“I live on the water, and I’m on my dock every morning at 7 a.m. looking at birds and fish. I like the Lowcountry. I like the tidal waters. I like the estuary.”
For Fran Heyward Bollin, Bluffton gives her almost everything she could want in a hometown. The former journalist and author was born in Charleston where her father, Daniel, happened to be working, but has lived in Bluffton for most of her 78 years.
The family moved here when she was a year old, initially living on the second floor of what was the Planter’s Mercantile on Calhoun Street. The building is still there, across from the Society of Bluffton Artists gallery.
“This was a small general store. You could buy things like a loaf of bread, nails, a piece of cheese, a hammer or screwdriver,” Bollin said. When her father got out of the army in 1964, he built the family a house at the corner of Lawton and Boundary. “My mother drew the house plan on a paper bag with a pencil. It had two bedrooms, a bath, a living room and a big kitchen. Then they added a porch and a utility room.”
In 1957, her parents bought the Heyward House on the corner of Bridge and Boundary Streets. It belonged to her father’s cousin Arthur Heyward, and two distant cousins had been living in it until they died. Before moving in, there was a lot of work to do, Bollin said.
“They had lots and lots of cats, and my sister (Dyan) and father and mother and I spent the whole summer cleaning out the cats and miscellaneous stuff,” she said. Her mother, Margaret, bought the furniture that came with the house, and some pieces are still owned by family members.
In 1998, Margaret sold the house at 70 Boundary St. to the Historic Bluffton Foundation, which eventually opened the home for tours.
The Heyward family has been part of the Lowcountry for at least 320 years. Thomas Heyward Jr., born in Beaufort County in 1746, was one of four South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence. That history has always been part of Bollin’s life.
“My father was proud of being a Heyward, and he wanted us to be very proud because we had a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He wanted us to be proud of our country,” she said. “He thought it was important to be a Heyward. I’ve learned since then that not only name, but character matters. He felt that way, too. You’d better tell the truth, you’d better mind your manners, you’d better be on time.”
One of Bollin’s passions is travel. When she was a child, the family took a week or two each year for vacation, mostly to the mountains in North Carolina, she said. Occasionally they’d go up to visit an aunt in Salamanca, N.Y., stopping in Washington, D.C., so she and her sister could see the capitol.
“Then, when we were in New York, we’d go to Niagara Falls in Canada so we could say we’d been in a foreign country. We did that twice,” she said.
Growing up in Bluffton, Bollin and her friends made use of the town’s easy access to the water.
“We just played in Heyward Cove, which is by Bridge Street. It was our play yard. We learned to swim there. My parents had that cleaned out and when the tide came in you could swim there,” she said, “I often wondered where people played who didn’t play in a cove.”
In addition to playing in the cove, Bollin recalls doing a lot of crabbing, swimming every day when the tide was high. When the tide was low, they took their boat out to the sand bar.
She had other interests as well.
“I was a reader. I read a lot. When I was a teenager I worked in the library in the summer, so I always had access to books. I read novels: Willa Cather and Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and then I liked Charles Dickens,” said Bollin. “I read books like ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier, although I went back to it years later and wondered why I’d liked it so much. I read nonfiction now mostly.”
Like most of the area families, meals consisted of local seafood.
“My mother did fried oysters. She could make really good fried oysters and oyster stew. She did a lot with crabs and with shrimp,” she said. “We grew up eating typical Southern food: collard greens and black-eyed peas, red rice – sauté onions, cook the rice in tomato juice and flavor it with bacon. Everything was flavored with bacon.”
Bollin hasn’t always lived in Bluffton, but Bluffton has always been her home. Since that “foreign travel” north of the border, she has seen a great bit more of the world. With her first husband and two little girls, she moved south of Miami, Fla. A few years later, they moved to Kennewick, Wash., and Phoenix, Ariz., with time in between spent in Bluffton while he worked out of Savannah.
“I decided in the ’90s I needed to travel some more, and know how other people lived. I started trading houses with people and I’ve done that 20 times, mostly for three weeks at a time,” said Bollin.
With her late husband, Bill Marscher, and her current one, Bill Bollin, she has traveled to Europe, Costa Rica, Canada, and around the United States.
“Those times enabled me not to get wrapped up in only my hometown, though I love my hometown” she said.
The travel might have taken her away from home, but she became an integral part of Bluffton because of her journalism degree. Her first year away from home was at Columbia College, “because it was in South Carolina and I could get a scholarship.
“I thought I’d see what was going on there. This is 1959-60. I did not want to be a secretary or a nurse or a teacher. And women did not do other stuff at that time. I knew I was better with language and words than science and math,” Bollin said. “I got into the creative writing class, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t want to take myself into a room and tell everyone to go away while I was trying to write, and not see anybody while I was creating.”
She decided to go into journalism to be a communicator, so she transferred to the University of South Carolina. When she moved back to Bluffton with her new husband, she began writing for the Savannah Morning News, but with one toddler and then a second, going to Savannah was not workable, and she spent the next 10 years at home taking care of her daughters.
Bollin began working part-time for the Island Packet in the mid-’70s, covering Beaufort County Council meetings and writing feature stories. Most of her writing she could do at home, then take the finished copy into the office on Pope Avenue on Hilton Head Island. In 1978, when the children were older, Bollin began to work full-time at the local newspaper until the family moved out west. She continued to write, working on the Sun City newspaper in Phoenix. Upon their return to Bluffton, she went back to the Packet.
“I like to find out what’s going on and figure out the best way to communicate it with other people. You write all kinds of stories and meet all kinds of people – people who wouldn’t talk to you otherwise, except they know you’re going to write a story of some kind when you talk to them,” said Bollin.
She became editor of the Island Packet in 1987, retiring in 1997. When she retired, she and Marscher wrote “The Great Sea Island Storm of 1893,” and she wrote three oral histories, “The Way It Was” series.
“I do have this sense that journalism is important work. I know it is not as important as a doctor saving people’s live, but I do have a sense that it is important for people to know what’s going on and elect good people,” Bollin said. “Otherwise you have bad government, bad schools, bad fire departments. I think it’s really, really sad that so many small newspapers are gone. There are so many places for people to put advertising these days and they don’t have to put it in the paper. That means less revenue and that means there are fewer journalists. There’s a lot of good journalism being done but not enough.”
The Bollins have a house in the mountains of North Carolina where they enjoy the hiking and the scenery, but Bluffton is home.
“I like the weather, the scenery, the crabbing and fishing and boating. And I know a lot of people move here because they like it,” Bollin said. “One thing my father always said was, ‘I don’t know why I’d want to move anywhere else. People want to move here, so why should I leave?’ If you’ve ever lived on a tidal creek, you can’t imagine not living on one. At least I can’t.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.