Monday, November 11, 2013

A Visit To The Illustrious Pine Forest Inn of Summerville-Somewhere In Time

Shrouded in a final blast of steam, the Summerville Short eased into the station; a small, elaborately decorated Victorian style structure. Stepping onto the depot platform, I glanced at my pocket watch. The bright, Lowcountry sun reflected off its glassy face. It was 2:05 pm. "Right on time," I whispered. A plume of black smoke billowed from the locomotive's smokebox and was quickly whisked away by the warm, early afternoon breeze.

Horse drawn carriages awaited arriving passengers. I surveyed the depot area for my reserved transportation. I spotted a group of coachman. One in the group was holding up a piece of paper with my name on it. I approached the smartly dressed gentleman and identified myself. "Good afternoon, Sir. Welcome to Summerville," he said. His words were tainted with a quaint accent quite different from what I was used to back in Ohio. He handed me a newspaper. It was dated April 9, 1902. I stepped aboard the carriage. With a gentle tug on the reins by my experienced driver, the carriage eased forward.


The downtown district was crowded with people. Rumors President Roosevelt and his entourage were in the Summerville area abounded--a bit of information I overheard while on the train. To the left of our advancing carriage was a fenced-in square landscaped with rows of live oaks and a diamond shaped walkway where children were at play.

On the opposite side of the square stood a row of wooden buildings dominated by a near completed triple-arched fa├žade bearing the designation, Arcade Theater. To our right, a few gentleman standing in front of a pharmacy hospitably tipped their hats as we passed. Turning the corner at an intersection, I asked, "What is the name of this road?" The coachman replied, "Main Street." I followed with an additional question. "The tall building on the right with the bell tower, what purpose does it serve?" "Town Hall, Sir."

Leaving the town square behind, we passed a white directional sign covered with wooden pointers containing the names of the various inns and hotels located throughout Old Summerville and then, several large homes bordered by white-picket fences. Each was richly adorned by a profusion of magenta colored flowers noticeably common to the area. We entered a thick stand of tall pines intermingled with aged, moss covered live oaks. Clusters of wisteria dangled freely from some of the branches. I inhaled a full breath of air. It was distinctly laced with the refreshing scent of pine.



Winding through the shaded canopy, it wasn't long before we came upon a broad, brick paved drive flanked by huge white urns containing plantings of the same flower growing throughout the town. We passed under a columned gateway surrounded by beautiful gardens--more wisteria and azaleas. At the end of the driveway, rising four stories high into the needled branches of the tall pines was the castellated center rotunda of the Pine Forest Inn--my accommodation for the next couple of days.

My carriage pulled up to the Inn's steps. Five horse riders sauntered past. I stepped off, paid the gentleman, and ascended the flight of stairs. The front piazza was impressive. Wider in the middle, it extended out on each side of the rotunda the full length of the building and ended in a hexagonal shape on the corners. Patrons were scattered about the piazza on chairs enjoying the southern exposure and their afternoon tea--likely made from tea leaves grown locally at the renowned Pinehurst Tea Plantation of Dr. Charles Sheppard. I read about it in a magazine on the train. I had a tour of the Pinehurst Tea Garden scheduled for tomorrow.


Upon entering the impressive building, two smiling ladies curtsied as I passed. I acknowledged their genteel gesture with a smile and a tip of my hat. The front entrance hall ran the full length of the rotunda. It was majestic. Arched walls set upon pillars divided the rotunda foyer from other sections. A grand staircase led to the upper floors where thick, wooden hand rails wrapped around the open upper floors. As I walked it, I estimated it to be 47 feet from front to back. Large, oak mantled fireplaces with marble hearths and exotic plants were placed strategically throughout the spacious lobby. Rocking chairs were scattered about. At the rear entrance, another long piazza served a huge three-sided courtyard.

I checked in at the desk. A double-chinned, spectacle wearing hotel clerk greeted me with a smile and a southern, "Good afternoon." I informed him of my two-day reservation. After signing the necessary papers, he rattled off some of the amenities. "There is an Amusement Hall with a bowling alley and billiard tables, two lawn tennis courts, croquet grounds, 18 hole golf course, swimming pool and a livery with 60 horses." I touched the brim of my hat and nodded my head, "Thank you." "Your welcome, Sir," and he then added, "Would you like some help with your bag, Sir?" I declined the offer. Then, he directed my attention to a tray at the end of the counter holding crystal glasses and a matching pitcher full of an iced, amber colored mixture. "Help yourself to a glass of freshly brewed Summerville sweet tea, Sir." I poured a glass and took a sip. "Interestingly tasty," I corroborated.

I turned and boarded the electric elevator that serviced the three upper floors--each floor with its own lobby and its share of the 150 suites and singles. As we slowly ascended, I engaged the elevator operator in some small talk. He willingly and gladly complied with some quick tips about Summerville. I was assigned a single on the second floor at $5 a night.

I entered the room. Large windows bathed the interior with an abundance of warm sunlight and provided an excellent view of the outside grounds below. Steam radiators lined the exterior walls. A painting of Robert E. Lee hung above an elaborately carved mantle. I placed my suitcase next to the open fireplace and set the empty crystal glass on a marble topped table next to the room's large, cherry poster bed. The comfortably appointed room also included a private bath and an electric bell connected to the general office for personal service. I emptied my suitcase and freshened up a bit before setting out to further familiarize myself with the Inn's appointments.


After another short ride on the elevator, I was back to the main lobby. I curiously peaked into the adjacent dining room. Paneled in southern curly pine, the complimentary woodwork was elegant. Divided into three sections by wooden arches and comfortably filled with beautiful table settings, it seated 250 people. An American flag hung from the chandeliered ceiling. It was near 3:35 pm according to a nearby grandfather clock. The brunch crowd had already dispersed to other suitable areas. The dining room staff was busy making preparations for the evening meal.

Other common rooms included a large, main floor parlor, ladies private parlors with toilet rooms, reception rooms, library, reading room, sun parlor with exotic plants, wine and smoking rooms, and a Rocking Chair Room. Similar to the dining room, all were paneled with southern curly pine.


Women sitting in the sun parlor engaged in chit-chat centered around their families and social events. Some of them rocked baby carriages with their feet while doing needlework. They all wore fancy hats and long, lacy dresses--the ankle reveal was socially frowned upon. Gathered in the wine and smoking room, men in suits debated the latest news and talked about their golf game. The Rocking Chair Room fascinated me the most. I could never resist the invitation of a rocking chair. I would venture to say there were about a hundred chairs. Thirty, by my estimations, presently occupied. It was the right occasion for some self indulgence.

The seconds quietly ticked away with each back and forth motion. The seconds ticked into minutes. I pulled out my pocket watch. It was 4:45 pm. My restful thoughts turned to dinner. I contemplated the pleasure of indulging in the highly acclaimed blue ribbon cuisine the Inn was famous for. The first class chefs were advertised as preparing their culinary delights with ingredients gathered from local gardens along with meat and seafood delivered fresh by train from Charleston and New York markets.

After dinner, perhaps I would share a glass of wine with Florence Nightingale Graham in the wine room, shoot some billiards with Dr. Sheppard or discuss literature with Edna St. Vincent Millay in the library. Tomorrow, attend a fox hunt on Ingleside with Teddy Roosevelt.

After all, this was the illustrious Pine Forest Inn of Summerville, where the imagination had no boundaries.

(Pictures taken from "Images of America-Summerville" by Jerry Crotty and Margaret Ann Michels.)

8 comments:

Katie said...

I think this is the single greatest loss in Summerville's history. I just can't imagine tearing that place down. I liken it to the Titanic is a lot of ways. That's what it reminds me of. Great post!

Vacation Rick said...

I agree Katie. Pine Forest Inn is truly a Summerville icon of the past. It would have been a huge tourist draw to Summerville if it was still around today.

Betty said...

I can't imagine why it was torn down. It was the epitome of southern charm. I have (broken) pieces of Pine Forest Inn china dug up in my yard.

Iris Silk said...

Beautifully written. The story of the Pine Forest Inn is one of Summerville's most interesting. You made me feel as if I had been carried back in time and placed in what must have been a majestic setting.

Unknown said...

I actually found a dinner plate in the ditch b4 hurricane matthew came thru which is why i started researching about this place

Rick Dunbar said...

Thank you for the nice comment, Iris.

Rick Dunbar said...

Interesting Unknown, what kind of etchings were on the plate you found and where was the ditch located?

Rick Dunbar said...

Betty, do you still have the broken pieces of China?