There must be something about lake living that keeps the mind clear. People who've found contentment on fresh water seem supremely certain they've chosen just the right place for them.
“We found exactly what we wanted and we have no intention of leaving,” declares Mike O’Shea, who lives with wife Diane at Grand Harbor on Lake Greenwood, in the western midsection of South Carolina.
After 11 years in Savannah and 10 on Hilton Head Island, the O’Sheas are reveling in the slower pace of a rural, non-resort area.
Even though Grand Harbor has a golf course, fitness center and tennis courts, Lake Greenwood provides a spiritual refreshment they haven’t experienced since their childhood on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania.
Ditto for Sue and Bob Johnson. The native New Yorkers reared four daughters in Massachusetts before retiring and joining one of them in the heart of South Carolina.
The south shore of Lake Murray is where they call home, in the Harbour Watch community in Leesville.
“We love it,” Mrs. Johnson says, describing how Sienna, their “granddog,” loves to ride in their pontoon. Mr. Johnson goes boating year-round.
“I take pride in getting out at least once in January and February,” he says, adding, “that never happened in New England.”
Then there’s Juli Currier. In love with her life on the shores of Lake Keowee in upstate South Carolina, she knows there’s nothing better than loading her young son and a fast picnic onto a boat with her husband, Richard, and taking off for the evening.
“The idea that you can walk out your backyard and jump into your own boat, that’s what I love.”
Yes, it seems pretty clear that life is good for these lake dwellers. For the Curriers, who own Harris Marine, a boat dealership at Lake Keowee, trying out boats is one of the best parts of the job. As a baby, son Owen spent many hours at the store – in a pontoon. “His first crib,” Mrs. Currier says.
These days, Owen is learning to swim while his parents continue their love of skiing and kneeboarding. Tranquil, uncrowded waters – so different from the lakes near Indianapolis, where they’re from – make boating a pleasure. “We like that much of it is protected and can’t be developed,” Mrs. Currier says, describing a 30-mile body of water with lots of interesting “nooks and crannies and beaches and islands” to explore. “You can pull your boat up and hang there for a few hours, and do a different area each time. It seems like it’s always an adventure.”
Juli Currier’s parents had retired to Lake Keowee several years earlier. After visiting, Juli and Richard decided to follow, and moved into Southwind Bay, a Crescent community. Not long after, Richard Currier’s parents moved to nearby Keowee Key, and Juli’s sister and her family came, too. A brother, meanwhile, has moved to Atlanta. A veritable family dynasty from the Midwest has settled in this corner of South Carolina, where the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains are reflected in the calm waters of lakes Keowee and Jocassee. This is Cherokee country, and the Native American reverence for the earth has seeped into the souls of its inhabitants.
“I appreciate Mother Nature now more than I ever did,” Mrs. Currier reflects, noting how she’s come to love the view of the mountains when she drives to work each day. Early fall is her favorite time of year. “Humidity is low, and the mountains just pop out when you’re close to the middle or top of the lake. And the leaves turning make it more beautiful.”
Clearly, family is important for the Curriers and their assorted in-laws. Many Sunday afternoons are spent blissfully pontooning around the lake with coolers and snacks on board, looking at houses. Frequently they stop at a lakeside hangout to listen to an acoustic guitarist and have a drink. It’s all about enjoying each other and the outdoors.
The O’Sheas and Johnsons would agree. Mike O’Shea likes fishing off his dock – Lake Greenwood has striper, bass, catfish, crappie and perch – and the friendliness of their neighbors at Grand Harbor. “Last night we went to a clambake, and when that was over, we had about 30 people over at our house,” he says, explaining that they’d only invited about six.
“That sense of community makes it all such fun. You can be at home relaxing and someone will stop by and say hello.”
A petroleum sales broker, Mr. O’Shea says their Greenwood County location offers many conveniences. Proximity to Augusta, Greenville and Columbia means airports, professional sports, shopping, dining, and colleges and universities aren’t far. But the quiet, wooded surroundings at Grand Harbor have made it easy for him and his wife to relax. The lake isn’t crowded, and neither is the golf course. When friends and family visit, the 23-mile lake provides an ample playground.
The “Moon Hoots” are particularly fun. Residents take their pontoons out on evenings when the moon is full, tie them together and play music and dance. “It’s not real loud, but we party hardy,” Mr. O’Shea says.
Sometimes that sense of fun moves from the water to the shore. At Harbour Watch on Lake Murray, Sue and Bob Johnson laugh year-round about the annual Christmas parade. Residents decorate golf carts and cruise through the neighborhood, and a crazily-costumed Harbour Watch Christmas Queen is crowned. The former and current queens put crowns on the top of their carts, and the local volunteer fire department escorts them with sirens and whistles. Mrs. Johnson was the first Harbour Watch Christmas Queen: In her granddaughter’s blonde wig, “she looked like The Wicked Witch of the East,” Mr. Johnson recalls.
“We relax and have a blast,” his wife adds breezily. A social at the clubhouse always follows the parade.
“Living this far out, you make your own fun,” theorizes Mrs. Johnson, noting that they don’t go to Columbia, 45 minutes away, as much as they thought they would. Why should they? There’s plenty happening here, in neighboring Lexington County. A variety of clubs keep things hopping at Harbour Watch. Residents can pursue their interests in bridge, walking, gourmet cooking, poker, and tennis, for instance. But the Johnsons don’t need much help keeping busy.
They took diaries and documents in Mrs. Johnson’s family and wrote a book about her great-grandfather, South Carolina’s Attorney General during Reconstruction. The book, This Violent Land, chronicles the life of William Stone, and will be published by Bright Mountain Books in Fairview, North Carolina.
Moving to South Carolina made researching the book much easier, they say. From their home in Leesville, they were less than an hour from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. In the other direction, they were the same distance from the Tompkins Library in Edgefield and the Aiken County Historical Museum, where more research could be done. A history major in college, Mr. Johnson thrived on the work involved and the history-rich towns where he did it. “There’s history all around us,” he says, wonderingly.
Even the lakes have their stories. Lake Murray covers old farmsteads where people lived along the Saluda River before it was dammed for electricity. Same for many man-made lakes in the Carolinas. No doubt, the Johnsons, O’Sheas and Curriers are glad they were created.
Juli Currier would rather have a boat than a car. But she’s practical. “You need a car to pull the boat.”
In North Carolina, another family is in the midst of planning their great lake living adventure.
Dawn Strachan is looking forward to being around water again. "My parents worked for the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and our family was really big into boating," she explained from her home in Morrisville, near Charlotte. She and her husband, Jon-Paul are purchasing a home in Mackintosh on the Lake, near Burlington, and within six months they hope to be introducing their daughter, Isla, and their adopted greyhound, Jack, to Lake Mackintosh and the smaller, private community lake called Loch Ness.
Dr. Strachan is Scottish, and is enthused about the Scottish theme throughout the community. He's a chemist working in Winston-Salem, and although Mrs. Strachan has a Master's Degree in chemistry, she's currently caring for their daughter, who was recently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. "We'll be halfway between his work and the University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill, which has a great CF clinic," she explained.
Dr. Strachan's family has visited North Carolina, and they like the terrain as well as the friendliness of the people. Later this year, the Strachans will travel to Scotland, to introduce Isla to the rest of the family. After that, they'll be enjoying the sunrises, sunsets and trails that meander through the community and by the lakes. Perhaps a boat is in their future. Their three cats will be making the move as well. For these felines, the lakeside lifestyle could be an adventure too, as they spend their days indoors, finding new splashes of sun for napping.