Field Trip: Most Excellent Edisto Island

Edingsville Road located on Edisto Island, SC. Adjacent Edingsville Beach was once a coastal retreat for well-to-do families in the colonial to pre-Civil War era escaping the heat of summer in mainland SC. All the houses in this part of Edisto Island are gone although broken pottery and other relics wash ashore occasionally.

Edisto Beach is a place for family focused fun. Here I am introducing a fiddler crab to Girly Girl.

A few times in my blog I have referred to “my family beach house” and/or it’s location in Edisto Beach, SC. This week I am enjoying a week here with some members of my family. While I am sure most of you don’t care one iota about seeing family vacation pictures, I thought you may be curious about Edisto, a Sea Island located just off the coast of South Carolina in the USA. There are a good many unique things about this area, none more intriguing than how it has held on to it’s quiet, and for the most part pristine, surroundings.

To get your bearings, Edisto is located approximately halfway between Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA. Actually it’s a little closer to Charleston. Technically, there is Edisto Island with the semi-attached Edisto Beach – sitting just across a short man-made causeway on the Island’s southern tip. My family’s beach house is located near the southernmost point of “Edisto Beach” where Big Bay Creek meets the Atlantic.

Here is a dilapidated cottage close to Edingsville Beach, to me still hauntingly beautiful.

Botany Bay, described as “4,000 acres of heaven” this SC wildlife management property is made up of three historical plantations from marsh to maritime forest to the gorgeous, shelled-filled beach seen here. It is simply spectacular!

Edisto Island’s first inhabitants were Native Americans, who fished and worked the fertile soil in the island’s center for thousands of years before Spanish priests established a mission here in the 1500’s and Spanish pirates sailed up the Edisto River. Later, when neighboring “Charlestown” (Charleston) was settled, English-born colonists created plantations growing rice, indigo and famous Sea Island cotton. As you approach from the south along Highway 17 before turning onto Highway 174, the one road that meanders to Edisto, you can still make out what were once rice fields. And catch a glimpse of the house at Myrtle Grove Plantation and several other gated, live-oak-lined drives disappearing toward what surely are spectacular vistas.

Visit in summer to early fall and blue crabs are abundant. All you need is a trap and some chicken “parts”…and maybe some crabby catching skills and patience wouldn’t hurt.

Trinity Episcopal Church founded in 1774 and consecrated in 1881, it was occupied by federal troops during the Civil War, destroyed by fire in 1876 and damaged by the hurricane of 1893. The sanctuary was rebuilt and features beautiful interior work done by a former slave. The old bead-board and blown glass windows have been lovingly preserved.

Once you reach Edisto Island, you are surrounded by marshy estuary and pass hundreds of live oaks literally dripping with Spanish moss. Watch for egrets, osprey nests and even hawks and bald eagles. The island is also home to bobcat, alligator, fox, owl, deer, and various birds. On a clear night, the stars create their own spectacular show at Edisto, so if you have a telescope, bring it! Be amazed by the bright celestial sights and shooting stars that seem to be so close, you can reach out and grab them.

The tiny Museum of Edisto gives a good introduction to the flora and fauna of this Sea Island and the Lowcountry.

At the Edisto Museum there are always many “relics” from days gone by…like this mustache cup. It was so unusual I had include it. Wonder who (and what!) could have drank from that fancy cup!

A few sights here along Highway 174 are also surprisingly rustic with some native islander’s living conditions less than luxurious. Some of these locals have had family living here for many years and are descended from Africans brought over as slaves to work the plantations. As the Edisto Museum writes, “their skills and labor created great wealth for the plantation owners, while their culture thrived even in adversity.” Some of that culture can be seen in the lovely sweetgrass basketry of local artisans and in tasty Lowcountry treats like Hopp’in John, red rice and Country Captain.

While it may seem odd to see a tiny, weathered wooden cottage standing next door to a coastal “mac-mansion ”, having visited here for many years it seems normal to me. No one here at Edisto feels they should leave their home to make room for the ‘nouveau riche’ or the “old riche” for that matter. Edisto is sort of a place “out of time” you see – change has come slowly here. This is good and bad, I suppose.

Pick up some fresh fish or shrimp or crab or oysters for dinner tonight at Flowers Seafood, right on Highway 174.

On the good side, there are no big real estate developments or even medium-sized ones here. There is very little commercial development – just enough to make both visitors and full-time residents comfortable. For instance there is one grocery store (for Edisto Island and Edisto Beach). There is one golf course (on Edisto Beach) and no real hotel – just one smallish timeshare with condos.

If you want to visit you will be staying in a house, a timeshare unit, renting either of those or camping at the adjacent State Park. On the not so good side there isn’t much work here, so if one needs to make a living AND reside on Edisto, you farm, fish or devise a business that deals with the seasonal tourist industry in some fashion. I use the term ‘industry’ lightly – compared with other coastal resort areas Edisto is minuscule.

One of the best “sights” on Edisto to me is a good book and a marsh breeze by way of a comfortable porch hammock!

However, I think that if someone decides to reside here full-time, or rather has the ability to live here, rather than anyplace else, they probably are not that concerned with ‘making it rich’. It’s the unpretentious, laid back “Edi-slow” lifestyle that’s the draw.

So far, mass commercial development and its ilk have stayed way up along Highway 17, miles from our Edisto. Luckily, various landowners in the surrounding rural areas have also created conservation easements that will protect the land from development, helping to ensure most excellent stargazing for our family for many years to come, and yours too, if you find yourself traveling down the shady, sandy path toward Edisto Island.

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