Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Fireproof Building--An Important Puzzle Piece In The Story Called Charleston

Standing triumphantly on the corner of Meeting and Chalmer Streets, shadowed by the magnificent old oaks of Washington Square, its solid masonry walls, flagstone floors, and window sashes and shutters of iron have survived a war, withstood hurricane force winds, and endured an earthquake, but ironically, it was conceived and constructed to stand up to a fire, and it did. After the all-consuming flames of The Great Fire of 1861 burned nearby Circular Church, Institute Hall, and every building on the east side of Meeting Street between Market and Queen Streets, then jumping over Broad Street and cutting a swath of destruction all the way to the river, it successfully past through the conflagration. This Matron of Meeting Street was rightfully named The Fireproof Building.

The Fireproof Building was built by the state between 1822 and 1827. It was constructed by John G. Spindle and designed by Charleston native Robert Mills, the first native-born American to be trained as an architect. Aside from his work in Charleston, Mills was responsible for the Washington Monument and many public buildings throughout the State and nation. Designed to house and protect the state's public records, its structure contained no flammable materials. It is now believed to be the first and oldest building of fireproof construction in the United States.

Mills signature design is seen throughout its simple Greek Doric style. With minimal ornamentation, the exterior conveys a sense of order and serenity. The walls are of brick, stuccoed in imitation of the same. Its two porticoes, with four high columns each on an arcaded basement and triple windows, are typical Mills. The columns are three-and-a-half feet in diameter and crowned with a pediment. While taking photographs of its exterior, I noticed its opposite facing sides were identical to one another.

Renovations of the stair hall.
Although I was not able to enter the building, presently closed to the public, descriptions of its interior make it an architectural photographers dream featuring a three-story oval stair hall with a cantilevered brownstone staircase and cross-vaulted rooms on the main floor. The stair hall is lit by a cupola.

It was originally called the Charleston District Record Building. In recent years, the South Carolina Historical Society has gained title to the iconic building. It is now the headquarters of the SCHS. It was listed in the National Register July 29, 1969; Designated a National Historic Landmark November 7, 1973.

Despite being fireproof, it is not age-proof, as seen by the crumbling stucco along its lower exterior. The SCHS has been making improvements to the building--an obvious deduction confirmed by its blocked stair entrances and piles of old bricks stacked on its porticoes.

Besides being adjacent to famous Washington Square, the Fireproof Building is surrounded by Charleston landmarks. City Hall, St. Michael's Church, Hibernian Hall, Circular Congretional Church and The Mills House Wyndam Grand are all within view. Famous restaurants close by are Husk, Poogan's Porch, Eli's Table, and Fast and French.

The day I was there taking pictures, I saw four different walking tours. I have no doubt The Fireproof Building was part of the guides narrations. Built in a century when destructive city fires raged all around it, bursting Union mortar shells rained down from surrounding batteries, and a great earthquake shook the foundations of the city, it has prevailed. It has become an important puzzle piece in the story called Charleston.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The One And Only Charleston Tea Plantation--The Tea's Intriguing History From Summerville To Wadmalaw Island

All the tea in China can't measure up to the tea grown in South Carolina. 哦啦啦 (translation: ooh la la). No, it's Oolong. Camellia sinensis is the scientific name for this tea and it came to South Carolina in 1799 by way of a French botanist named Andre Michaux. He planted the cuttings near Charleston at Middleton Barony for Henry Middleton's gardens, which is known as Middleton Place today, but they didn't stay there. Before the tea found a permanent home at the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island, it traveled around the state for a time.

In 1848, some tea plants traveled to Greenville, South Carolina. Dr. Junius Smith, a retired London physician, attempted to produce it commercially on his plantation called Golden Grove and his little venture was successful. On July 4, 1851 he declared, "Now I have before me a pot of fresh tea from my own plantation, the first I have enjoyed." He didn't enjoy it for very long. A year later Junius Smith was attacked at his home in Grove Station and seriously injured. He died from his injuries a month later. And so, that was that.

The next attempt to grow tea commercially came in 1874. Dr. Alexis Forster planted a crop of the tea plants on his Georgetown plantation called Friendfield. Unfortunately, the daring undertaking was stopped in its tracks. In 1879, Dr. Forster died when his buggy flipped while trying to outrun a group of bandits trying to rob him.

