by Julie Gyselinck
Edisto is loved by all who come here. When people talk about why they love it, you will frequently hear statements like, “It’s so slow paced,” “Edi-Slo,” “It’s so quiet and peaceful,” “It’s like time has stopped,” and of course, “No one is in a hurry here!” The quiet pace of Edisto is an attractive aspect of the island. Our current state of technology only keeps us moving faster. Everything is at our fingertips. Amazon gets us our wants or needs in two days with Prime shipping. Food is delivered to our doors. Even groceries are ordered online and picked up to save time. Thanks to social media we know when, where, what, and who with every moment of the day.
Edisto has a smattering of 4G floating through our air, allowing you to connect, work and stream.
But we have no franchises, and no hotel, and we like it like that. In reality it is a rural island. We have working farms, lots of them. We have families that have been here since the island was first settled by Europeans. Most importantly we are a 45-minute car ride to the big city of Charleston, S.C. There lies our occasional fix for items not found, or medical visits, pharmacies, and the almighty Mexican restaurants. Living on Edisto is made easy today with cars, the Internet, and don’t forget the good old phone.
Now reverse your imagination and think about Edisto if you took it all away. No cars, no phones (or only four phones on the whole island), no Internet, no grocery store, no restaurants for delicious omelets and pancakes . . . No immediate way to access your current want or need. Those crickets are chirping pretty loud right now.
In the scheme of things our technological advances are pretty new to Edisto. Telephone service didn’t arrive on the island until around 1911–1912 and it only serviced four plantation homes on the whole of Edisto, spaced out so that anyone could reach a phone within an hour in case of a major emergency. Phone service was extremely expensive. Contracts for phone service at the University of South Carolina’s library show a subscriber in Meggett, S.C. paid $5 per month for phone service in 1909. The conversion of$5 in today’s market is a $119 per month phone bill, which would have provided a far different quality of service than we are accustomed to today. No documentation of the rates for the early Edisto phones could be uncovered. Meggett is one of our neighboring towns, so assumptions are being made the price would have been similar here on Edisto.
With extremely limited telephone service on Edisto, and electricity far behind, Edisto saw few technological advances. Electricity didn’t reach Edisto until the late 1940s and very few homes had it. The 1950s saw a large majority of homes still without running water, electricity or a telephone, while the rest of America was rocking and rolling to “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “American Bandstand” on home television sets.
The post office was centrally located on the island at Highway 174 and Point of Pines Road, serving as a general store and post office, as well as a meeting place. They probably had one of the few radios on the island that the public could gather around to hear music, announcements and radio shows. This was where you came to learn about current events, news and gossip. There was a community well there where people came from all over the island as late as the 1970s to get fresh, clean drinking water. These trips to the watering hole and post office would have been few and far between, perhaps once every few days for the lucky folks that lived close by.
Traveling would have been by foot or horse, either riding or by wagon. A short trip that would take just a few minutes by car would have been hours long, an all-day affair. Going to visit or having visitors was a big occasion and cause for celebration. The winter and fall, after crops were harvested, were a popular time for gatherings. It was common practice to light a torch or fire in a metal cauldron placed at the entrance of the property to indicate you were open to welcoming visitors. Sundays year-round were spent at the church. One of our locals, Skip Sanders, whose family has been on Edisto for hundreds of years, remembers his great-grandmother telling him that her family would leave the house at 7:30 a.m. by horse-drawn wagon for a 10:00 a.m. service at the Presbyterian Church. Two and a half hours in a slow-moving, bouncing buggy, traveling from the Jenkins Hill Road Plantation, where they lived. With travel taking that much effort and time, we see the reason there are so many churches on Edisto; they had to be within walking distance. Thinking that lifestyle sounds romantic, laid-back and simple is common. People often wish for days gone by without ever having actually experienced them. Explore Edisto was caught up in that same sentiment. What if we took a trip to visit a few friends, just a couple of miles away, over two days by horseback? It sounded like a great idea . . .
Horses, travel and getting ditched
Explore Edisto plans a big adventure every year to showcase the natural beauty of our island and to inspire others to get out and explore for themselves. We always spend a few days in the great outdoors, soaking up the sun, the beautiful vistas that surround us, and get satisfyingly exhausted while having the time of our lives. It is possibly one of our favorite parts of the job. In past years we’ve kayaked around the island and beach for three days, and once we paddle boarded up the Combahee River, camping on the riverbanks, totally surrounded by wilderness. While these trips certainly tested our physical abilities, at the end we were muscle sore, slightly sunburned, and tired. Those two trips based on the water gave me anxiety. I was nervous about the tides, falling in the water and getting stuck. Any of the thousands of types of accidents that can befall someone in the water haunted me. I can’t speak for my fellow travelers, but given that they were all native to Edisto and pluff mud is in their DNA, I doubted they were scared, so I kept my feelings to myself. I must add that we took guide Meg Hoyle with us on these trips. She followed us in her big skiff, a protective shadow should we encounter any issues. She was our safety blanket. Venturing out on this new trip without her seemed OK until the first trouble hit, and then we suddenly felt like little kids who just realized they had ventured too far from mom.
