ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. Some places you know like the back of your hand. I can say that with certainty of the ramshackle1970s-era beach house known as the Davis Cottage, located just east of the village on this beautiful island.
With a couple of exceptions years ago, it’s where we stay every time we visit. But this year, much to our disappointment, we learned that the Davis Cottage wasn’t available when we needed it. What to do? We didn’t want, nor could we afford, to rent one of the luxurious new condos that now dominate St Simons’ scant three miles of useable beach. The Methodist retreat at Epworth by the Sea rents rooms, and though it has a breathtaking view of the famed marshes of Glynn, it’s a pretty far piece from the ocean. Certainly not within walking distance.
Were we going to have to settle for the Motel 6 in Brunswick??
Or was it possible that one of the few remaining old-timey beach cottages that once characterized the St. Simons shoreline might be available? And if so, could we possibly love it even half as much as we do the Davis Cottage? Our realtor knew of one possibility—the Thornton Cottage, built in the 1930s, long before the island got fancy.
“It’s basic,” she said. “You might even call it rustic. No covered parking. No central air. No internet.”
“No problem,” we said. “We live in a house that’s 170 years old. Rustic doesn’t scare us.”
I arrived alone, after having battled my way bravely through Atlanta, late on a Saturday afternoon. I was vaguely familiar with the little house, having strolled past it hundreds of times over the past thirty-something years. I’d always wondered what it looked like inside. Now I was going to find out.
The first thing that hit me when I unlocked the door was the smell. Old. In a good way. Kind of musty and dusty and hunkered down for the long haul. I quickly began making interesting discoveries about the cottage. The water heater is in the front hall. The windows, only some of which have screens, look to be as old as the house. Each has its own sturdy stick to prop it open, a technique to which I am no stranger. Most of the rooms have window-unit air conditioners, which produce a whole lot of noise but very little cool air.
But no matter. The cottage is totally charming. Floors and ceilings and interior walls are solid wood. Not a speck of sheetrock anywhere. The dining room is dominated by an enormous round table with a built-in lazy Susan. Corner cabinets display a collection of delicate English china. Wide-armed sofas and chairs fill the living room, which also boasts a hutch and a cobbler’s bench coffee table built by the cottage’s original owner. The bedrooms are cozy. The kitchen is adequate.
Best of all is the ground-level screened porch (with an ill-fitting door that allows lizards to come and go at will) and a second floor deck that overlooks the ocean. Unlike the Davis cottage, we can’t see the lighthouse from here. Or the pier. Or the bridge to Jekyll Island.
But we can watch kayaks and sailboats dance in the waves. At low tide, the sandbar directly in front of the cottage is filled with pelicans. And, just like at the Davis Cottage, we can gaze in awe at the enormous tankers making their way to and from the Port of Brunswick, never failing to sound their horn three times in thanks to the mythical lighthouse keeper.
It’s St. Simons Island from a slightly different angle. But one that’s every bit as good.
(May 25, 2014)