In 1884, the U.S. Department of Agriculture planted an experimental tea farm outside Summerville, South Carolina. The program ran for four years to 1888, until the government scraped it because it wasn't cost effective to harvest the tea. It was that same year Dr. Charles Shepard entered the picture and established the Pinehurst Tea Plantation close to where the government's farm had been located and ironically near the site of Michaux's original planting on Middleton Place.

Dr. Charles Shepard successfully produced a variety of high quality Oolong tea. His tea even won first prize at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. To cover costs for labor, Shepard opened a school, making tea picking part of the curriculum, giving him cost free child labor, while offering an education that may have not been available to them otherwise.

Meanwhile, in the early 1900s, Major Roswell Trimble and Colonel Augustus C. Tyler transplanted thousands of tea bushes from Summerville to nearby Rantowles in South Carolina's Lowcountry, now known as Hollywood. This venture, called the American Tea Growing Company, failed due to two possible reasons. Some believe it was because of a quarrel between Trimble and Tyler's son, while others believe its failure was because of Colonel Tyler's death in 1903 compounded by repeal of the Spanish-American War import tax of ten cents per pound of tea. The company dissolved by 1907.

Sadly, Pinehurst Plantation remained prosperous only until the death of Dr. Shepard in 1915. The tea plants were no longer harvested, but continued unattended and wild for the next 45 years.

Dr. Shepard's accomplishments laid the groundwork for the success to come. In 1963, a 127 acre potato farm located on Wadmalaw Island in the Lowcountry of South Carolina was purchased. The Thomas J. Lipton company established a research station. Shepard's tea plants were transplanted from Pinehurst to the farm. The research station operated for 24 years and proved that a high-quality tea could indeed be grown commercially in South Carolina.

In 1987, William Barclay Hall, a third-generation tea taster trained in England, purchased the land. Thanks to Hall's vision the Charleston Tea Plantation was founded. During his seventeen year tenure, his original "American Classic" tea became the first tea ever to be made with 100% tea grown in America. For almost thirty years, American Classic has been immensely popular with tea lovers in the Carolinas.

In 2003, seeking additional financing, Hall reached out to his longtime friends, the Bigelow family. A partnership arrangement was worked out and the Bigelow Tea Company bought the plantation. The Bigelows brought sixty-five years of experience in the specialty tea business to the Plantation and the American Classic brand. Since 2003, the Charleston Tea Plantation has transformed into a true American icon.

Considered one of Charleston's most unspoiled islands, the drive along Maybank Highway on Wadmalaw Island to the tea plantation's entrance marked by three brick pillars is a pleasant one, although it doesn't seem like you are on an island. As soon as you pass the entrance, you are immediately treated to a sea of lush, green tea fields. After a short drive into the trees, you arrive at the welcome center parking.

The welcome center has a long porch with plenty of outdoor seating where Waddy the Frog, a tea-loving metal amphibian custom made for the plantation by Charles “Frog” Smith of John's Island, greets plantation visitors. Inside the center is a spacious gift shop where you can choose from over several hundred tea related items including a selection of the delicious specialty teas that are produced on the plantation. There is a Tea Bar where you can sample the teas. It is also home to the "Green Giant", a custom made tea harvesting machine exclusive to the Charleston Tea Plantation.

A map of the world hangs above the check out counter with lights identifying other locations tea is grown. You can purchase a $10 ticket for a 35-40 minute trolley ride where you'll get to see the plantation's 127 acres of tea bushes and listen to a narration. You can take a complimentary tour of the tea production building designed with a glassed in, air conditioned gallery that runs the entire length of the facility. As you walk along the gallery, you will be looking out onto our factory floor at all the equipment it takes to make tea. Three large TV screens explain in great detail each and every tea making process.

The Charleston Tea Plantation is unique. It is the only place in North America where tea is grown. The historical story leading up to its establishment on pristine Wadmalaw Island, recounted in this article, is an illustrious one with deep Lowcountry roots first planted along the Ashley River in Summerville. It is worth your time to visit this Charleston landmark. While you are on the island, other historic attractions such as Deep Water Vineyard, the only domestic winery in Charleston, South Carolina as well as the Angel Oak tree are nearby.

