At the end of an off-the-grid road in northern Beaufort County, a white sand beach that should be off-limits to the public draws visitors anyway — more in recent years.
The private beach is a main draw of living in Coffin Point, the quiet St. Helena Island community once owned by former hoodoo-practicing Sheriff J.E. McTeer. Some Coffin Point Plantation property owners are working to ensure the beach remains in their control, a private amenity for those who live in the immediate area, as they say McTeer intended.
“We all moved out there because it’s beautiful; its’ quiet; it’s peaceful,” said Aaron Hall, president of the Coffin Point Plantation Homeowners Association. “We want to preserve that character.”
Hall delivered a letter to Coffin Point residents last week outlining a plan to transfer ownership of the beach to the homeowners association from the McTeer family. Ed McTeer, son of the late sheriff, and his wife Kathy live in Coffin Point and have copies of an 1891 state land grant and a deed from state archives along with a chain of ownership they say proves the family owns the beach.
“You won’t find very many state land grants that are still in effect in the state of South Carolina,” Ed McTeer said. “This is one of them and by God, it ought to remain intact.”
The homeowners association plans to hire an attorney to settle the ownership issue and transfer the deed to the organization. In his letter, Hall asked residents to donate towards a beach fund in part to pay legal fees estimated to be up to $10,000.
The fund could later be used to pay for other beach needs, Hall said.
The letter raised questions from some beachfront residents who said they assumed the beach belonged to the state and balked at giving money. Hall said the community would meet soon to discuss the planned transfer and address questions.
As part of the transfer, per Hall’s letter:
- Those who live in Coffin Point area from Janette Drive to St. Helena Sound would be allowed beach access. That includes those who live in Coffin Point Plantation subdivision with the iconic Avenue of Oaks as well as some surrounding streets.
- McTeer heirs and descendants would be allowed to use the beach regardless of where they live.
- The community would pay the legal fees necessary to complete the property transfer.
Former sheriff McTeer bought Coffin Point in 1952 and subdivided and developed the property. The beachfront homes offer easy access to the quiet beach and sweeping views of St. Helena Sound, though some of the properties suffered damage and erosion during Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma the past two years.
Ed and Kathy McTeer live on 13 acres with a nine-stall horse stable backing up to wetlands in Coffin Point. Beach-related issues have been relatively recent, Ed McTeer said.
In past years, commercial fishermen have mined the nearby shore for clams, he said. He is also concerned homeowners’ future docks will be built in a way that affects beach access for those who walk, bike and ride horses. He also wants golf carts and other trespassers kept off the beach.
In the past, pickup trucks have pulled onto the beach and left with loads of the shell that naturally piles along the Coffin Point shore, Ed McTeer said.
All are issues he hopes the homeowners association can address with a clear title and control of the beach.
In the meantime, people can still be seen parking in the area and accessing the beach near the end of one road, despite no parking signs in the area. Signs barring trespassing have been removed, Kathy McTeer said.
When Hunting Island closed after Hurricane Matthew, word circulated that Coffin Point was a viable alternative and traffic increased.
People build fires in the sand, drive golf carts on the beach and nearby dirt roads, leave trash and defecate in the woods. Nearby homeowners finally left out trashcans for their unwelcome visitors.
When they attempted to enforce trespassing, the McTeers were told the property would have to be put in their name. That’s when they decided to give it to the homeowners association.
If the homeowners association doesn’t take over, the McTeers said they would seek to give the beach to a conservation organization like the Sierra Club. There hasn’t been discussion of opening the beach to the public, which would bring liability and required infrastructure like parking and bathrooms
Not securing the beach for Coffin Point residents could mean the beach becoming public and open to tourists and partiers, Hall wrote to residents.
“This would dramatically reduce the tranquility of our community to say nothing (of) our property values,” he wrote.
The transfer wouldn’t affect Coffin Point residents’ access to the beach and donations to the beach fund aren’t required, the McTeers noted. Doing nothing could mean losing a piece of history, Ed McTeer said.
“If you just leave it to manage itself, it’s going to get destroyed,” he said. “I promise you that.”