FEATURE: We built an island dream on our own St Helena

composite picture of a temple and a garden with view over landing stage

Ed and Debbie Hartman created a six-acre garden on St Helena Island

Ed Hartman, head shotSt Helena Island in Maryland offers luxury and escape, but when ED HARTMAN first set up home there, he and his wife Debbie camped in a single room in a near-derelict house. Here, Ed tells how they reclaimed the island - now up for sale – and reveals a personal connection with its namesake in the South Atlantic.   

The name St Helena does appear on an old 1800s map of the island. Who gave it that name is unknown.

Early artefacts, including much oyster shell and numerous stone arrowheads, suggest that the island was occupied by Indians prior to the arrival of white men.

Stories about gambling on the island are correct. The house does contain a number of derelict built-in safes that were once filled with silver coins, collected by the original builder after the banks were closed in the Thirties. Not a thin dime was left when I arrived.

Aerial view of tree-covered island, with speedboat trails on the water

Click the pic to see larger St Helena Island images

I retired from active business in 1999, and the main house, with 6 2/3 acres of land and about half a kilometre of waterfront, came on the market.

The house was in near-derelict condition. The outbuilding and water tower were fully in derelict condition, the waterfront unprotected, the grounds a mess, and so on. My wife and I needed a project and this was it.

We bought the property in 2001 and began an 11-year rehab and upgrade, now about 98% complete.

We recognized that the land and improvements were magnificent and merely needed to have flesh put on the bones.

We started out living in one room with an electric hotplate on top of a microwave on top of an apartment fridge, and a minimum of clothes on temporary hangers.

Bedroom

Old-world elegance on St Helena Island

What has developed is a lifestyle of intense beauty and fulfillment. We marvel on a daily basis at what we started with and what we have created in the middle of eight million bustling souls, nestled between two big cities, one of which is the nation’s capital.

Water views on three sides, mature trees and gardens, a beautiful home stretching 197 feet from end to end along the east bank, sitting 45 feet above the water and looking over two kilometres across to the far shore, we are as totally removed from the real world as the islands of the Bahamas, but we are not remote. Every conceivable need or desire sits across the one-kilometre moat to the mainland.

Why am I selling? I am now nearly 86 years old. Although physical work on the island (and a good parent selection) has kept me in good health, I have said that I want to walk off the island and not be carried off. Reluctantly, I accept that time is here.

rocking chair between grand columns on the terrace

Island lifestyle on St Helena

I know that we can never replace the lifestyle that we have lived these 11 years, but so be it. We are quite happy that we have effectively saved our beautiful house from the wrecking ball, for it is unlikely that anyone would have put in the time and effort we expended to rehab the property.

Also, I have been a small investor in the Annapolis Boat Show business since 1977. My partners have died off, one by one. By 1996, I was the sole remainder and have found it necessary to return to full-time work.

As an aside, I had a daughter, Cathy, now deceased, who visited the South Atlantic St Helena as a 13-year-old girl. She had the opportunity to sail with family friends from Capetown to Annapolis on a small sloop named Molly Brown. They would have landed there in about 1969.

I passed not too far away as we arched our way around the South Atlantic doldrums in my sloop, Mamselle, when I raced in the first Capetown-to-Rio race in January, 1971. Sorry I could not stop in.

SEE ALSO:
For sale: half of St Helena Island. Yours for $7 million
In pictures: St Helena – chance to buy an island dream

LINK:
St Helena Island, Maryland – including sale brochure

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About Simon Pipe

Former print and BBC journalist, now a member of the Journalism teaching team at Coventry University. I run St Helena Online, a news website about the remote British island in the South Atlantic at www.sthelenaonline.org as well as other sites related to journalism teaching.
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