Our plan for this trip wasn’t to totally recreate an 1880s travel experience. We were not wearing period clothing, using antique gear or leaving our phones or cameras behind. We were keeping this simple and to the point. We purchased maps that showed the old plantation roads and back roads and searched for a route that would take us from point A to point B with a stop or two in the middle. The maps revealed there were old roads and trails that went from Botany Bay Plantation all the way to Steamboat Landing, approximately 20 miles. We would travel through Botany Bay, follow Rabbit Road and cross through logging roads to reach Point of Pines Road. From Point of Pines Road we headed north and turned up Clark Road, heading toward our first stop, Cassina Point Plantation, where we would visit with some good friends and spend the night. Day two of our journey would have us heading out Indigo Hill Road and up Highway 174 to Oak Island Road. (As much as we tried to keep the journey to old roads, the cut through from Indigo to Oak Island was part of active hunting land and it was too dangerous to ride through; the detour was less than five minutes.) Oak Island turns into Jenkins Hill Road, where our next stop to rest and water the horses was at Freeman’s Farm. From Freeman’s, we would finish the trip at Steamboat Landing.
Twenty miles and two days to visit two friends . . .
We were excited to get started, and knowing the fast pace of a horse’s walk, we didn’t anticipate it taking too long. We knew from looking at the map that the first leg of the ride would be the fastest. Since the trip was going to be so quick on day one, and our host was planning a little get-together for the evening, we decided to put in a half day at the office before heading out on the trail. We arrived at Botany Bay Plantation with our bags and reluctant mounts, Jupiter and Chance, ready to get started.
I’m writing this story with full disclosure of the details and situation that unfolded. I am a horse person; these are my two horses we were riding. I love them both dearly, but hard-living work horses they are not. Jupiter is a small, scrappy horse, light in color, and about six years old. His personality is truly one only a mother could love, but he is brave and closer to the ground than Chance. He was selected to be Caroline’s mount for the trip since she wasn’t a very experienced rider. Chance is an extremely tall, brown Thoroughbred, around sixteen years old. He’s a very stoic fellow, and he and I have ridden many hours together on the trails. He is not as brave as Jupiter, but tends to keep his cool around things such as passing cars and dogs. Both horses are ridden regularly and are in good shape and excellent health; the length of the trip would not be an issue for them.
Caroline and I were tacked up and on the way around three thirty on a cloudy and brisk December day. Since we were a little late getting started, we decided to cut out the long loop around Botany Bay and ride straight toward Rabbit Road. Never in my life did I expect the mosquitoes to be out in December. Bugs were not accounted for in all of our planning and they were out in Biblical proportions! They swarmed all over us and the horses, digging into their ears and covering their whole bodies and faces. There were so many mosquitoes and they were huge! Like tiny pterodactyls biting us through our multiple layers of clothing. My pants had tiny pinpoints of blood seeping through from the countless bites, an experience I’ve never had before. Stopping for photos was nearly impossible, lest we get (literally) carried away. The trip was gearing up to be a real experience.
As we finally made our way over the dike and past the Beehive Well, we turned left onto Rabbit Road. Dusk was rapidly settling in when we approached the logging road we would turn onto—only there was a problem, a big wide problem. The extreme rain and flooding from a few months before had resulted in the need to dig out the once narrow and shallow ditches lining the road. In our path was a four-foot-wide ditch, about three feet deep and half full of freezing December water. I hopped down off Chance and told Caroline we would have to jump across, then coach them over while holding onto their lead ropes. I attached Chance’s lead rope and jumped across the ditch. He stayed firmly on the other side. I tugged on his rope a little; he yanked backward pulling me into the water. I ignored the chilly water flooding my boots and continued to try and coax him across. He looked at me like I was officially off my rocker. Jupiter stood off to the side pushing and harassing Caroline for the fun of it. We swapped horses, and I crossed the creek again. Horses are herd animals, and I knew if Jupiter crossed the ditch and went on down the road, Chance would follow. Jupiter leaped over on the second try. Back across the creek I went again with a fresh flood of freezing water in my boots. Caroline crossed over and took Jupiter. Now I just had to convince Chance to make the leap. It took exactly two cookies and Jupiter walking away to get Chance to jump the ditch. I was out of cookies and praying the rest of the trip would be ditchless.
