This article originally appeared on Bluffton1.com in April, 2005. A local business owner and creator of Bluffton1.com, Jeff Urell was interested in a column from the New-Comers perspective. This was especially pertinent in 2005, as Bluffton was inside one of the fastest growing counties in the country. It was my first paid writing gig! (The link from that site is no longer available.)
“70 POUND LIMIT” was the sign I feared most at Chicago’s Midway Airport. My suitcase is the largest suitcase known to humans. And I had packed it full with items I deemed necessary for my move from the world-class city I had lived in for almost seven years to the greater Savannah area. I should have packed a manual on city planning, but I did not know that at the time. My panacea for the transition to the Lowcountry included a Pat Conroy book (good ol’ “Conrack”), Skin-So-Soft, sun block, three Netflix movies, my trusty iPod, and a beautiful, wide brimmed straw hat to help masquerade my Northern ways. If only life could be that simple.
As I emerged into the Lowcountry, the smell hit me. Of salt and trees and dirt and water caught on the back of a heron. How gloriously beautiful this land is in the southern part of the East Coast. I knew I was moving to beauty, but I was troubled by an underlying suspicion that I had traded in my love of culture, once and for all, for natural beauty.
Then lo and behold – Hilton Head Island bestows her manicured bushes and Disneyland dreams upon me. I half expect Mickey Mouse to jump out behind a plantation sign and hand me a balloon. No signs to the public beach are anywhere in sight, and a careful study of the lay of the land is in order. Finally, after buying a map, I find the beach in all of her splendid glory. The fact that she isn’t ridden with high-rise buildings is no less than a miracle, and one reason Hilton Head is the elite and secretive presence it has become. But where is the town? The central meeting place of the community? The locals?
Whoops, I’m in the wrong town. I realize I have to go to Bluffton for that. As soon as I make my way to the historic district of Bluffton, I am relieved. An actual town, with historic landmarks and antebellum homes and a famous oak. I visit the artist’s guilds, of which there are many, and drop in on the Cole-Heyward House. The May River offers up some of the world’s best oysters and the town’s best views. The Spanish moss, old oaks, Palmetto breezes and wide porches remind me how far away Chicago really is. A Sunday visit to an historic church further reinforces the distance to Chicago with fire and brimstone I have never experienced up close and personal. I am surprised my heathen bones didn’t turn to ash upon my passing over the threshold. But I am here to report that I have survived. No visits from the dark side thus far.
It seems everyone here knows each other, and my past experience tells me this is both delightful and downright scary. All in all, my first visit to Bluffton won me over. The charm of this REAL town and its rebellious history make me want to learn more. And I do.
The top 10 things I have learned in my first month as a Bluffton resident:
10) When attempting to navigate US 278, forget all of the rules because there are none.
9) Slow down. It aids in the process of creative thought.
8) Pepper’s Porch is the place to be if you want to have good drinks and sing along with the locals. (and the food is damned good.) Now, if only I could find the espresso…
7) If it’s art and artist’s you want, it’s art and artist’s you’ve got.
6) Both the very wealthy and working poor have stakes in Bluffton. For how long BOTH will is another question.
5) Go ahead and get that degree in city planning. It will surely come in handy here. Let’s start with 278. Anybody?
4) To help with the solution of growth in a small town, you have to be vested in the outcome. No posers allowed.
3) It takes time to build community and friendships. Let it.
2) The no-see-ums are coming, and they are twice as bad as the mosquitoes.
1) Respect your elders and locals. The people who have come before you have stories to tell that you can definitely learn from.