By Sam Burnham
We spent the week leading up to Thanksgiving in the Charleston area. It was a typical Iron Skillet Travels style getaway. Our base of operations this time was too notable to not get it's own special post. Oh it wasn't a luxurious spa, a stately plantation mansion, or a re-purposed cotton mill. No this one is quite special in its own way.
The managing editor found this little gem on Airbnb. It is located in the Shem Creek area of Mt. Pleasant. It is a recently renovated duplex and we we're staying in one side. The other side appears to still be in the renovation process but there was not a single minute that any work there disturbed our quiet or relaxation. The neighborhood is in a bit of a transition with most of the homes either recently renovated or in the process. The work seems to be following a traditional theme. It is tasteful and lovely. The "main drag" through that part of town features local business and restaurants. It is probably much busier during the summer season but it was a The location is very convenient to downtown Charleston, Sullivan's Island, and Isle of Palms.
The home itself holds a simple beauty. The decor is not overblown or obnoxious as you might find in many vacation homes. While the home is not huge, it was plenty big enough for our tight-knit group of five.
In the living area there is cozy furniture and ample lamplight for an evening read. The window shades allow for a view of outside or privacy. There is a large television which we used to catch most of the Georgia game. But most of the time there was spent reading, planning, or relaxing.
The bath is small, as is the entire unit. But the use of a shower is a good optimization of space. You see shelving and a sink with vanity. Plush towels and tasteful decor are definitely a nice touch. Again, small and simple but adequate and realistic.
The bottom sash of the window is frosted to offer privacy. But the window can also be opened to allow the fresh fall air to come if on a November evening.
The outdoor areas offer a bit of home away from home. There is a small but adequate backyard where the boys got to enjoy some fresh air and at least one time throwing a ball around. I already mentioned the picnic table on the patio which we dined at a few times. There is a charcoal grill as well. On Saturday evening you could hear others along the street enjoying grilling and games - nothing bothersome or out of the way, just a friendly and festive neighborhood atmosphere. That seemed to enhance the backyard that evening.
The front yard is dominated by an oak tree surrounded by a mulched area. It is a welcome sight after a long day of touring the area. The front porch is screened in and offers some lovely vintage seating. It's a great spot of an evening of porch sitting.
Overall, it is a beautiful stop. We loved the simplicity, the comfort, even the closeness of it all was nice for a family holiday outing. This is an excellent choice for a small family or perhaps a couple. Comfortable and convenient.
By Sam Burnham
A final few takeaways from the trip to 30A.
I was able to make many observations of this area, both in the book and on the ground. So many of the towns along the coast have lost the real identity of what they were. The charm of the little Southern towns are gone. All that remains are modern edifices of the real estate market - condos, strip malls, and chain restaurants.
But along 30A I found more than a pleasant strip of sand and some decent seafood. I found something real and the hope that this can happen in other places.
One of my favorite things about the trip was seeing the beach towns by bicycle. Our beach house came with a few bikes and I took time in the mornings to grab one and do some exploring. Some of the times I was alone. Different family members joined me on other outings. 30A has an excellent bike path that travels along the right of way between each town. The scenery along the path is beautiful and each town is bike friendly. Taking a bike encouraged me to look around and little more in each place. Most of the pictures that have been featured in this series were taken from that bicycle.
Perhaps one day we will have a few rural towns in Georgia that are connected by bike so that residents and visitors can easily venture to nearby towns to enjoy shopping, dining, or entertainment with the neighbors.
People actually live in these towns. As bizarre as it may sound, many of these houses are full time homes. This is not just a vacation get-a-way. There are schools, churches, and businesses for the benefit of permanent residents. Some even have their own post office. The parades, the boat races, the festivals, all this is in the keeping of community and the love of the hometowns. These towns are what they are because people love them, care for them, protect them, and do what they think is best for them. They've rejected the kind of development that might take away that charm that many of the others lost long ago. They haven't sold out to developers or chain stores.
This would be good to see happen in some small towns as well. I'd love to see several of them thrive and grow healthily while avoiding the sort of generic development that has marred so many Southern towns. If people enjoy living there and people enjoy visiting, that should be a sign of success. Develop wisely and in ways that fit in to what is already going on in that town and don't bulldoze every hint of nature. Let beauty live there.