We chatted as we headed on down the trail, enjoying the beautiful expanses of marsh as it spread out around us. The evening brought the deer to life and they occasionally sprang across the path in front of us. At one crossing a small herd came out one at a time in front of us, and we counted them like train cars. We made it onto Point of Pines Road without incident. The temperature and the sun dropped at an equally rapid pace. I’m sure the horses found the breeze cooling, but it made quick work of our thin layers. My toes had gone numb in my wet boots, but we were just a few miles away from Cassina Point.
A deep dusk had settled around us. Our trip plodded along. We were passed by a few cars and encountered one giant goat, but otherwise our trip was quiet. When we finally reached the entrance to Cassina Point, excitement radiated through us, and the horses picked up their pace. A light mist had started to swirl over the pastures. The moon glowing through the dusk cast a purple hue. As we rounded the bend in the road, the barn came into view. The light pouring out of the barn windows and doors was a fiery gold. The sight was stunningly beautiful, and we halted our journey just to absorb the view. As we proceeded up the drive and made our way into the barn yard, we were greeted with a chorus of welcome calls. This was the experience we were searching for. The expected visitors finally arriving, excited hosts, and warm greetings. Wearily, we climbed down and led our mounts into the warmth of the barn. We settled Jupiter and Chance into their paddocks for the night with fresh water and hay to munch on. They were relieved to be done for the day and to explore their new surroundings.
As a group we made our way up to the towering plantation house, and we were greeted with a blast of warm air. Glorious, cozy, warm air scented with the delicious smell of dinner cooking on the stove. Our host and owner of the plantation, Tecla Earnshaw, guided us into the kitchen, where we enjoyed glasses of wine and discussed our trip with the other guests. It was a wonderful evening of laughter, stories and a delicious meal. We felt fully immersed in our experience, and the surroundings certainly helped out. The evening wound down, and guests trickled away for the night. We eventually made our way upstairs, almost too tired to sleep.
The following morning rang in clear and cold with a heavy wind blowing in gusts across the farm. We got out of bed stiff from the ride the day before but excited to be on the way. We fed the horses first in the morning, then we headed back to the house for a warm breakfast while we waited for the temperature to rise. After we ate, we headed down to the barn to get ready to go. Our hustled movements in and out of the barn got the horses excited. The other horses at the farm picked up on the energy and began calling out and pacing around. Chance was on his toes, bouncing around, ready to start.
We mounted up and started out of the barn yard, finally on our way. A horse off in the distance neighed loudly and took off running, causing Jupiter to lose whatever sense of self-control he had. He spun around, vacating his position under Caroline. He left her sitting in midair for a split second before she crashed to the ground. For dramatic effect the yellow demon pony reared up on his hind feet, eliciting a surprised gasp from everyone in the group. Chance pranced in place like he was taking part in some hypnotic Jazzercise class. We had not been in the saddle for ten minutes, yet today was getting off to a rough start. Thankfully, Jupiter regained some composure and stayed next to Caroline as she got to her feet. There were a few choice words and concerned questions. We decided that it might be best to lead Jupiter away down the lane and then remount out of sight of the other horses.
With the horses mostly settled down, and Caroline back in the saddle, we headed for Indigo Hill Road. Jupiter continued to fuss, stopping for bites of grass as he pleased. Our motley crew approached the corner of Indigo Hill and Clark Road. “BLEEEEEEHHH!” Giant goat saw us coming. His deep bellow sounded like a machine gun firing at us. Chance went weak in the knees with fear, and I heard Caroline cursing Jupiter behind me. Calm voices . . . Good boys . . . It’s OK . . . It’s just a goat . . . I could feel Caroline getting frustrated behind me, but I was too ashamed of my chicken-horses to turn around and look at her. We rounded the corner, unmolested by the giant goat.
We continued on down Indigo Hill Road and Caroline told me she had a feeling we were going to get attacked by dogs. I silently cursed her for jinxing us. We plodded on down the road. Jupiter had taken a real fancy to aggravating Caroline. Cars were whizzing past us like we didn’t exist. One more aspect we didn’t account for, rude drivers, but the horses stayed steady, unfazed by them.
As most of you know, leash laws aren’t readily obeyed in rural areas. The dogs saw us coming and they charged toward their property line, barking and growling wildly. Caroline dismounted off Jupiter so fast it made a cartoon noise! She marched forward down the road, dragging her rotten pony behind her, leaving the dogs snarling and snapping at us from their yard. I stayed close beside her, surprised at how fast she could walk. The rabid dogs faded away behind us. A familiar house appeared. Miss Sara Burnell must have been watching out of her window, because she bounded out the front door, clapping with excitement about the sad parade marching toward her house. Always glad to see Sara, we accepted her offer of water for the horses and a quick rest. We used her big picnic table to remount and headed on down the road. We made it to Highway 174 and decided to walk the horses up the short stretch of highway to Oak Island Road.
