the music.
9.  We have more fun when we’re not vomiting.  We were young too.  We have a repertoire of stories of stupid things we did while we were high or drunk.  But now we have the wisdom gained from experience.  We calibrate our intakes for maximum enjoyment.
10.  We’re like Buddy Guy.  Many of our musical heroes crashed and burned early, leaving only their nascent music behind.  Then there are the ones who we’ve grown older with. They’re the soundtrack of our lives. Our own dance party.  When Buddy Guy sings, “I’m 74 years young and I still know how to have my fun” we aren’t  too shy to shout “right on”.
If You Go:
Find a festival and go at

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Afternoon Adventures to Do This Year

            After you've visited the greatest-hits that every nature loving Charlestonian should know, a wealth of destinations remain to be enjoyed in just an afternoon.  Hopefully you’ve been to Middleton and Magnolia Plantations, Cypress Gardens, Mepkin Abbey, Brookgren Gardens and our wonderful county parks.  Now get off the beaten track on these couldn't-be-closer road trips.    
            A walk in the woods.  Stretch your legs at the informative and nearby I’On Swamp Trail in the Francis Marion Forest.  Just a few minutes north of Mt. Pleasant, this one mile walk is easy enough for children.  The well maintained path crosses embankments built by slaves in the 1700’s.  Interpretive signs tell of when South Carolina produced 90% of the country’s rice and the Charleston Gold variety was world renown. Today, the area is home to river otters, a myriad of birds, alligators and turtles.  It’s free and always open. 
        Up for something a little longer?  The most beautiful trail in the forest begins nearby at the Awendaw Canoe Launch at the end of   Rosa Green Road in Awendaw and runs seven miles to Buck Hall Landing.  Take out of towners here if you want them to move to Charleston. It’s a walk right into a Pat Conroy novel.  You’ll enjoy extensive vistas of the marsh as the trail undulates through the forest and back towards Awendaw Creek.  Trailside benches invite quiet contemplation.   The Buck Hall end has the advantage of bathrooms and a picnic area but the Rosa Green end is closer to Mt. PleasantThis Awendaw Passage is seven miles of the Palmetto Trail which extends over 400 miles from Buck Hall to the S.C. mountains and has many segments that are worth exploring.  Buck Hall charges a small user fee and the trail is open all year. Trail map.
            The perfect bike ride:  About an hour out of town, just north of McClellanville, is the Santee Coastal Reserve.  If you have a mountain or beach bike, it was made for this place.  A bird watcher’s paradise, the 24,000 acre reserve offers trails on the former rice fields and through maritime forests bordering the Intracoastal Waterway and South Santee River.  It couldn't be easier to ride or walk here.  It’s flat, gorgeous and huge enough to provide a full day of enjoyment.  The is no entrance fee but check their website for the few days it’s closed for hunting each year.
            A sunny winter day is perfect for a trip to Lake Moultrie and a walk or bike ride upon the dike.  Looking across the open lake vista, you might imagine you’re in Italy or somewhere else exotic but a few miles later you’ll be back in the Deep South at Bonneau Beach enjoying a great seafood lunch.  Start at the Canal Recreation Area off Hwy. 52 north of Moncks Corner where you’ll go through a short stretch of pine forest before you scramble onto the dike. Simply ride or walk along as far as you’d like and circle back.  Maps for the Palmetto Trail.
            Or explore from you car.  Fifty miles south of Charleston is Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area.  Whether you drive, bike or hike the scenic 6 ½ miles you’ll transverse forests, agricultural fields and coastal wetlands while stopping at the fifteen points of interest described on a map given at the entrance.  Learn about the history and agriculture and stroll the surreal driftwood covered beach.   Highlights include the grounds of Bleak Hall Plantation with its picturesque ice house and tabby shed. Volunteers man the entrance and beach path, making sure no one takes any seashells but there’s no entrance fee. 
            Water adventures are plentiful too.  My favorites are with Coastal Expeditions which offers guided and independent kayak excursions from Shem Creek and the spectacular Bull’s Island Ferry trip which is not to be missed.  Or check out Barrier Island Eco Tours which leaves from the Isle of Palms.  Marine scientists will introduce you to new discoveries on the way to Capers Island or scouting for dolphins. 
          Watery highlights for me this year were my boat trips with Captain Richard’s Fisheagle Tours A relaxing and informative day of cruising Lake Marion was a perfect summer outing.  The views were wonderful and Captain Richard shared his extensive knowledge of fish, birds and history with us. In October I cruised through the Pinopolis Dam and up the Tail Race Canal with him.  What a spectacle to go through the locks on a boat!  A bonus was that the tour leaves from Gilligan’s Restaurant in Moncks Corner where we had a great waterside lunch afterwards.
               Many of these day trips require very little planning.  You can wake up with some time to spare, check the weather and go.  Most are free.  You don’t need a hotel reservation and you can drive yourselves there.  So what are you waiting for?  There are adventures at your doorstep.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tom Yawkey’s Gift to Us