6617 Maybank Highway
Wadmalaw Island

Friday, February 10, 2017

On February 17th, 153 years ago, A Momentous Piece of Charleston History Disappeared into The Atlantic Ocean

Besieged Charleston
From land, the Union forces, ominously positioned on Morris Island, fired its first shots into the beating heart of downtown Charleston from a huge siege cannon nicknamed "The Swamp Angel." The pride of South Carolina was now under heavy fire. While from sea, the Union's strangle hold on Charleston Harbor was squeezing the oxygen out of the City's economy, allowing less and less blockade runners through. The Confederate forces attempting to protect the city were desperate. Choking and besieged, Charleston turned their hopes to a curious secret submersible weapon from Mobile called the H.L. Hunley. It was February of 1864.

Cove Inlet
On the 17th of February, under the command of Lt. George Dixon, the Hunley's crew of eight made their way across the footbridge on the southern end of Sullivan's Island at Cove Inlet near Fort Moultrie. From there, they hiked 2 1/2 mile's north to Breech Inlet and awaited nightfall. It was cold and it was quiet when the appointed time arrived. The moonlight sparkled on the surface of the chilly inlet waters. Dixon and the crew boarded the cylindrical iron boiler fashioned into a submarine with a 17-foot spar carrying a 135 pound torpedo filled full of explosives mounted on its bow.

Breech Inlet
With barely enough room to accommodate themselves, the eight men poured sweat over hand cranks that powered a spinning propeller while their captain manned the dive planes steering man and iron to a location four miles off Breech Inlet in the north channel of Sullivan's Island where the Federal steam sloop-of-war USS Housatonic, a powerful new vessel, carrying eleven guns of the largest caliber, was prowling the darkened blockaded waters.

A lookout aboard the Union ship, tired, cold and restless, suddenly spotted something moving in the chilly waters. Could it be floating debris? Something about the shadowy object didn't seem right. The alarm was sounded. Shots rang out and bullets ricocheted in all directions. The low profile of the submersible in the water made it impossible to direct the ship's firepower at it. Other Union sailors joined in the frantic firing of revolvers and rifles. The object continued to approach at about three knots.

With bullets bouncing off its hull, the Hunley rammed her long metal spar into the stern area, planting the torpedo into the Housatonic. The men inside the Hunley lunged forward from the impact, then quickly backed their sub out as the 150-foot attached detonation rope played out. Within seconds, the world rocked and every man, above and below, became enveloped in a concussion of destruction.

The explosion caused the Housatonic to burn for three minutes before sending it plunging to the bottom killing five sailors. The Hunley then surfaced long enough for her crew to signal their comrades on the shore of Sullivan's Island with a blue magnesium light, indicating a successful mission. The shore crew stoked their signal fires and anxiously awaited the Hunley's return. It did not. Shortly after her historic achievement, the Hunley, along with its crew, vanished into the dark, salty waters without a trace.

I am from Northeastern Ohio, and in that part of the U.S. you are far removed from the many notable places and events of the Civil War, but here in the South, in Charleston, you are in the heart of it all. It is tightly weaved into the very fabric of Charleston's identity and for visitors it is inescapable, both by land and water. The Spiritline Cruises in Charleston Harbor shuttles people back and forth on a daily basis to the place where it all started, Fort Sumter. The guides on one of the numerous historic carriage rides seen crisscrossing the historic district are dressed in Confederate gray uniforms. You can get up close and personal by physically touching the iron mortars and cannon at Fort Moultrie or White Point Gardens that were used to bombard Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

My first exposure to the story of the Hunley was by way of a 1999 movie and then in more detail, when I moved to Charleston. Driving down Meeting Street towards the French Quarter, you pass a replica at the entrance of the Charleston Museum.

Most likely, there are quite a few people in this country who don't know the Hunley exists or its story. For those who don't, the Hunley was the first successful combat submarine. Successful, meaning the Confederate submarine accomplished its one and only mission. It didn't successfully return to port. The Hunley disappeared under the waters off of Sullivan's Island and for 136 years its fate remained a mystery.