Our journey down Oak Island was uneventful, yet long, and we greeted the end of the pavement and the start of the dirt road at Jenkins Hill as a milestone. The woods and homes melted away into vast farm lands bordered by thick woods. Off in the distance we heard a high-pitched clatter. We emerged from a canopy of oak trees to the deafening beat of wings and screeching from tens of thousands of crows. They swarmed overhead in a black mass, swooping and turning in unison. It was an unbelievable sight. We decided our bums needed a break from the saddle and sat on the side of the road. Jupiter stepped on Caroline’s toes, twice, for good measure. We trekked on down the road. We were approaching hour four of riding, and the walk felt good.
At some point we managed to get back on. Our bodies protested, not used to this much riding. Caroline’s tailbone was paining her severely, but she was a trooper, dealing with a brat pony and pain. Neither of us remembered Jenkins Hill Road ever being this long . . .
As if we had conjured it by starting to wonder when we would reach our next stop, we saw the driveway to the Freeman’s and Elaine Freeman waiting for us at the entrance. In the farm yard she had a water trough full of clean water for the horses and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for us. The horses drank their fill and Chance rested his head in Elaine’s arms and closed his eyes. Jupiter contented himself with knocking things over between bites of grass. He really had reached his limit on good behavior and was fully dedicated to being just horrible. I offered for Caroline to switch horses, but she turned me down. After a few more restful moments we got back on and headed down the long driveway out to Jenkins Hill Road. I heard Caroline arguing with Jupiter behind me. As soon as we reached the dirt road, Jupiter put it in reverse; it seemed like he might walk backward all the way back to Cassina Point, and Caroline was helpless to stop him. Frustrated, exhausted and in agony from her fall earlier, Caroline threw up her hands in disgust and frustration and got off Jupiter. If he understood what she was saying, it didn’t seem to bother him. Caroline was done, and I honestly didn’t blame her. Elaine offered her sympathies and understanding. She suggested we untack, leave the horses at her farm and ride in her pickup to get our truck and trailer.
Call it quits? We were so close. I couldn’t do it. Not that I wasn’t exhausted and beat up as well, but I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. We agreed I’d ride on ahead the last few miles, load Chance into our waiting trailer at Steamboat Landing and come back to pick up my evil pony and sweet Caroline.
Chance and I left our bag with Elaine and took off down the road at a quick trot. He seemed to know we had a job to do and was eager to get to the end of this trip. We carried on like that for a good while; it was almost peaceful. Far ahead in the distance I could see a tiny figure off to the left of the road. I could tell Chance saw it too by the perk of his ears. Neither of us was able to distinguish what it was. Sometimes it looked like a person standing next to a large rectangular shape; I couldn’t tell if it was moving. Minutes went by and the image seemed just as far away, no matter how much ground we covered. I brought Chance down to a walk when the shape suddenly appeared closer. It was definitely a person, but something seemed strange. I got a tingling feeling down my back.
Like coming into focus out of a haze, we were suddenly sharing the road with a woman wearing what I can only describe as a buffalo skin coat with three Rottweilers next to her on a leash. They were not barking but surging against their tethers with a silent violence. The dogs we encountered earlier in the day crossed my mind. They were loud, but Chance didn’t blink an eye at them. These dogs made one too many silent promises and Chance’s stoic resolve broke. In a fit of self-preservation, he wheeled around. I tried changing his focus and direction. He came up off the ground, his body suddenly soaked with sweat. I hung on as he continued to try and scramble away. We were going nowhere fast and I was obviously no longer in control. I got down and pulled the reins over his head. I patted him and told him everything was going to be OK. I was praying buffalo lady had control of her hellhounds; I didn’t look her way as I walked Chance by. Grateful we both escaped with all of our body parts, I didn’t even bother looking for a place to climb back on. We were walking the rest of the way. Another hour went by in quiet, with me occasionally striking up a one-sided conversation. I dwelled on our decision to make this trip; it was all my idea. Perhaps not the best one I’d ever had.
We finally reached the entrance to the landing. No sweeter sight than my old pickup waiting there for us. We were done. Finally. I felt like we had been gone for two weeks. My brain was devoid of thoughts as I went through the motions of untacking and loading Chance into the trailer. The crank of the engine was like a modern symphony to my ears. I sent Caroline a text that we were on our way to get her. I flipped the seat heaters on as we rambled down the road, back to today, back toward comforts, and warm beds and soft seats. I don’t regret the experience and I’d do it again, but I understood what those travelers felt, and their reasons for staying so close to home. Riding horses is fun. Traveling by horseback . . . not so much. Keep Exploring.