Grayton Beach Has Seen Many Changes
By DeLene Sholes
On my way to the beach each morning in the fall, I enjoy seeing what’s going on in the neighborhood. Most of the visitors have left, and sometimes I’m the only one out walking. The little stream that empties into Grayton Lake was dry all summer, but now a trickle of water runs through it. Someone’s building a house down on Hotz Avenue, and another one is going up on DeFuniak Street. When Little Louie’s Restaurant is serving breakfast, I can see customers sitting on the deck upstairs, eating, laughing and talking.
Grayton Beach has seen many changes in a short time. It seems that almost no time has passed since there were only fourteen families who lived here all year. It was so unusual for a car to come down our road, that when we heard one we would run to the windows and look to see who it was. Traffic signs and stop signs were nonexistent here. Until the late seventies, there were no houses west of DeFuniak Street, and no businesses or restaurants. All the roads were dirt, and we didn’t lock our doors. The quaint beach cottages were in various stages of repair. Some were well kept, but others suffered neglect from owners who lived in other states and seldom saw their property. Many cottages were dilapidated, in need of paint and repairs. Most had one thing in common; screened porches that beckoned people to come and spend a lazy afternoon reading or sleeping.
The only mailbox at Grayton Beach was the one in front of Helen and Van Butler’s house. The Butlers and all of the summer visitors received their mail in that large box. The Butlers’ well supplied water for the community. The library’s bookmobile began parking at the old store once or twice a week sometime during the seventies, and people could visit it and check out books. We could buy bread, milk, bait, and ice at The Grayton Store, where the Red Bar is now. The store, sleepy during the day, came to life every night during the summer, when people of all ages, children and adults, gathered to dance, watch others dance, or catch up on gossip. Brightly colored graffiti covered the walls of the store inside and out, because children painted their names all over the building each year when they came to spend the summer.
We knew almost everyone who came to Grayton Beach, and most of their business. Friends gathered at the beach during the day and watched their children play in Western Lake while they chatted. At night everyone got together at The Store. That was when children were everyone’s responsibility. Mothers looked after their own children, and didn’t hesitate to correct or counsel those that belonged to someone else as the situation dictated.
Things are different now. We’ve lost much of the quaintness that drew us to this place. Most of our streets are paved, and restaurants and stores abound. Traffic lights and signs direct the strangers who fill our streets with cars, bikes, motorcycles, and delivery trucks. Everyone has a mailbox now, and our water comes from a public utility company. Palm trees have claimed their place beside native scrub oaks and palmettos. We have many more houses now, some of them multistoried, and some with the somewhat sterile look of well-kept, prized real estate.
Less obvious than physical changes are the changes in the way that we go about our daily lives. Sometimes I walk through the neighborhood without seeing anyone that I know. The people that I see on the beach will probably be gone in a few days. The old store still comes to life at night, but now it’s a popular restaurant and bar frequented by many people I have never seen before. Our quirky little village still somehow has the feel of a neighborhood in spite of the changes. That’s one thing that I hope will never change.