Tennessee author and his family have returned again and again for nearly 70 years
Almost 70 years have passed since author Robert Brandt first experienced Pawleys Island with his family at the age of 14, but he remembers that first trip like it was yesterday.
Even though a hurricane caused an evacuation soon after arriving in the summer of 1955, the family returned to the island just two days later. And Brandt, now a retired lawyer and judge, as well as a published author, has made his way back to Pawleys almost every year since.
“I love the rustic character of Pawleys Island,” he said. “It is quiet and restful, and you don’t have to look at a clock the whole time you are there.”
Living in east Tennessee in 1955, Brandt’s parents, Sandford Brandt, a writer, and Edith Brandt, a schoolteacher, decided to plan a family vacation to the beach that summer. Not familiar with the coast, his father laid out a road map of the United States, pinned one end of a string on their hometown, Norris, and pulled the string out straight until it reached the coast.
The shortest distance to the coast happened to be near Georgetown, South Carolina, so that is where the Brandts headed. When the family reached Georgetown, they traveled north to find a beach and came to Pawleys Island.
It was kismet.
“My sister, Lynn, and I were so excited,” Brandt said, “because we had never seen the ocean and we were looking forward to experiencing it for the first time.”
Brandt recalls that when the family reached the island, there was a large water tower with Cassena Inn emblazoned on it, so they decided to stay at the inn.
“Pawleys Island was primitive in those days and obviously the whole area has changed dramatically since then,” he said. “It had a two-lane road and one store, and a number of inns, including the Sea View Inn, which is still there, and the Tip Top Inn, which is not.”
Soon after arriving at the Cassena, a popular inn on the island from 1926 until it was destroyed by fire in 1986, the family was forced to evacuate due to the threat of Hurricane Connie, an erratic Category 3 storm that stalled off the Pawleys Island coast and ended up going ashore at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. After two days, with the storm no longer posing any danger to the South Carolina Coast, the Brandts returned.
“I remember it being very exciting,” Brandt said. “Hurricane Connie stalled offshore for several days. The waves were huge, and it was dark out there on the ocean.”
As the family was leaving the island that first year, they heard there was another hurricane on the way, this one named Diane, which also did not hit Pawleys directly.
Even the threat of back-to-back hurricanes wasn’t enough to dampen the family’s spirit for Pawleys Island, and the Brandts have a made a point to return again and again.
“My folks fell in love with Pawleys Island, and so did we,” Brandt said. “We weren’t into high rises or fancy places, so it was perfect for us.”
Over the next few years visiting the island, he remembers there was a bowling alley, a pavilion where bands played and people danced, and stores on the island. He said he doesn’t remember any restaurants on the island, but his family ate some meals at the Cassena Inn.
“Other than that, we would go to Murrells Inlet to eat,” Brandt said.
He recalls that Pawleys Pier was open to the public (it is private today) and there was a small café at the beginning of the pier.
Brandt recalled that The Original Hammock Shop, located off the island on the mainland, was housed in a smaller building than it is today. He remembers talking to the hammock weavers there and hearing Gullah spoken for the first time.
Brandt served in United States Army and United States Navy in the 1960s. He served as an adjunct faculty member for 25 years at Vanderbilt University Law School. His articles have appeared in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, the Tennessee Conservationist, and other periodicals. He is the author of five entries in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.
Retired after 34 years as a trial lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee, and 21 years as a judge, Brandt, 82, is best known as the author of several books on travel. His “Touring the Middle Tennessee Backroads” was nominated for History Book of the Year by the Tennessee Library Association. He has also written two fiction novels: “Painted Trillium: A Novel of the Civil War” and “Miss Blaylock’s School for Girls.”
He said “Miss Blaylock’s School for Girls” is a sequel to the first, about Carrie Blaylock as a headmistress and her struggle to maintain her independence and career on the eve of the movement giving women the right to vote.
“Painted Trillium” is about the intersection of a 21-year-old Tennessee woman named Carrie Blaylock and a 25-year-old Union soldier whom she met during the Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
“The Union Army stayed six full months in Murfreesboro, the longest period they stayed in one place,” Brandt said. “Doing research for the novel, I read more than 50 diaries of southern women written during the Civil War.”
“Carrie Blaylock has the surprise of her life at age 42, as she tries to figure out how she is going to manage to keep her school while expecting a baby, which was unheard of in those days,” he said.
As time passed and Brandt acquired his own family — his wife, Anne, and their son, Marshall — they continued to vacation on Pawleys Island most summers. They have rented houses from one end of the island to the other.
In the last two years, Brandt and his wife have stayed at Pawleys Pier Village, an oceanfront condominium complex at the center of the island that surrounds a large pool and has access to Pawleys Pier.
Son Marshall fell in love with Pawleys Island, too, Brandt said, and he even lived there for 10 years. He now lives in Taos, New Mexico, and works in investments.
One of the activities that Brandt has enjoyed while on the island is kayaking in Pawleys Creek. He said he likes taking in the scenic views of the marsh and seeing the abundance of wildlife. His wife mostly stays on the beach, he said.
Brandt has also ventured outside the island to explore, usually renting a bicycle and riding around the area. He said he has enjoyed venturing out to Huntington Beach State Park, the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center near Georgetown, and even places outside the county like Bull Island at Cape Romain and the Swamp Fox Trail in Francis Marion Forrest.
After seven decades with Pawleys as his vacation destination of choice, Brandt said he doesn’t plan to change his vacation plans anytime soon.
“It’s what I’m used to,” he said. “On Pawleys Island, you can eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re sleepy and walk if you feel like walking.”
Click here for a video of Robert Brandt talking about his family’s first trip to Pawleys Island in 1955.
By Clayton Stairs / tourism manager for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce