Longtime Resident Talks About the Island He Loves

Jim Burke talked with us about growing up on Tybee Island.
Jim Burke talked with us about growing up on Tybee Island.

With the 120th celebration of Tybee Island just two weeks away, we sat down with longtime Tybee resident Jim Burke to talk about his life on the island and how Tybee has changed over the years.

"We've been here forever," said Burke. "We've always had sand of Tybee in us." And when listening to Burke talk about his family's history with the island,  he means it.

From his great-grandfather surviving a massive hurricane in the 1800s to his grandfather who helped design the railway system and pavilion, the Burke's and Tybee just seem to go together.

Growing up on the island, Burke has seen it go from a military post to a tourism destination.

"I spent my days in the summer time and the weekends in Fort Screven," Burke told us. "It was a great place to go."

When Fort Screven was still an active military base, little else could be found on Tybee Island. But for the few families that resided there, the fort offered good food and even some fun activities for young kids.

"It was great coming on Fort Screven, there was lots of things," said Burke, and some of those things still remain. Many of the homes on the site of old Fort Screven are converted military buildings.

"The house we live in was the mess hall and we could come here on Saturday mornings and eat breakfast," Burke described. "The Army would give you not one egg, but a tray of eggs, a tray of bacon and it was fun."

For years, Tybee was mostly a military town. But once the base closed, it started to grow into something more.

"Then after the war, a lot of people who couldn't afford a summer house at the beach suddenly could afford one by buying one of these old military buildings for $50 or $100 and have a summer house," said Burke.

"We grew a little bit then," he told us. "But you knew everyone who lived here in the winter time."

For Burke, it wasn't until the 1990s that he began to see real changes on the island. As the city began to grow, so did the desire to bring more tourism and international attention to Tybee.

"We were trying to get Olympic volleyball here, so we made this movie about Tybee, how quaint it was," Burke said. "And then this movie went all the world to show all the Olympic people."

A world vollyball exhibition would come to the island, and Burke remembers sand being brought in from the banks of the Savannah River to be used for the court constructed in the north beach parking lot.

A lot has happened on Tybee over the years, and the Burke family has been there for much of it, including helping to start the Tybee Island Saint Patrick's Day parade that Burke says is growing each year.

And as the island celebrates another birthday, you can be sure the longtime residents that make up the heart and soul of Tybee will be there to carry on its history for generations.

For more information about Tybee's 120th celebration, visit http://www.celebratetybee.org/index.html.

Reported by: Sarah Schuster, sschuster@wtoc.com.