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."
(published May 2008)