            What does a sixteen year old do when he inherits $330 million dollars?  Slide into a life of luxury?  Ruin it through self indulgence?  Not Tom Yawkey.  In 1919 he suddenly became heir to a fortune in mining, timber, tin and oil and the owner of South Island Plantation near Georgetown, S.C. 

    The Native Americans who’d given their names of Pee Dee, Santees, Sampits, See Wees, Waccamaws and Winyahs to the nearby waterways were displace by the Spanish who came in the 1700’s looking for gold and slaves.  Then the English, Scots and French started the indigo trade there followed by the next great industry: wealthy Northerners. William Yawkey bought it as a hunting preserve.   When he died at 43, Tom said of his inherited plantation “I hope I’ll be able to do some good with it; I hope I’ll be as good a man as my dad”. 
            Tom Yawkey is as captivating as the land he preserved.  He was a rich man who chose to live without grandeur.  Unlike aristocrats living majestically nearby, he replaced his modest, burned down house in 1955 with a trailer and lived there until he died in 1976. During his months up North each year he stayed in a hotel. 
            He kept to himself.  Unlike his father who had invited President Grover Cleveland to come and hunt, Tom scorned visitors. He didn’t socialize with Bernard Baruch or other wealthy neighbors, preferring to spend time with the people who worked for him. 

            He had a tremendous work ethic.  Days were spent beside his employees on land management, surveying and production.   Three generations later, some of those same families continue to follow his example of being dedicated stewards of the land.
            He was insatiably curious and inventive.   Through diversion of the Santee River, fresh water ponds were created; he grew shrimp, became a self-taught ornithologist and developed waterfowl management.  He supervised staff and wildlife biologists and provided funding that will perpetually support their research.   Our guide Jim Lee spoke with reverence of Yawkey’s vision, “As. …the sea levels rise, these managed wetlands will become more and more important.” 
         He was exceedingly generous but shunned acclaim.  Hospitals and scholarships benefitted from his largesse, often anonymously.  He built St. James AME Church for the islanders in 1928 where “if the spirit didn’t move you, you were already dead”.  Today the 80 island residents continue to praise, stomp and clap in it.   

            His one extravagance was baseball.    Like his father who had owned the Detroit Tigers, Yawkey bought the Red Sox when he was 30 years old.  They’d just completed what is still a record for the franchise’s worst season ever, a 111-game losing streak, but he optimistically set his sights on winning the World Series.  He poured millions into talent, coaching and the renovation of Fenway Park and brought the team came down for drinking, hunting and a little spring training.  Photos of Ty Cobb and Ted Williams hang in the hunt club today.  Although he saw the Red Sox win the American League pennant four times, he was still hoping for a World Series win on his death bed when he pressed his wife for two last wishes:  lead the team to victory and  finish acquiring the remaining parcels that now comprise the Yawkey Wildlife Center.  She bought the land but died herself before the Red Sox won the championship in 2004. 
       And he gave people something to talk about.  When community leaders warned that the town’s daughters wouldn’t be safe from the sailors returning to port in Charleston, he invited the madam Hazel Weiss to open the infamous Sunset Lodge.  From 1936-66, it was the most visited attraction in South Carolina second to Fort Sumter and a boon to the local economy.  Some called him a racist.  Jackie Robinson said he was “one of the most bigoted men in baseball” because of his treatment of African Americans players.  Our guide called him “a misunderstood and private person.”
            The legacy of this independent, curious, hard-working, generous and complex man is the Yawkey Wildlife Center. The three islands sit like a string of pearls at the mouth of Winyah Bay in Georgetown County. Yawkey deeded it to the Department of Natural Resources for the purposes of wildlife management, education and research.  Not recreation. No timbering.  The only way to visit is by taking a free tour with DNR on selected dates from Sept. to May by reservation.  After a very short boat ride across the Intracoastal Waterway, time slows down.  There are pine trees over 100 years old; some are still leaning from Hurricane Hugo; a huge insect population that “reaches a crescendo in June”, ancient Indian shell mounds and cemeteries hidden in the foliage.  It’s a wild, minimally managed place and a magnificent gift to South Carolina from an extraordinary man.