30A has shown me that the trick to revitalizing small towns will be to not lose the sense of community. The people who already live in small towns must never be overwhelmed in their own homes. The idea is to benefit them, not run them off or price them out of their own market.
So 30A is a bit of home on the beach. Harvey Jackson said people go to the coast to do things they can't do back home. Maybe one day we'll be able to bring a little of that stuff home with us and enjoy that sentiment all year long.
.By Sam Burnham
We got to see so many places on our 30A road trip. Many towns along the way, in south Alabama and inland on the Florida panhandle, were the same kind of towns we have discussed in our small town revitalization brainstorming. But I want to draw a spotlight on one place in particular.
On my very first venture into town I was a bit surprised at what I found. It was a piece of old Florida, fresh from a history book. The small cottages, the scrub oaks, and the short spiky palms had me wanting to search for some local resident frying up fish and cooking cheese grits. The small homes are placed along the roads between 30A and the white sands of the beach.
Hotz Avenue has just enough business to make Grayton more than just a housing development but not quite enough to qualify the street as "downtown". Hotz runs roughly 2 1/2 blocks from the south end of Defuniak St at the Wash-A-Way Hotel until dead ends into the boat ramp on the lake at the eastern end of town. This stretch of nominal pavement is home to a few places where a local or a tourist might locate a cold beverage and a bite to eat. There was some foot traffic in the area the evening we rode though. There was activity but no one acting stupid. It was a right pleasant environment.
I mentioned the Wash-A-Way Hotel. This is not the Peachtree Plaza nor is it the Hyatt Regency Savannah. This hotel was built in the 1890s. It may or may not have earned its name when the 1926 hurricane washed it off its foundation. It may or may not have earned that name from any one of numerous other possible explanations. My sources suggest that the locals were, neither then nor now, concerned with exactitude or the accuracy of small details. Truth and folklore tend to blend somewhere in the middle and at some point disentangling the two is just more work than it is worth. Just pick one you like and go with it. I'm going with the 1926 hurricane. The building was there long ago, is there now, and is called the Wash-A-Way. There are photos of it on stilts and on the ground. It's on stilts now - this I can confirm. You can see the water from the building and it would make for a great retreat to get some reading and writing done...so long as you don't spend too long listening to jazzy tunes and sipping drinks at the Red Bar.
The Red Bar is the site of the old Butler General Store. The old place was run by Van Ness Butler, a high school principal from up the street about 30 miles who ran the school when it was in and, along with his school teacher wife, ran the store in the summer. The store served as the local jook joint in the evenings. Music, drinking and dancing were the regular activities, one of the only places such things were available in this remote area. It doesn't seem to have been a particularly rowdy place then, nor does it seem so now.
Mostly, I look at this area and see a lot of what I'd like to see in the small towns I have talked about in written dreams of revitalization. It is a town where the locals have managed to keep developers active building small homes that fit into their surroundings while keeping condo developers out altogether. Nothing is huge or overgrown there. The development seems to be in harmony with nature. It is a very bike friendly village that connects to the fantastic bike trail along 30A. I biked to Grayton Beach almost every morning just for the scenery and the laid back atmosphere.
Each 4th of July folks from Grayton team up to challenge folks from Seagrove (easily my second pick for a true Southern beach experience on 30A) in the Rags to Riches Regatta, where crews race 16' Hobie Cats from Grayton to Seagrove and back (or Seagrove to Grayton and back for the Riches to Rags in alternating years). It's getting hard to discern which town is riches and which is rags. as both places have reasonable architecture, some unpaved roads, laid back atmospheres, and seem to be less bourgeois than Seaside, WaterColor, or Alys. They also seem to be more content sitting on the porch watching the breeze than trying to keep up with the "fancier" locales.
Any way you look at it, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Grayton. It gave me some hope to know that such places are still out there. I would like to see more places with viable populations without being overrun with modern development and commercialization. If you are looking to spend some of your summer in such a place, I'd recommend Grayton Beach.
I'd like to thank Dr. Harvey Jackson for much of the information in this article. His book The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera (2012 University of Georgia Press) was my main source for historical information. Dr. Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and one of my former history professors there.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire