Before Coligny, before the lighthouse, ‘Before the Bridge’


Kay MooreReading Kay Moore’s recently published memories of Hilton Head Island is like spending a summer afternoon sitting on the porch with a pitcher of sweet tea and listening to a favorite aunt talk about “the old days.”

Moore’s book, “Before the Bridge,” is a collection of vignettes about the days when island resident Charlie Simmons had the only store and sold sundries. There was always, she writes, “a beer for Mom and Dad, and the absolutely coldest milk in half-pint bottles for brother ‘Butch’ and me.” 

Her stories range from her earliest recollection as a little child vacationing on Alljoy Beach in Bluffton to the house in Hardeeville to her teenage impression of that “God-forsaken island,” far from her friends who no doubt were rollicking on Tybee Island.

Accessible only by barge from the mainland, the family’s house was the first one built on Hilton Head’s North Forest Beach at the corner of Dune and Gannett.

“We called it The Pioneer and there’s a picture there of what it is like today,” said Moore. “Back then we just had cottages. That was where the beach houses were.”

Getting the building materials to the location was no simple task.

“I was there when there weren’t any cars over there. It’s hard to fathom in your mind, but I tried to say that in the book that there was one dirt road and no cars,” Moore said. “We first started taking all of our materials by barge. You had to get it over there by barge. Then we graduated to the ferry and it would take only so many cars. After that, they built the first bridge — it was a swing bridge. You’d sit on the side and wait for the boats to pass through and it would take forever.”

Copies of Moore’s new book arrived in May. As they sat in the entryway of her Macon, Georgia, home, the boxes brought a ripple of delight to their author.

“It feels good. As I walk by the entrance where the boxes are, I smile. We are just cranked up,” Moore said.

Just as many unique creations evolve, the book began innocently enough thanks to a passing comment by her late husband, dentist and Macon native Ernest “D.D.” Moore. The couple, who had each suffered the loss of their first spouse, met in the late 1960s, fell in love and married, creating a combined household with six children.

“I started out with my husband encouraging me. ‘Kay,’ he’d say, ‘you’re making a mistake not writing some of these stories down about your mother and her stories,’” Moore said. “Well, we lived on that island for 60 years. She saw every single thing that was happening as it developed.”

Moore kept at it, recalling stories and looking for more friends from the early days on Hilton Head.

“I researched it for years and years. I’d have to hunt some of these people down because their lives had changed along the way,” Moore said.

In 2001, one of those people was Gertrude Grant, a native islander who ran a vegetable stand and whose children all graduated from college.

“Writing a book, are ya?” Grant asked.

“Yes, I am,” Moore replied.

“Well, I’ll be waiting for my paycheck,” Grant aid.

That was when Moore knew she had a book, and a year after the death of her beloved D.D., she got back to work on her reminiscences and finished it.

“I went from the standpoint that people just needed to know what it was like when it was just nothing and how the island itself caught on,” Moore said.

Arriving by barge in 1951 as a young child is a far cry from today’s crowded route to the island, but once you arrive, it’s still the same paradise Moore remembers.