I spent time last week in South Carolina to celebrate my Mother’s birthday and to attend a family reunion with cousins I hadn’t seen in decades. Like many American families, we’re scattered around the country. There were 7 of us in my immediate family and we needed a place to stay. After a series of mishaps and no small amount of sleuthing, we ended up staying at Swaffield House on Lake Murray.
I’d never seen this house before.
We’d rented another lake house months ahead of the reunion. The charge cleared on our credit card and all seemed well. Then, weeks before our big event, the host canceled on us. Because the vacation season had started, this placed us in a bind. We wanted a lake house for several reasons. The reunion would be held on the lake at our cousins’ house. Our three year old granddaughter would also benefit from having some room to run around after the long drive from Jax.
That’s how we came to find a house with a persona so special to me it’s hard to put it into words. The moment I walked into this magical dwelling, I felt a kinship so strong I teared up. I realized how glad I was that the first place we’d requested fell through.
Heart of pine graced the walls and even the ceiling. I thought about the craftsmen who built this place—you don’t see that kind of artistry in most construction these days. Photos of the lake and of other Carolina places graced the walls. It was more than just the physical nature of the place, though.
The owners managed to keep the beauty of this historic house without impacting its character. The home has modern appliances and bathrooms, all carefully done so as not to negatively affect its personality. As I stood on the porch and gazed across the lawn at the lake, I remembered all the wonderful times I spent here with family and friends. Lake Murray has been part of my life since I was a child. Some of our family owned second homes there, and we gathered to swim, cook out, and enjoy time together. In high school, my friends and I would go to picnic and enjoy the water.
By the time my brother built a home there, the lake was intricately woven into our family history. My own children enjoyed that heritage when we spent time with my brother in summers, on holidays, and at Christmastime. Memories like this and stories they heard about the lake inspired my daughters to write one of their most popular songs, “Where the Dirt Runs Out of Road,” and they titled their first album release with that song.
From the moment I walked into the Swaffield House, all those memories came flooding back. One of the prints on the wall between the kitchen and dining area featured a boat almost identical to the boat my uncle used to give us rides on many years ago. I remember those rides keenly because my mother made us tighten the life jacket so tightly I felt like I was in a harness..
Another item that drew my interest was an article about the house. There was a newspaper clipping on the refrigerator. The article, written in 1989 by Valerie Hoover, disclosed the house was one of the first built on the waterfront after construction on the dam was complete. Swaffield House was built in the early 1930s. It’s a miracle the family managed to hold onto it throughout the years, considering the increase in property values there and the federal estate taxes. I am so glad they kept it and managed to retain its original character.
The house is comfortable—we could have easily accommodated at least one more adult. The front porch is the premium prize—it looks out onto the lake and the view is beautiful. A deck wraps around the house outside. Although it was hot as blazes outside, the a/c system inside worked wonderfully, with ceiling fans distributing air and keeping us comfy. We began each morning with coffee on the porch. I was so captivated by this place I didn’t want to leave. My granddaughter seemed to feel the same way.
I’ve stayed in many places as a result of work travel and family travel, but staying at Swaffield House will be a memory I will long cherish. The hosts are amazing people, demonstrating the hospitality Southerners are famous for. I can also say the bed my husband and I slept in was the very best bed I’ve ever had anywhere besides my own home. I still can’t believe I traveled and got a good night’s rest.
Lake Murray is a magical place, in its own right. But the crème de la crème of places to stay is Swaffield House. It’s the best Airbnb ever, and I hope to go back. There was a spiritual connection for me that ran so deep, and I thought of Marcel Proust’s wonderful Remembrance of Things Past. He summed up my feelings perfectly:
“And I began to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof of its existence, but only the sense that it was a happy, that it was a real state in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished…I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been embedded like an anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed.”
Maybe it was the heart of pine. Or the lake view. Or that poster with the antique boat. For me, “great spaces” were most definitely traversed as soon as I set foot in Swaffield House. I’d never been there until that moment, but in one sense, I was home.
(Kay B. Day/June 26, 2019)