Buried in three feet of sediment and laying on her starboard side with the bow pointing almost directly toward Sullivan's Island, the Hunley's final resting place was discovered in 1995. It was carefully and meticulously raised in 2000, still in tack, from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There are theories as to what happened to the Hunley, but no one really knows for sure what caused its demise. Scientists have been puzzling over the remains of the Hunley since its recovery, searching for clues that will assist them with providing a feasible hypothesis.

The bow (image from Friends of the Hunley)
The stern (image from Friends of the Hunley)
You can view the Hunley and the artifacts uncovered with it at its own museum where it is displayed in a 90,000 gallon conservation tank. Museum location is the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, 1250 Supply Street (on the old Charleston Navy Base), North Charleston, South Carolina. A startling discovery was made in 2002 while researching the interior of the sub that confirmed a long held legend. For the complete story of this find and tour information go to Friends of the Hunley.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Highly Acclaimed Poogan's Porch--Charleston Restaurant Week January 2017

Charleston is brimming with grand stories from the ghostly to the inspirational, but the one I am about to relate is both exceptional and endearing. Its the American Dream at its best. Its telling will warm your heart and put a smile on your face because the main character was a bit of a wanderer who found his place in Charleston society and a permanent residence in an old French Quarter house built in 1888. His name was simply Poogan.

In 1976, it was decided the old house would be turned into a restaurant. Poogan presided over the renovations. Like many Charlestonians, the porch was his favorite part of the house, so on completion, it was christened Poogan's Porch. He greeted its first satisfied customers. Since then, the interior of the restaurant has been upgraded and a 1500-bottle wine cellar was built in 2005. It has been a favorite of well-known celebrities, politicians, tourists and locals alike in addition to receiving recognition from Martha Stewart Living, Wine Spectator and The Travel Channel.

Poogan is no longer here and if he could speak, he would have told you, "To succeed in life, never bite the hand that feeds you." You see, Poogan was a scruffy, neighborhood dog.

There's something appealing and fun about dining at a restaurant that once was a house. Poogan's Porch is all of that and also boasts credentials that make it one of Charleston's oldest and most reputable culinary establishments. It was my choice for Charleston Restaurant Week.

Basking in the aura of the historically renowned Mills House, Poogan's Porch gives off a singular vibe of its own. Flanked by the Husk on its left and a masterfully painted fresco on its right, the yellow Victorian restaurant's streetside entrance, enclosed by a black wrought iron fence, opens into a beautifully landscaped patio with cozy table settings leading to the front porch and more outdoor seating. Upon entering the front door, you can sense the antiquity of the house. Adjacent to a stairwell leading to the upper floor, a long hallway decorated with pictures and memorabilia ends at the desk of the hostess where I checked in to confirm my 5:00 pm reservation--the hour the restaurant begins its dinner sitting. I was a few minutes early, so I took a couple photographs and then waited on the porch. For a January evening, it was a pleasant 65 degrees.

At the end of the hall, we passed the restaurant's full bar and I was seated in the front room overlooking the porch. The table arrangements were modest and comfortably spaced along the walls with a fireplace on one of them. There were fans overhead and large baskets decorated the walls. The menus were placed before me and I awaited the room's server, who I was informed would be someone by the name Rosa.

I quickly perused the Restaurant Week Dinner Menu, which was 3 courses for $35 accompanied by $15 wine pairing suggestions. Shortly, Rosa arrived and to begin, I opted for a Stella, yes a beer, as my drink selection. From the menu, I chose the Smoked Butternut Squash Soup with Curried Creme Fraiche and Pickled Apples to start. Butternut squash and apples come into season around the same time and they go well together. Curried creme fraiche is literally "fresh cream" that more closely resembles sour cream or yogurt with spices. The combination translated into a dish that was velvety smooth and a perfect balance of earlier stated ingredients--magnificent.

I chose the Plancha Roasted Flounder with Blue Corn Grit Cake, Local Purple Sweet Potato, and Southern Romesco for my entree--all foreign descriptions to me. Plancha is to 'barbecue like the Spaniards', which involves cooking at a very high temperature around 280 or 300ºC (flash cooking) and is considered a healthy way to cook. Nicely presented with greens and sauce, the flounder was laid over the grit cake. My first experience with Blue Corn Grit Cake was pleasantly surprising. The flounder was slightly crisped along its edges, but still flaky and flavorful. All local ingredients made this a thoroughly enjoyable entree.

