Finding an opportunity missed in St. Augustine



In the 1970s, Beaufort was a small town. If one wanted weekend excitement one had to travel.

There was Charleston (Henry’s or Marianne). And there was Atlanta (The Sun Dial or Manuel’s Tavern). But Susan and I often drove down to St. Augustine.

In those days St Augustine — like Taos and Key West — was a destination for those of my generation seeking an alternative, off the grid life style. There was live music; candle and incense shops; and small, pop-up restaurants where one found interesting food and provocative conversation.

After our son arrived in 1980, we found that St. Augustine was still a great place to visit. On Friday, we would leave Beaufort at 11 a.m., arriving in St. Augustine in time to deposit our son, Zach, at Castillo San Marcos. Susan and I would walk across the street to the White Lion Tavern and drink Portuguese wine until we heard the cannon fire at 5 p.m. We would pay the tab and walk back to the fort where we would find our son waiting on the drawbridge.

In those days, we would stay at the St. Francis Inn on St. George Street. This historic inn (1791) comes with courtyard and with guests who usually want to talk.

When sitting in the courtyard (with a glass of Chardonnay) it was easy to find common ground. Several weeks ago we decided to make another run to St. Augustine and revisit the scenes of our youthful indiscretion.

Unfortunately there was no room at the St. Francis, so I made a reservation at the Casa de Solana — another stucco on coquina stone house. This one built by Don Manuel Solana in 1763.

Casa de Solana also comes with a courtyard, and complimentary wine, and that’s where we found Bill and Lisa.

“We’re from Cleveland,” they said.

“We’re so very sorry about the Browns,” I said. “It was a disappointing season.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Bill said shaking his head in despair.

I’m not good at “sports-speak,” but every big screen-owning male knows that this was the year the Cleveland Browns were going to take their long-suffering fans to the playoffs.

“What gets you excited?” I asked trying to change the subject.

“We’re moving to South Carolina,” they replied. “A place called Summerville. Do you know anything about South Carolina?”

“No, we really know nothing about South Carolina”, I wanted to say. And, yes, there would have been some truth in that denial. But we told Lisa and Bill we lived in Beaufort.

“You must love it,” Lisa said. “Tell us what you love the best.”

“Well,” I said, “We don’t have an NFL team, and you won’t able to sit outdoors and watch the Browns.”

“I don’t care if we ever sit in a stadium and watch the Browns,” she replied. “And we sure won’t miss the arctic wind that blows into the stadium from the lake,” Bill said.

“But you’ve never lived in South Carolina in August,” I said. “There’s constant, corrosive, spirit-killing heat that sucks the energy and ambition out of your body.”

“But you do have air conditioning in South Carolina?” Lisa said.

“We also have hurricanes,” I replied.

My reluctance to encourage Lisa and Bill has everything to do with the fact that South Carolina is filling up with retirees and that ongoing tsunami has changed the topography. But in York County, S.C, the Republican-led County Council has said “Enough!”

That council — trying to control the out-of-control growth at Lake Wylie — has put a 16-month moratorium on commercial and re-zoning requests. This “pause” has the backing of the South Carolina Municipal Association.

The Wall Street Journal reports (Feb. 4, 2020) that “Booming towns across the Sunbelt are struggling with unintended consequences of growth. After years of taking a hands-off approach, they now find themselves without the tax structure or the long term infrastructure plans needed to deal with the present growth …”

But, of course, we in Beaufort County had our opportunity (in the 1990s) to put a “Comprehensive Plan” into place that would have controlled growth and, more importantly, designated areas of the County where there would be no serious residential or commercial growth.

That plan was disemboweled.

Let’s hope that the York County Council has the courage to stay the course and the will to save some of its character, part of its culture, some little thing to distinguish it from the suburbs of Charlotte.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. Email Scott at cscottgraber@gmail.com.

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