If You Go:
Free tours are offered from Sept. to May by reservation:  843-546-6814
More photos are here:  Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Praise of Side Trips

            A friend of ours used to take his wife and kids on long road trips and, no matter the distance, insisted on driving straight through without even stopping for rest rooms.  Don’t ask.  I’m the opposite.  Every road trip I plan has side trips:  take a hike, visit a sight, stop and shop, scope out an artist or discover a local restaurant.  Often they’re the best part.   

        Bookmark the website Roadside America and meet the country’s characters.  Thousands of odd sights include an alien welcome center, topiary sculptures and a button museum just in  South Carolina.  Driving cross-country to Michigan, the website led my niece and me to the fascinating Temple of Tolerance in an unassuming suburban neighborhood in Ohio. Jim Bowsher has turned his oversized backyard into a “retreat where people could feel accepted, especially young people.”  “Beat” greeted us and introduced his scruffily dressed friends who were gathered in one of the massive rock enclosures that Jim made from the hundreds of tons of rocks and millstones, lintels, urns and foundation blocks that he painstakingly hauled from farm fields.  Massive boulders became shrines and towers; some are buried upright like tombstones or formed into steps. A suburban
Stonehenge.  It inspires Beat to come at all hours to sit quietly and write.  We were lucky to meet Jim himself who boasted that his house is the only one where Jehovah Witnesses say, “OK, we’ve got to go now.” He excitedly asked, “What show would Shakespeare watch if he were alive?  Jerry Springer!  Dysfunction is where the drama is.”  Jim has dedicated years to helping prisoners publish their stories.  The Temple is his vision of a tolerant world.    He’s particularly proud of a former Klu Klux Klan step.  “I ask Black people to sit on the step so they can liberate it.”
            Roadside America also led us to the “A Wiggle In Its Walk”, a 14-foot high, 200-foot long series of serpentine arches, alleys and tunnels constructed from four tractor trailers of twigs and vines by artist Patrick Dougherty and volunteers in Wegerzyn Gardens near Dayton, Ohio.  It was a wonderful place to playfully wander, to stretch our legs and our imaginations. 

            Billboards for Berea, Kentucky attracted us off the highway to its small downtown chock full of artists’ studios.   Ken Gastineau created a pewter julep cup on his lathe while he told us “instead of the idea that the town should support the arts, the arts should support us.” Founded as an integrated community by an abolitionist minister, the town has thrived by making the arts its foundation.     
            On an Appalachian adventure we used the free directory and travel planner from the Blue Ridge Parkway Association.  If you’re driving near any of the Parkway’s 469 miles from North Carolina to West Virginia, you can get milepost by milepost ideas for nearby fishing, bicycling, camping, hiking, attractions and accommodations.  In Virginia, the guidebook led us to Peaceful Heart Alpaca Farm near mile marker 204 where the field was full of the cavorting furry animals.  In her workshop lined with blue ribbons, Sharla Willis told us how she and her parents had reinvented themselves from Ohioans to farmers by following Sharla’s love of knitting and the glimpse of an alpaca’s sweet face on television. We also stopped at Mabry Mill, one of the most picturesque spots on the parkway to learn about Appalachian history and farm life and to buy some souvenir grits.  With a little Google’ing we discovered that Grayson Highlands was on our route. A short hike led us to a beautiful herd of wild ponies that grazed peacefully while we took photos. 

            My most go-to travel resource is Tripadvisor where you’ll find reviews by real people about every destination.  Enliven a trip across the state by picking a small town on your route and putting it into their search engine.  You’ll get great advice on restaurants or attractions.  Going west?  How about world-class BBQ at Sweatman’s in Eutawville? Or take a walk in the astonishing biodiversity of Congaree National Park.  It’s only five miles off the interstate. Or tour the Newberry Opera House.  Driving south?  Share our favorite picnic spot under the Spanish moss-draped oaks at the Frampton Plantation House located right where you need a break before getting onto I-95 from Hwy. 17.  Heading north?  Take a breather at Brookgreen Gardens where the gorgeous flowers and sculpture will rejuvenate you. Surprise yourself with an exotic lunch at Redi-et Ethiopian Restaurant in Myrtle Beach.
            The trip starts when you pull out of the driveway, not at your destination.  You know the adage “the journey is the destination”?  That’s about side trips. 