To complete my sitting, my dessert choice was a tough one, but I finally chose the Chocolate Gingerbread Cake with plum filling--Yummy. Total cost for my dinner was $40.00--well worth it.

Rosa was a delight--very patient and attentive. From Mexico, she lived up north--I believe she said Boston--before she came to Charleston 35 years ago and ten years later began serving at Poogan's Porch making her a 25 year veteran. Her timing was spot on--delivering the courses without missing a beat. She answered my questions with a smile. I asked her about Poogan's statue at the front entrance, which was missing and about the resident ghost named Zoe, for which the restaurant is famous--The Travel Channel voted the restaurant "Third Haunted Place in America" in 2003.

Poogan's Porch is one of Charleston's oldest independent culinary establishments. Located just off of Meeting Street on Queen Street, it is in the heart of downtown Charleston. Its professional staff is professional. It is like going to a friend's house for dinner, but this dinner invitation includes a top chef by the name of Daniel Doyle cooking in the kitchen.

72 Queen St, Charleston, SC
Phone: (843) 577-2337

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Enter The Whacky World Of David Ives in "All In The Timing"--Now Showing At The James F. Dean Theatre

All in the Timing, written by David Ives, premiered at Primary Stages in 1993, moved to the larger John Houseman Theatre, and ran for 606 performances. In a review The New York Times said "there is indeed a real heart...There is sustenance as well as pure entertainment." It won the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for Playwriting, was included in Best Plays of 1993-1994, and in 1995-1996 was the most performed play in the country after Shakespeare plays. It consists of six one-act plays called "enchanting and perplexing, incisively intelligent and side-splitting funny." Without further ado, this is what you can expect as you wander into the peculiar and disoriented world according to David Ives. Now showing at the James F. Dean Theatre January 13th to 22nd with energy and enthusiasm.

Directed by Larry Spinner, Sure Thing begins with the question, "Is that seat taken?" This piece chronicles the seemingly endless possible directions that exist when two people try to successfully link up over a cup of coffee for the first time. You will learn what ringing a bell can do for those awkward first moments of meeting. Starts off a little slow, but gets better--kinda like a first date.(Berry - Jeni Haman, Bill - Eli Hummer)

Directed by Elissa Horrell, Variations on the Death of Trotsky shows the 1940's Russian revolutionary with a mountain climber's axe buried into his skull by his communist gardener, Ramon, the day before, yet he remembers nothing. His wife comes in the room with an encyclopedia from the 1990s to inform him that the book says he is going to die today prompting him to make his final philosophical statements on human life several times over. Interestingly, the real Leon Trotsky was attacked by Ramón Mercader with an ice axe as the weapon. Trotsky did die a day later. This is an obvious parody of the actual events taken to the extreme. Daniel gets the David Ives Award for literally falling on his face. (Mrs. Trotsky - Phyllis Jackson, Trotsky - Daniel Rich, Ramon - Eli Hummer)

It's funny watching movies where monkeys dress up and imitate humans, but what would it look like if the tables are reversed? Directed by Kristen Kos, JC Conway(Swift), Phyllis Jackson(Milton), and Shua Jackson(Kafka) go bananas as they give a side-splitting glimpse into the little bit of monkey business called Words, Words, Words. It experiments with the philosophical precept that three monkeys typing into infinity will sooner or later produce Hamlet. What would the resulting conversation be in the chimpish collaboration? I give it a rating of five bananas.

Directed by Daniel Rich, The Philadelphia takes place in a coffee shop where the various inhabitants are stuck in different states of mind paralleled with cities in the United States. Mark finds himself in a Twilight Zone-like state in which he cannot get anything he asks for. Carefree Al, who is the Los Angeles, advises befuddled Mark to ask for the opposite of what he wants, the Philadelphia. The waitress, meanwhile, is in the Cleveland. This one has a twist at the end. (Al - Ernie Eliason, Mark - Cody Smith, Waitress - Michelle Smith)

Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread is a humorous musical exaggeration with the celebrated composer having a moment of existential crisis in a bakery. Philip Glass, an American composer, is considered one of the most influential music makers of the late 20th century. Glass has described himself as a composer of "music with repetitive structures," of which Ives has some fun with. In this metronomic snippet, he encounters an old girlfriend accompanied by a friend. The result reminds me of a scene from a Danny Kaye movie called "The Court Jester," which was also referenced in Words, Words, Words. (Jeni Haman, Eli Hummer, Phyllis Jackson, Shua Jackson)

Directed by Shua Jackson, The Universal Language is about Don, the creator and teacher of Unamunda--a made-up language purported to be "The Universal Language" based on words from the English language, as well as German and the Romance languages. His first pupil, Dawn, is a shy, stuttering girl with little money. She hopes that this new language will help her overcome her speech problems. Their lesson ends up in a dazzling display of frenzied verbal redundancies and a confession. Cody Smith(Don) and Michelle Smith(Dawn) do a phenomenal job delivering the tongue-tying dialogue of the scripts discombobulated syllables. I also give this one a rating of Five Bananas.

A pleasantly lighted stage, with wall to wall clocks dominated by a painted caricature of a man dressed in a black suit wearing a black top hat, served the six-act play well. Robert Venne, also dressed in black suit with black top hat and reminding me of comic Lou Costello, entertained between scene changes and also credited with the artistic creation of the painted likeness.

Knowing something about David Ives before you come to the play is helpful in understanding the mind set behind the six one-act plays or you just might go bananas. If you don't, you just may find yourself in Philadelphia instead of Los Angeles. Either way, it is All in the Timing. "Is that seat taken?" "Ding."

Purchase tickets now.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Summerville's Rich History--From Pine Trees To Sweet Tea

Unlike "New Summerville," which was laid out by the South Carolina Railroad like a checkerboard with straight, broad thoroughfares, "Old Summerville" was characterized by winding streets. When it came to laying out the roads, it's apparent the old town planners did not incorporate the idea "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line." For that matter, as to what a straight line meant, they had no clue. Summerville history implies the early road architects were of the four-legged variety, bovine to be more exact.

New Summerville plot map 1850
New Summerville plot map 1897
Richly graced with thick groves of tall pines and old oaks, the trees cooling touch and healing scent enticed early Ashley River planters to the sandy hilltop in the pines where they could escape the oppressive heat and voracious mosquitoes of their lowland plantations. During these marooning excursions, they brought their livestock with them. On arrival, the beasts were turned loose to wander in and around the tall pines and old oaks. Overtime, these creatures of habit carved out the thoroughfares that became the first named streets of the newly founded summer village.

From those very same trees, they constructed their simple homes. Beginning with Captain James Stewart, 14 families eventually marooned themselves every summer for nearly five months in structures scattered around the main cattle path called the Great Thoroughfare--W. Carolina Avenue today. Called "mosquito houses," these structures were built eight feet off the ground on stilts to protect against insects and to catch breezes. A wide center hall ran the full length with two rooms on each side for cross ventilation. Each room had a fireplace. If there was a second floor, it was identical to the first. The stables and carriage house were located away from the main home for obvious reasons--besides trampling out the roads, the livestock produced an odorous by-product unlike the pleasant pine scent.

Map of Old Summerville
Other notable cow paths of original Summerville connected to the Great Thoroughfare were Railroad Street; now Sumter Avenue, Pine Street; now Charleston Street, Centre Street; now Linwood Lane, Morgan Street; now Clifton Street, Gadsden Street, and the present Cuthbert Lane once referred to simply as "Street." A plat, drawn-up in 1831, showed the layout of the early streets and homes.

In 1841, there were 15 homes in "Old Summerville" when "New Summerville" was established by the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company. Seven years later in 1838, there were 29. The two Summervilles became an official town in 1847. The cherished pines were declared sacred and a law prohibiting the cutting of certain-sized trees without permission was passed. Now connected to Charleston and points west by the railroad, wealthy Charlestonians came to town and built homes to escape the yellow fever epidemics. At the end of the 19th century, it was declared one of the two best places in the world for the treatment and recovery of lung disorders launching the dawning of "The Golden Age of the Inns". Despite the longtime commitment to preserve and protect the sacred pine trees, the planners of Summerville deemed it necessary to sacrifice some of them to embrace its burgeoning fame as a health spot to the world and the illustrious Pine Forest Inn (1893 booklet) was built. While visitors flowed into town, other inns were established.

