A View from the Ridge
Author: Paul deVere
Speaking of boats, through my unscientific survey (I have not been down all the side roads in RRR), I would wager (something that is also done at the “salons”) that there is a boat in the front or side yard (or both) of every third house or mobile home throughout Jasper County, a freedom not experienced by our brothers and sisters in Southern Beaufort County’s planned unit developments. At one of the “salons” I recently attended, I mentioned the boats and the attendant wisdom of having one “at the ready,” so to speak, due to rising sea levels caused by global warming. It was at that moment I realized that at certain “salons” there were topics best kept to one’s self.
But the “good idea at the time” started to keep me up at night. It wasn’t writer’s block (that usually happens in daylight). Over time, I discovered I might have been suffering from a condition not uncommon among Hilton Head Islanders, usually those who are newly settled retirees. I discovered I was turning into a “bridge burner”! You know the malady. It shows up almost weekly in The Island Packet’s Letters to the Editor section. “I’ve got mine, so burn the bridges and keep those riff raff off the island!” I was uncertain if I wanted to expose the extraordinary beauty and charm of my new neighborhood. My fear was that I might make it sound attractive enough and more people would move here!
Bravely (though still with some hesitation), I will start with some facts.
1. This rumor is not true. You do not need your U.S. passport in any part of Jasper County. You will need your driver’s license, proof of insurance and registration when the officer pulls you over for (usually) speeding (usually on SC 462 or the stretch of I-95 from Exit 33 to the Georgia border).
2. This rumor is true. Neither Siri nor Google Maps can be completely relied upon to get you where you want to go in Jasper County, and you can find yourself wandering endlessly on back roads that lead to other back roads. (Exit 18, Bees Creek.)
3. Ridgeland was initially called Gopher Hill. In fact, the 43rd Annual Gopher Hill Festival is going on right now (ends October 4 with the Gopher Hill Fun Run, 7 a.m., followed by the Gopher Hill Festival Parade, starts at 10 a.m.). I learned this has nothing to do with the burrowing rodent or its hill. It has to do with turtles, the Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) to be exact. Seems long ago the area was replete with this terrestrial turtle. It was a very popular food source for both two-legged and four-legged creatures. However, by the late 1800s, the PC police didn’t think it a suitable name for the railway station that was located on the highest ridge between Savannah and Charleston. Hence, on November 12, 1900 poor old Gopher Hill became Ridgeland. Most, if not all, of its 271 citizens approved. Today a wonderful big bronze sculpture of the Gopher turtle is featured at a little park just off West Main just before you hit the railroad crossing on your way to the post office.
4. Jasper County (ranked number 30 out of 46 counties in the state in terms of income) is a miniature road version of “flyover country” for folks traveling to and from Southern Beaufort County (ranked number 1 in the state in terms of income). These folks are almost always on their way to somewhere else.
Unfortunately, one of the quickest ways to tell you are in/traveling through Jasper County are the billboards. It’s also unfortunate folks don’t stop, because when I compare my new neighborhood and my old neighborhood, RRR represents, for me, the real Lowcountry. Sort of like Hilton Head and Bluffton used to be 30 years ago. We just don’t have any beaches.
5. But we have golf! Nine glorious holes at “The Sarge” (Sergeant Jasper Golf Club). It’s about 20 minutes from my front door. This is not “championship” golf. It is “real” golf. As one member (yes, you can become a member, but that has consequences—see below) told me the first time I played, the only time the ball washers work is after it rains. There is one paid employee. The remainder of all tasks are the responsibility of the members.
The layout is wonderful. The greens can be iffy, the fairways interesting, some of the water hazards turn up dry (see “rain” above). But here’s the thing. I’ve never had so much fun playing golf in my life. While it is not true you could play in the nude (considering the physique of many of us who play there, this would be material for your worst nightmare), if you’ve got the $20 for 18 holes including cart, denim is fine and collared shirts are unusual. No tee times required.
I have played in tournaments to raise money to help “friends of The Sarge” with medical bills. I play at “The Sarge” with my daughter (a newbie) and my son (disgustingly low handicapper) when he visits me at “The Ridge,” as both children call my new home. For a golfer/father, is there anything better than being able to play the game with your children pretty much any time you want to?
Players come from all walks of life. If someone actually asks what you do for a living, it isn’t because that person wants to put you on some economic or social pecking order. It’s because they have a genuine interest in you. If the PGA wanted to improve their apprentice program, they should have candidates do a three month rotation at “The Sarge” to learn what the game is really all about.
6. So where did the “Sergeant Jasper” business come from you ask? Jasper County is named after William Jasper (Johann Wilhelm Gasper), an illiterate German immigrant and a Revolutionary War hero. He had a knack for saving flags and people. During the Battle of Sullivan’s Island (1776), he recovered and displayed the South Carolina flag (designed by General Moultrie himself) after a British warship smashed the flagstaff. Governor John Rutledge gave William his personal sword as a reward for bravery. A while later, he and a buddy saved some American captives taken by a party of British soldiers and made the Brits his own prisoners. Unfortunately, during the Siege of Savannah (1779), which was an unsuccessful attempt to get the British out of Savannah, William was mortally wounded while trying to raise the standard (flag) of his regiment. There is a bronze statue of him at Savannah’s Madison Square. (Note so Savannahians: Bill was German, not Irish. Get your story straight.)
7. What else do you miss when you treat Jasper County as “Flyover Country?” We’ll go by exits off I-95:
Exit 8. This is pretty much a boring exit in terms of discovery. Except for Sergeant Jasper County Park. Wow. It’s 321 acres of delight. Small lakes, walking trails, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, picnics, very cool.
Exit 21. Ridgeland, SC 336. Some local wits refer to this part of East Main Street as “Restaurant Row.” There are over a dozen eateries within shouting distance, half of them typical franchises. But there is Chinese, pizza, bar-b-cue and the well-hidden Jasper’s Porch. Yes, it does have a screened porch where you can eat, a small lake to enjoy, a raft of ducks (be on the lookout when you pull into the parking lot) and a new owner.
The Porch’s close neighbor is also a surprise (and hidden), the Blue Heron Nature Center. The center has a big log cabin that serves as an indoor classroom, an outdoor classroom, a butterfly garden, and a half-mile nature trail, sitting on 10 acres of green.
Also, though it takes a little doing, find U.S. 278 (yes, that 278) just off Jacob Smart Boulevard (first traffic light on East Main and hang a right) turn left and you’re three-quarters of a mile from September Oaks Vineyard and Winery! No kidding. A vineyard in Ridgeland. Simply beautiful.
8. Exit 28, SC 462. This is my exit. For well over 15 years I drove this road monthly and headed up to the mountains of Western North Carolina. It was a personal journey for my wife. I didn’t stop either. Here’s what I missed: the tomb of Thomas Hayward, Jr., signer of the Declaration of Independence, right where SC 336 intersects with SC 462 (also known as the Coosaw Scenic Drive). A slight jog down 336 leads to another historical marker, indicating the spot where the Confederate army wacked Union troops at Honey Hill.
9. At that same intersection is Cooler’s Exxon, home of the “Rusty Dog,” quite possibly the finest hot dog in the world. And as I drove back and forth for that weekend journey, I missed what would become the current center of my universe off Knowles Island Road.
10. “No Outlet.” That’s what the sign reads once you pass Roseland Road, about a quarter mile down Knowles Island Road. As you throw caution to the wind and continue on, you see the modest sign for Palm Key, a fascinating Lowcountry development created by my friend Judy, way too many years ago. The next turn to the right is Boyd Creek Drive, host of a couple of the “salons” and where I live.
Here’s the thing. I have new and old good friends on either side of Boyd Creek. The new friends happened within 24 hours of our move. That’s the sort of thing that used to happen on Hilton Head Island.
The sunset over Boyd Creek, when the tide is in, rivals any Hilton Head Island sunset.
One of my dogs is a barker but my (few) neighbors put up with him because he’s actually a pretty nice guy.
I am invited to sing and play my guitar at the “salons” (I look at it as an act of “joy” versus “quality”). I am seldom without (other people’s) food.
The ultimate kicker for me, though, is the sound of the trains rolling through Ridgeland. It’s in the distance, about 10 miles away. But sound carries over water. I grew up with the sound of trains in my birthplace, Kankakee, Illinois. My dad’s favorite song was “City of New Orleans” (“the train pulls out of Kankakee”).
So, sitting on my back porch about 11 p.m. and hearing the train come rumbling through Ridgeland about 10 miles away, well that’s really something. So, too, is watching a couple deer freely munching on my beautiful heirloom Joseph’s Coat roses! Like right now! Where are my dogs? (Under the bed, sleeping.) Where are my venison sharing camo guys with their Weatherby Mark V Accumark rifles? (I called. He’s at an aerobics class in Pooler, Ga.) Based on the suicide rate of deer vs. auto on SC 462, (auto 26, deer 0 in the past 30 days), you’d think my roses would be safe!
Then there is the armadillo family under my deck. Don’t get me started.