Lowcountry families get “Cabin Fever”

The Post and Courier

There’s something timeless about a small cabin in the woods. Unlike “houses,” cabins are closer to nature, and the best ones seem to spring from the landscape itself, snug but simple. In a world full of electronic options, a cabin offers a sanctuary from distraction, one reason why a place near Saluda, N.C., called Cabin Fever has such a magnetic pull.

Cabin Fever is a cluster of seven wood rental cabins tucked against a hill two miles from Saluda, a tiny old railroad town 2,000 feet above the sea-level stew of heat and humidity that is Charleston in summer.

Each cabin has a name (Good Times, Summer Breeze) along with a wood stove, electricity and a kitchen with everything you need to cook a hearty meal. The floors and walls are wood, and the roof is metal. The second-growth trees are tall, and sometimes squirrels knock down nuts from high above, making such loud bangs you wonder if they’re doing it for kicks. Walls are decorated with old posters or farm utensils put up years ago when the cabins were built by a local Saluda family, real stuff, not like Cracker Barrel.

What’s not there is just as important as what is. The cabins have no televisions or stereos. Instead, entertainment systems come in the form of checkerboards, a zip-line, camp fires, rocking chairs, swings, a natural spring and the woods themselves. The owners, a group of families from Charleston, Mount Pleasant and Augusta, Ga., recently installed a computer wi-fi system, a decision they made with mixed emotions. During a recent visit, I was glad it wasn’t working.

Cabin Fever was built by the Mintz family of Saluda in the 1970s. The family ran a small construction company, and they built the cabins partly to keep crews busy in the slower cold-weather seasons. Because the cabins were built over time, each one has its own personality and following among visitors. Good Times, one of the first, is a little more primitive; Buzzard’s Roost seems to be a favorite; it’s high on a hill but close to the communal barbecue pit. Each has a guest book where people often write about their experiences.

“I’m 10 years old – Peace, Love and Animals – and I had the best time in High Top!,” Hannah wrote on the last Fourth of July, adding that she was particularly excited to discover some salamanders and leeches. Another girl wrote how she played checkers and cards and pretended to be a mosquito and went around stinging her family. “I know this sounds kind of dumb for a 14-year-old girl,” she wrote, adding that their visit had generated a list of new inside family jokes.

Many write as if they had found a stumbled on something remarkable, a simple but rich way of living that gets lost in a world of electronic options. One parent, for instance, described the joy she felt watching her children play in a stream at the foot of the cabin. “Now if that’s not what life is about, I don’t know what it is.”

The nearby town of Saluda has a similar timeless appeal, with its two general stores and soda parlor and train tracks fronting a row of brick buildings, most built in the late 1800s or early 1900s. The M. A. Pace Store was built in 1910 and has been operated by the same family since then. Its shelving and most of the furnishings are original. Robert Pace runs the store and keeps a few shelves of corsets and shoes dating back to the 1920s. Pace is getting up in years, and as you wander along the old wood plank floors, it’s easy to get wistful about the past and feel a twinge of anxiety about the future.

Saluda is like that, though. People get attached to the place and become fierce protectors. Same with Cabin Fever. Consider how its relatively new owners got involved:

Steve Harry, managing partner of East Coast Entertainment/Charleston, said he and his family had been camping in and around Saluda for years when they stumbled on Cabin Fever about 18 years ago. “It immediately became our favorite getaway.” Over time, he invited other families to join his. “One night about 10 years ago around the campfire I very casually mentioned to the owner that if he ever wanted to sell the place to let me know.”

Harry didn’t give the conversation much thought until five years ago when the owner decided to sell and phoned Harry with the news. The owners had been approached by a developer from nearby Hendersonville but gave Harry first shot. “It didn’t take too many phone calls to put together three other partners, Billy Cappelmann and William Rusher of Charleston and Preston Moss from Augusta, Ga.

Now, they sometime spend weekends knocking down weeds and tinkering with plumbing. But it’s the lack of change they want to preserve. Harry said that after they bought the compound, they sent surveys to previous guests asking what changes they would recommend. “Over 90 percent of the responses basically said, ‘Don’t change a thing. We love it like it is.”