Love at first sight is a real thing, but it helps to know what you’re looking for, too. Such is the case for Randall and Kathy Waldron, who found their second-home heaven by a mighty and rushing river, and Walt and Joan Eccard, who are retiring by a quiet, winding one.
Both couples loved water, but knew the ocean – with its sand and storms – wasn’t what they wanted. A river, though, with its breezes and wildlife, was a different story. For the Waldrons and Eccards, “this is it” were the first three words they said when they saw the land upon which they’d build their future homes.
“The view is almost surreal,” says Mr. Waldron, a Jacksonville, Florida resident who travels the Southeast for business. “I refer to it as almost spiritual.”
The Waldrons are planning a rustic home on the side of a mountain in French Broad Crossing, a community near Hot Springs, North Carolina. Though horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking are part of the package at French Broad Crossing, it’s the French Broad River that gives the neighborhood its signature.
The third oldest river in the world, the French Broad carves through the southern Appalachian Mountains, offering flat water and Class III rapids – as well as great small mouth bass fishing. The French Broad is a wild and scenic river, and for the Waldrons, makes the ideal setting for a second home.
Besides using it for family vacations, Mr. Waldron plans to stay there when he’s working in the area. “It’s only an hour from the places we’ll work and you can spend an hour just driving in town,” he pointed out.
Walt Eccard, a retired Washington DC lawyer, sounds a lot like Mr. Waldron. “Once we saw the view and the lot, we realized that this is for us,” he said, describing a vista across the 17th tee and the Shallotte River. The Eccards are building in Rivers Edge, a golf course community in eastern North Carolina. The Shallotte River is a shallow, unassuming one, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t impressive. The Eccards marvel at its continual changes. Because it’s a tidal river, the Shallotte changes color as the tides come and go. “Sometimes you see more river, sometimes you see more marsh,” Mr. Eccard says. “With the egrets, it’s a very peaceful view.”
While the Shallotte meanders to the Intracoastal Waterway and the French Broad charges north into Tennessee, they have one major thing in common. They move.
And maybe that’s why rivers have drawn humans for centuries. Besides providing a way to transport goods, they simply hypnotize. For some, rivers are a tranquilizer.
“It’s the gentle but constant motion, which I think is soothing,” Mr. Eccard theorizes. “You see the tidal river rise and fall and you see different pastoral views, especially with the birds. The egrets are magnificent and that’s very calming and serene to have that.”
In the Carolinas, there are hundreds of rivers, offering abundant fishing, boating, rafting and just pleasuring. Perhaps the biggest river story is in Columbia, where the Broad and Saluda rivers join to form the Congaree. The rarity of three rivers in the heart of one city hasn’t been lost on those trying to polish the city’s image and lure visitors. It’s a natural paradise within view of some of America’s most dramatic moments: In 1865, Gen. William Sherman’s forces fired their cannonballs across the Congaree at the State House. (A must-see on any Columbia tour are the gold stars on the State House walls where those cannonballs struck.) Today, family-friendly walking trails follow the banks of these rivers, and concerts and plays are performed regularly at a waterside amphitheater.
A river address in Columbia has become one of the most desirable in town. Such dwellings boast a pristine water view and a few-minutes-only drive downtown.
In the Eastern North Carolina town of Shallotte, the Eccards are close to city amenities in Myrtle Beach and Wilmington. And they’re near the ocean, which they wanted. At Rivers Edge, a golf course community, they’re close enough to get there easily, while reveling in the tranquil river. “It’s made a tremendous difference,” Joan Eccard says about her husband, who allows he’s “calmer and relaxed” after his hectic career in Washington. He doesn’t miss his hour-and-a-half commutes from Germantown, Maryland to the city. “Some days you could go the whole day and not see the sun, and I don’t think that’s healthy.”
He sees plenty of the sun now. He’s golfing frequently, and Mrs. Eccard is dreaming of the chaise she’s going to put in the master bedroom, where she can read and look out over the golf course and the river. The colors she’s chosen to decorate the house reflect their environment – taupe, sand, purple, green and gold.
She’s contemplating more painting lessons, knowing the reeds in the water would be her chief subject.
“This is almost a magical place,” she notes. “There’s such a wide vista and the scenery changes from hour to hour and season to season.” Her husband concurs. “We’re not hemmed in,” he observes. “There’s no claustrophobic feeling. Being on a river would do that because you just look out and see, and there’s nobody behind you.”
Not surprisingly, the Eccards and the Waldrons are putting lots of windows in their homes. “I can’t get over how pretty it is,” Mr. Waldron says about his mountain-and-river hideaway. “I took my partner and all he could say was ‘Wow.’ Just ‘Wow.’ And he was wanting to know if he could get a set of keys.”