If You Go
Roadside America for odd attractions
Blue Ridge Parkway Directory and Travel Planner:  828-670-1924

More photos are here:  Side Trips

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

High Tea at Hopsewee

            My book club, The Venuses of Willendorf, has been together for 20 years. We’ve read hundreds of books, classics to best sellers.  So no judgments please when I tell you that our recent book, Keeper of the House, is about a famous Georgetown brothel The Sunset Lodge. Open from 1930 to 1969, it was described by the Post and Courier as “perhaps the most widely known site in S.C., with the exception of Fort Sumter.” Sailors would return to the port in Charleston and immediately head up the highway to Sunset Lodge by the busload.  After it closed, the property was purchased by a local couple who made it their home.  “For years and years, we’d have ten cars a day…asking for Sunset” they reported. 

            A lot of visitors are also dropping by another house just up the road.  The Beatties are only the fifth family to own and live at Hopsewee Plantation since it was built between 1733 and 1740.  Protected from developers and now a National Historic Landmark, the 70 acres sit grandly on the banks of the North Santee River.  Centuries-old oaks drip with Spanish moss. Flourishing camellias and forsythia abound.  The plantation house has been preserved throughout its life and is not a restoration although modernizing elements such as plumbing and a practical kitchen have been added.  Eighteenth century architectural elements include hand carved lighted-candle molding and thick random-width heart pine floors.  The house’s durability is attributable to its brick and scored tabby foundation and black cypress construction. As the daily tours begin, modern conveniences are carefully tucked behind antique furniture since the home is still occupied.
            It was originally built as a country get-away by Thomas Lynch Sr. who owned seven plantations in the area.  In the mid 1800’s, Georgetown plantations produced over 36 million pounds of rice a year, second only to India.  Hopsewee and its 178 slaves were renowned for Carolina Gold rice.  Our tour guide Jean Efird explained, “It was slave knowledge and slave expertise that got this to be as successful as it was.  They knew how to make marshes into rice fields and build trunks to flood the fields.”  Descendants of these slave families lived in some of the cabins until the 1940’s, two cabins of which remain today and are on the Gullah Geechee Corridor.
            Thomas Lynch Sr. was prominent in the politics of our developing nation and was appointed with Benjamin Franklin to advise General Washington in 1775.  Unfortunately, a year later he suffered a paralyzing hemorrhage.  Unable to come to Philadelphia, his son Thomas Lynch Jr. was selected to serve the Continental Congress creating the only father/son pair to ever do so.   The younger Lynch was only 26 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence.  A replica of the document hangs in the house with a space left for the missing signature of Thomas Lynch Sr.
         We also heard romantic stories of less famous inhabitants.  Clearly visible in the original window glass is the inscription “MRL 1906”.  Charlotte Lucas was showing off her new engagement ring from George Lafaye by etching initials and the date into the window.  Apparently that was a tradition, especially if you’d received the plantation as a wedding gift as she had! 
            The story of today’s owners began in 2000 when Frank Beattie heard that the previous owners of Hopsewee were selling it to developers and stopped by.  He was told that the owners were reluctant to see the property developed and hoped to find a buyer who would care for the Plantation and its legacy.  Raejean Beattie finishes the story:  “He came home one day and said ‘We’re buying Hopsewee Plantation.’ I said ‘you’ve obviously gotten far away from the bill paying…’”  But buy it they did.  They moved in and started to give tours of the house and its historic property. Then another serendipitous meeting occurred.  The Red Hat Ladies wanted to bring a group for the tour but they wanted Raejean to serve tea.  It was such a hit that it became another business.  Now a new sunny outbuilding does double duty as the cafe and the Beattie’s after-hours den.  Raejean supervises the kitchen.  On the day the book club visited, several tables of diners were enjoying lunch as we indulged in a beautifully laid high tea complete with little sandwiches, ginger snaps, quiche, salmon mousse, scones and several flavorful teas. 

            While we sipped, our lively discussion of the book recounted the steamier episodes of Mignon, the painted ladies, their paramours and Georgetown’s citizens.  We noticed other diners eavesdropping.  One woman asked for the book title so she could join the fun.   But we just were enjoying ourselves learning about the noble and ignoble pasts that weave together into history. 

If You Go:
is just south of Georgetown  on Hwy. 17
Keeper of the House by Rebecca Godwin
More photos are here: Hopsewee Plantation