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5/3/2011 So You Want to Live on ... Edisto Island (published in Coastal Living Magazine, May 2008)
As you drive across the causeway on South Carolina 174, Edisto Island makes an unforgettable first impression, with lush, green marsh and blue water stretching into the distance. The road soon snakes past oak trees laden with moss so thick the sun strains to peek through the canopy. Retiree Weesie Fickling describes her initial reaction: "I remember crossing the bridge and thinking, 'I want to live on this island.' Within a year Edisto was my home."
In Edisto Beach, you'll find no chain restaurants, no stoplights, no motels or hotels, and only one grocery store. The town has more churches than restaurants and gift shops combined. Mayor Burley Lyons isn't eager to see that change. "The biggest challenge is preserving the essence of the beach," he says.
But the town prides itself on meeting that challenge. Building restrictions, a strict policy governing water runoff, and limitations on commercial parking prevent overdevelopment. "I don't believe any group of people could have done more to preserve our yesteryear personality than the residents of Edisto," Mayor Lyons says.
Marion Whaley Jr. owns a landscape business and has lived here his entire life, as did his father and grandfather. The reasons he's never left? "Heritage, salt water, and the laid-back way of life," he says.
The island does seem to recall a simpler time with fewer distractions. Some even call the island "Edist-slow." Residents consider that a compliment. Real estate agent Tom Kapp has witnessed gradual growth over the years. "There have only been modest changes," he says. "As recently as 1981, our phone numbers on the island were only four digits."
With time ticking by so slowly, what makes people want to stay on Edisto? Weesie Fickling recalls traveling in Europe with her husband, Bob. "We were in the Swiss Alps looking out at the mountains, and it was a magnificent view. Bob asked where I wanted to go next, and I said, 'I'm homesick. Nothing would please me more than to be looking at the view from our dock on Edisto Island.' We came straight home."
Setting: Edisto is a barrier island in the chain of Sea Islands along the coastlines of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It's located about 45 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina, and a little more than 100 miles north of Savannah, Georgia. Deeply embedded in the Lowcountry, Edisto's rivers and tidal marshes flow into St. Helena Sound and the ACE Basin Reserve. The average high in January is 56 degrees; in July, 89 degrees. August is the wettest month.
Attractions: The island claims 3 miles of beach on the Atlantic. Boaters and fishermen enjoy the ACE Basin Reserve, which brims with shrimp, flounder, crabs, oysters, and clams. The recently built K-5 school was named South Carolina's third-best elementary school. With a population of around 2,500, the island has room to grow.
Drawbacks: With access to only one grocery store and no major medical center, islanders must drive to Charleston for supplies or emergency care. Children in grades 6 through 12 ride a bus to Walterboro, about 45 miles away. Most beach houses are second homes and become rentals in the summer. The population can swell to 15,000 during tourist season. Island water smells like lime, and residents near the marshes battle mosquitoes.
Your next-door neighbors: Charleston commuters, real estate agents, retirees, a tugboat owner, a chef, shrimpers, a doctor, and a Harley-riding judge.
How you'd spend your free time: Walking the beach, kayaking through tidal marshes, bicycling, touring historic island plantations, visiting a produce stand for locally grown vegetables and fruit, perusing books at The Edisto Bookstore, eating Miss Etta's tomato pie at Main's Market Cafe.
Text by Vicki J. Weathers