When longtime Cainhoy Village Road residents MaeRe and H.K. “Butch” Skinner made the decision recently to part ways with the mountain of collectables, tools, and furniture MaeRe’s late father had amassed and collected over his life, it was a momentous decision.
As is typically the case when a family makes available to the public items they’ve long held close, it was emotional, but not just for the loss of the items themselves. In the Skinners’ case, they were parting with not only the items MaeRe’s father cherished, but also the structure that housed them. As an 1882 Freedman’s cottage her father had moved to their property in 1956, it is a treasure in and of itself. The first step for the Skinners was to find a home for the cottage.
The couple has made progress on that front, and are currently vetting a list of suitors that have shown early interest in acquiring the historic structure. Their second task on their “moving on” to-do list was hosting a yard sale. And what an event it would be. Kicking off at 8 a.m. on Saturday May 6, the Skinners’ was no typical yard sale.
Sure, there were boxes of Doris Day records, aged volumes of books, and one-of-a-kind collectables, but also on sale were some items that truly made the Skinner sale a special opportunity. Among the items featured were those unique to the cottage, such the original stove that had been used when the structure was built, and also the tools MaeRe’s late father, Cainhoy and Mt. Pleasant legend Captain Tom Chandler, had used all the way back to the 1930’s. It was a picker’s paradise.
“My daddy lived until he was 93 and when he got (the cottage) he built these side tables to work on and created a workshop out of this,” said MaeRe Skinner, pointing to her father’s handiwork. “He was a jack-of-all-trades but never was able to go to college because his daddy died at an early age. He just was self-taught, but his father, his grandfather and his great-great-grandfather we’re all carpenters.”
Bobbing in between curious customers, wheeling and dealing like on an episode of “American Pickers,” MaeRe was every bit the saleswoman during the big sale. But even then, she couldn’t remove the other hat she’d long donned when talking to folks about her father and his collection of antiquities, that of a curator. Asked if the antique electric drill displayed prominently along the back wall of the three-room cottage’s living room dated back to the 1950’s, MaeRe’s tone perked up, eager to reveal the treasure’s true origins.
“No, believe it or not that is a heavy duty electric drill from the 1930’s, I know that because daddy used it in the boat yard in the early 40’s during the war.” “See that wall over there?” she asked one customer, pointing not to a specific item, but to the wall of the cottage itself. “Go look at that, there’s writing all over the wall from the original man who lived here. Some of the notes he made he dated – see? 1920.” The day, the cottage, the items, MaeRe herself – nothing about the Skinner family yard sale on May 6 could be extricated from the man who’d brought it all together in the first place, MaeRe’s father and family patriarch Chandler. The collection reflected a life well-lived, as did the story of how the Freedman’s cottage came to arrive at the family home back in 1956. And MaeRe, for her part, enjoyed re-telling it. Standing in the yard of the family’s home since 1944, their little piece of “rural heaven” on Cainhoy Village Road, MaeRe reflected on times past on her beloved Cainhoy Peninsula.
“We’re the ben’yas,” she began, using the Gullah-Geechee term for people born and raised in the Lowcountry. “It was just wonderful, it was just absolutely quiet and peaceful.” “We never had anybody come down this road in the 1950’s, we never did,” MaeRe continued. “When I grew up here, we rode the school bus all the way to Mt. Pleasant to go to school, and the school bus picked us up right at the gate.
Back then it was about 15 minutes to Mt. Pleasant by way of Highway 41 to Highway 17…I-526 wasn’t even open.” And it was that very route, back in 1956, that Richard Chandler utilized to transport a Freedman’s cottage he’d purchased over in the area now know as Dunes West. He moved the structure to his Cainhoy Village home by semi-truck. It took several trips to move the three-room cottage, complete with the original fireplace, chimney, and kitchen it had when it was constructed back in 1882.
“I was eight when they brought it in and I remember it,” adds MaeRe. “…I remember walking out and looking out at the gate and seeing the house coming down the road on the truck. He told us it was coming and we were in the yard excited waiting for it. Mama was taking pictures… it was great.” Though it remains to be seen who will be accepting the Skinner family’s generous gift, whoever it is will be receiving much of the house as it originally was.
The three rooms, the fireplace, chimney, and kitchen are all original and the family kept most of the original windows and floorboards used when the structure was constructed. As the recent sale wrapped up, the yard nearly bare of the items it had displayed only hours before, MaeRe seemed happy. Standing in the shadows of the Freedman’s cottage in the early afternoon, her face wears that smile that’s usually reserved for Christmas or birthdays, that of the person who has given someone they love the perfect gift. “We’re just so happy to be able to preserve it,” said MaeRe. “It meant the world to daddy, and to us.”