Life in Lost Village of Edingsville Beach

edingsville beach

One Christmas I was hundreds of miles away from Edisto and feeling a little homesick for the island. I rifled through an old photo album while visiting my grandparents in Kansas City and an old article fell out on my lap. It was yellowed with age and had crumbled edges. I slowly opened the article and discovered it was about Edisto.

The article was published Dec. 25, 1955 in The News and Courier, a Charleston publication. It featured a story about Edingsville Beach.

The story was written by Chalmers S. Murray, a friend of my great-grandparents, according to my grandmother, and gives readers a glimpse into Edisto’s past.

For those of you unaware, Edisto Beach was not the first vacation destination on the island. Before Edisto Beach reached its heyday, Edingsville Beach was all the rage.

Edingsville Beach came about in 1825 and consisted of about 60 houses. Over the years, erosion took its toll as it does, and a couple dozen of those houses were lost to the Atlantic. In 1866, Edingsville Beach had only 41 houses, two church buildings, and a billiard saloon.

The article’s writer said he found out more about Edingsville Beach from an unpublished manuscript written by his uncle, Eberson Murray. The manuscript said that most of the houses on Edingsville Beach were two-story buildings with wide verandas facing the ocean. They were spaced far apart and lined up in two rows, one row overlooked the ocean while the other overlooked the marsh.

While many of today’s Edisto-lovers are accustomed to seeing deer and raccoon run about the streets of the town, Edingsville Beach was the go-to place to raise hogs. These hogs were allowed to run free on the island.

Much like Edisto, vacationers on Edingsville Beach spent very little time in their beach homes. Instead, they were down at the strand until nightfall and would then dance the night away.

However, the good times weren’t meant to last.

Erosion devastated the natural sand dune barriers that protected many of the homes from the ocean and several families abandoned their homes. As time went by, the abandoned homes were then taken over by African American farmers looking to make a better way of life for themselves on the post-antebellum island.

Then, in 1885, everything changed. Bear in mind this was a time well before hurricane warnings. When a storm came, coastal residents had very little time to prepare.

Eberson Murray said in his unpublished manuscript that he was there when the storm came and was horrified to see the storm surge brought on by the hurricane strip the porch from his house and his neighbors. The surge continued to grow, especially as high tide came in, and by that night both Murray’s house and the other beach front home were swept into the Atlantic.

Few homes remained standing after the hurricane. Of the ones that did, they fell into disrepair and eventually faded away.

Some of the old-timers that lived in the area years after Edingsville Beach faded into obscurity remembered it with great fondness. Some even claimed that on calm days the music that once played during the fun summer nights could still be heard.

Another story told during that time was of the Lady in White who could be seen walking on the deserted beach, pining for what was.

After reading the story, I asked my grandmother if she remembered why her mother had kept it. She said she only did so as it had been written by a friend, but it had no significant meaning; after all, who among us hasn’t liked an article, folded it up, tucked it away, and forgotten about it?

While the article may not have meant a whole lot to my great-grandmother, I thought it was quite interesting that I found it 58 years later to the day she tucked it away in an old photo album. And it was especially interesting that just as I was missing Edisto, a piece of the island fell right into my lap.

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  1. I would suggest that the vibes you’re having about Edingsville Beach are suggesting you make a trip down there to see it, and perhaps be among the first to purchase property to build another house on that island.  When I was in my early teens in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, we used to walk the length from Edisto State Park at the Bowling Alley all the way to the Inlet, and at low tide it was possible to wade the Inlet except for a few swimming strokes, and emerge on the other side at Edingsville Beach.  Then we’d walk the beautiful beach with pure white sand and no shells, and beautiful blue/green water as calm as a lake, and finally come to the Ocean where we could see the Folly Beach Lighthouse standing straight and tall.  It seemed almost close enough to swim to, but none of us ever tried that feat.  I don’t know how many miles we traveled, but it took a large part of the day to get there and back.  And I don’t remember, but we must have had to swim across the Inlet getting back to the bowling alley.  Even then the beach was beautiful, but nobody seemed to know what had happened to the houses that were supposed to be there years ago.

    Barbara L. Miley
    Camden, SC

  2. I had heard this story from my parents, although didn’t realize it was so long ago. The inlet is shallow enough during most of the tide cycle to wade across now and do great shell-hunting on Edingsville beach. 20+ years ago, I don’t remember being able to wade across except at low tide, and even then, it was deep enough to worry about currents.

  3. I had forgotten about the strong, swift tides in the Inlet.  You’re right.  We were aware of those tides, too, and had to be careful of them.  The Isle of Palms also has what we’ve always called “rip tides” in that little inlet between them and Sullivans Island.  Many people, sailors included who presumably knew how to swim well, drowned in that every summer.  But I’m talking about 67 plus/minus years ago when we used to take that walk.  Also, it was the greatest, easiest way to get a beautiful, even sun tan.  One way on the front, the other way on your back.  So much has changed through the years, and some very powerful storms have done their damage with erosion, etc.  We would do well, I think, to take every precaution to protect our environment at all levels, from the ground, to wildlife preservation, and the care of our forests and natural habitats for wildlife and all life, as well as making certain all types of water remain clean from sewage or garbage infiltration by carelessness.  Laws should be passed in every area of local government to guarantee proper maintenance of these habitats on all the islands, and not on the beaches alone.  South Carolina is too beautiful for us citizens not to take care of its cleanliness and paving of its roadways, etc.  That should just be a natural responsibility of everyone who lives or visits here, and should not be left to the government to maintain our environment by itself.

    Barbara Miley
    Camden, SC

  4. Yes I too have a copy of this article. The page is brown and very delicate but it brings a sparkle and new life to my mother’s eyes each time she sees it. My mother is, Mary Francis Wilkinson Mead. It was her grandfather who painted the original oil painting. Cecil Westcoat (later changed to Wescott, due to a disagreement with his family) was an artist  and poet on Edisto. If you look on Wilkinsonslanding.com you can see a picture of him on the history page.  My mother was born and raised on Edisto and even though, Cecil Wescott, is the only person ever mentioned in all the books about Edisto, she can tell stories of the island that will entertain and excite you with each word. My mother’s father, Frank Wilkinson,  was the first Charleston County police office on Edisto. Some of Mom’s stories are of her father bringing prisoners to the house for something to eat before he would take them to jail in Charleston. 

    Chalmers Murray, the writer of this article, has a daughter, Jane McCollum,  whom still lives on Edisto in the same house her parents lived. Jane and my mother grew up together and to this day are the best of friends. There are few things more interesting than to listen to the two of them talk about growing up on the river and all the “trouble” they got into. Jane will put the blame on mom and mom puts it on her. 

    No matter where are family has been over the years, Edisto is always our destination. My mother lives with me now in North Carolina due to a stroke she had, but I pray every night that one day I can bring her back to live in the home she grew up in and the island that breaths life into her.

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