J. Savage Gibson; styling by Whitney Wise Long

This eastern Florida rental may not be fancy, but it delivers peace, privacy, and a front-row seat for phenomenal sunsets.

A century of wet bathing suits and salty air has left this classic Florida getaway unblemished. The oldest structure in Summer Haven, not far from St. Augustine, it’s been owned by one family for four generations. The house has survived every storm that has blown through St. Johns County since 1882.

Recently restored by this generation’s owners, Susan and Thomas Schmidt, “The Hut” remains true to its fisherman’s cottage origin. You won’t find modern flourishes such as wireless Internet or a hot tub here, only an old beach shack located on a finger of land between the Atlantic and the Summer Haven River. The rental offers guests a combination of comfort and nostalgia that’s getting harder to come by.

On the interior, the original wainscoting and white board-and-batten walls gleam against heart pine floors. The house still holds a dozen or so pieces of its original furniture, including an antique wicker sofa (now fitted with blue-and-white-stripe cushions), red-painted spindle twin beds, and a wooden dining table. A coquina fireplace anchors the main living space. “My grandmother sat in a chair and instructed the mason on the placement of every stone,” says Thomas.

The property’s prime location provides entertainment just outside its doorstep. On one side lies the river, where a wide-plank dock extends over brackish water. Here, visitors can crab, fish, explore natural marshes, or paddle to the Intracoastal Waterway. (It’s easy to rent canoes from a local marina, or kayaks in nearby Crescent Beach.) On the ocean side, porpoises and manatees swim just offshore―and right whales a little farther out. Downtown St. Augustine lies only 15 miles south.

For those who prefer to simply enjoy the breeze, there’s always the tower, a 1930s addition that crowns the cottage. It’s where renters can stare out to sea and watch the sun rise and set, just as Thomas’ grandmother once did.

(published June 2007)

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