It's just a short trip across a narrow river bridge onto Georgia's Isle of Hope. But it's "a quarter mile and a world away from the continental United States," as Julia Kelly remembers her father describing the small island where she grew up.
A sense of community thrives here, only 15 minutes from Savannah. Mansions sit side by side with meager houses.
"They're all mixed in on the island, yet it works," explains Linda Kelly, Julia's mom and a resident since 1970. "Part of the charm is that it has changed very little."
The area's biggest change: the addition of a Piggly Wiggly grocery store in nearby Sandfly. "If we go to The Pig any day between 5 and 6 in the evening, we'll see all our friends and neighbors in the aisles," says Linda.
Isle of Hope is that rare place where parents still feel comfortable sending their kids out to play early in the day and signaling them home at dark by ringing a bell. Youngsters ride bikes to the marina―the island's only commercial establishment―to buy Popsicles and ice-cream sandwiches. Boaters traveling along the Intracoastal Waterway often stop there as well. More than a few decide to stay.
Craig and Diana Barrow moved with their two children 16 years ago to Wormsloe, a former plantation. Eight generations back, in 1732, King George II of England granted 500 acres to Craig's ancestor Noble Jones. Over time, Noble's holdings expanded to more than 800 acres. In 1973, Noble's descendants donated all but the 50 acres surrounding the family home to the state of Georgia.
Its foundation built in 1828, the residence remains private. But visitors are welcome at Wormsloe Historic Site, with a 1.5-mile drive canopied by 400 live oaks. Hiking trails lace the grounds' lush maritime forest.
"Isle of Hope has built up beautifully over the years," says Diana. "It is a picture, and a lovely neighborhood to be in. We've spent many happy afternoons crabbing off of our dock with our kids."
Isle of Hope has long attracted moviemakers and photographers. Soldiers marched along Bluff Drive in the movie Glory. When Blythe Danner filmed The Last of the Belles, her baby daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow, shared a crib with 6-week-old Julia Kelly. "People would come up from the river and want to take pictures of our house," Julia says. "From the water, it looked quite grand with its columns, but to us, it was just a country house with dogs and an occasional raccoon running through."
Perhaps most telling, says Linda, is that "the kids who grew up here are coming back and buying the old homes and fixing them up."
Images from more than 20 years of visits to Isle of Hope adorn the Savannah gallery of photographer Jack Leigh, who shot the cover of the best-seller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. "The beauty, allure, and lifestyle have made it an enchanted isle for me," Jack says.