History

The naked truth about Cat Island

 
By CATHY CARTER HARLEY – charley@beaufortgazette.com – Source: The Beaufort Gazette
 
Editor’s note: Rachel Martin of Beaufort knew the correct response to a recent Monday Ask and Answer question in The Beaufort Gazette all too well. The question was, “On what local island was a nudist colony formed in the 1930s?” Martin replied: “It was Cat Island where the nudist colony was formed in the 1930s. As a matter of fact, my husband and I bought the lot (originally sold in 1983) in 2004 and are now living in our home that we built.”
 
Neck-ed.
 
Stalked by “snoopers” and “smut-hounds.”
 
Rumored to have once expected an invasion by the Klu Klux Klan.
 
These are among the problems naturists faced in the 1930s on Cat Island in Beaufort. They were said to be the first nudist colony in the United States, and a little blue house on the small Sea Island still marked the spot of their site till 2004.
 
An article from the 1930s in The Augusta Herald, (reprinted in The (Columbia) State) touted the colony as a “Sylvan Sanctuary on Beaufort Isle” and included photos of the nudists.
 
“The pictures go to prove,” reads the clipping with faded, barely-there images, “that all this talk about nudists near Beaufort, S.C., is more than just talk.”
 
The author of the article, Murray duQ. Bonnoitt, took the “When in Rome” approach and stripped down for the story, but he said he was “a blushing novice” and missed his trouser pockets, where he could’ve hidden his matches and cigarettes. Bonnoitt noted that the naturists “dressed for meals” in the main dining room but shed clothes immediately after.
 
In early 2000, Rachel and Earl Martin saw the waterfront site as the perfect place for their permanent home. They tried to salvage the little blue house and requested that the Historic Beaufort Foundation visit.
 
The foundation and architectural historian Colin Brooker dated the house to the 1920s or 1930s, according to Evan Thompson, then interim executive director of the Historic Beaufort Foundation.
 
A story by Gazette Features Editor Jill Coley at the time reported that when the Martins were looking to save the house, Thompson said: “There is a giggle factor. But the site has significance as the first nudist colony in the United States.”
 
Unable to salvage the house or give it away, the memories of it continue to live even today in the couple’s modern 5,000-square-foot coastal, Floridian-style home. Designed by Rachel, an interior decorator, the home offers many amenities the nudists might have appreciated — such as a professional kitchen decorated in yellow and accented in cayenne with granite countertops, as well as the master bath’s soaking tub and antique chandelier.
 
They’d have had no use for the couple’s spacious walk-in closets, though.
 
Clippings about the history of the little blue house are stored neatly in a small file cabinet in the Martins’ modern den area, which overlooks the waterfront where nudists are reported to have played on the beach and waded in the water.
 
The colony was founded in 1932 by Gilbert and Gertrude Parks. The group adhered to the healthy minds/healthy bodies principles of the International Nudist Conference. They used a former plantation house as their headquarters. It is surmised that the blue house was one of the colony’s cottages.
 
In former Beaufort County Sheriff J.E. McTeer’s book, “High Sheriff of the Low Country,” McTeer referred to wanting to run “the nudists off the island.” He said mosquitoes and gnats took care of that within the year.
 
“Luckily, we have fared well with the mosquitoes, but it has proven to be a wonderful conversation story when we entertain,” Martin said.
 
The property has waterfront views of Cat Creek — just off Kitten Creek and across from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island where Marines are trained.
 
The history of the site will be forever remembered by the Martins with a smile.
 
During the construction of the house while waiting on contractors, Earl scrawled a poem in tribute to the nudists:
 
“I sit here on this porch and sigh
 
I look down at my clothes and say why
 
I ask myself should I be in clothes?
 
or should I be exposed?
 
The spirit of the little blue house said to me
 
“in the days of old,
 
back when people were bold”
 
there was no hesitation to make yourself free.”
 
Read more here: http://www.islandpacket.com/living/article33452451.html#storylink=cpy