As a now famous story relates, one such individual, who came to town to avail upon the purported healing aspects of the pine tree's turpentine scent on the advice of his physician, was found sitting on the porch swing of a W. Richardson Street residence by its matriarch and became the first guest to stay at the newly established White Gables Inn. Other notable names included Carolina Inn, Halcyon Inn, Wisteria Inn, Holly Inn, The Postern, Squirrel Inn and Pine View Inn. Summerville flourished into the 1900's, but in time, it would lose its magical charm. Its icons one by one mercilessly succumbed to the wrecking ball and the tantalizing scent of its biggest asset faded into the changed landscape.

In 1991, 40% of the buildings in the downtown district were vacant. With a mission to revitalize the downtown area, DREAM was formed in 1992. Then, in 2010, inspired by an article in the Azalea Magazine, Summerville experienced an identity renaissance when it branded itself the "Birthplace of Sweet Tea." The "Sweet Tea Festival" was inaugurated and the Summerville Trolley Tours were established benefiting local businesses and captivating residents and visitors alike. Nexton exploded unto the scene and Summerville's first craft brewery on November 26, 2014 broke ground in the remaining space of the Coastal Coffee Roasters building with the laying of its cement floor. In 2014, a plan for a boutique hotel was proposed. In 2015, a conditional final approval for the project was given by the Board of Architectural Review, but one of Summerville's cherished pine trees overshadowed the proceedings and became a flashpoint for preservationists and opponents in what would become the Dorchester Hotel controversy.

Of the pine trees still around, longtime residents nurture fond memories and tell stories of playing below their broad branches. Located near the corner of W. Richardson and Central Ave, the proposed site of the hotel, stands one of those cherished pines. Considered the oldest tree in Summerville with a circumference of 13 feet and believed to predate 1847, the old pine was scheduled for an appointment with the axeman to make way for the highly contested Dorchester Hotel project.

Ragged from old age and brutal weather, the trees glory days were waning. The cutting down of the tree would have been a solemn day. It was a sad day when the Pine Forest Inn came crashing down. We could dignify the old tree the way the Hopelands Gardens in Aiken honored one of its prominent cedars when a portion of it came down. They carved benches out of the cherished wood and placed them on site for visitors to use. Inevitably, each pine in its time will succumb to the natural powers to be.

Truth be told, the tree was not the only concern raised by the hotel's opponents, but alas, it is no longer of any concern. The Dorchester Hotel Project itself has been axed. However, imagine where Summerville's history would be today if people in the late 1800's would have opposed the construction of the Pine Forest Inn because they wanted to preserve an old pine tree or the increase in traffic it may have caused or believed it did not reflect the flavor of the historic district, which by the way, could be legitimate concerns. From Hutchinson Square (Master Plan) to Middleton, you can smell the ongoing scent of change.

The cows no longer wander around the tall pines, the "mosquito houses" have disappeared into the shadows of the old trees, the trains of the old railroad no longer stop, and the great inns have gone quietly into the night. People no longer come to escape the oppressive heat and voracious mosquitoes of the coastal lowlands or for the cooling touch and healing scent of its sacred pines. Today, people come for its charm, its southern hospitality, its sense of community, and its rich history. A history as colorful as the town's famous azaleas and refreshed with the lifting of every flavorful glass of sweet tea. Wouldn't it be nice if the Town had a place for them to stay? A place that is as much an integral part of its identity similar to the way the Pine Forest Inn (1909 booklet) was in the heyday of the "Golden Age of the Inns." Maybe, a hundreds years from now people will look back on this era and call it Summerville's "Golden Age of Sweet Tea."

Things to see and do in Summerville.
Shop Summerville.
Dinning in Summerville.
Theater in Summerville.
Historic Sites in Summerville--Colonial Dorchester State Park, Middleton Place.
Summerville's B.I.R.D.S. Project.