Sunday, November 24, 2013

Nothing Could Be Finer Than A Stay At Carolina Inn And White Gables During the Golden Years of Summerville

Upon leaving the downtown district of "New Summerville" in 1915 and entering the pine-lined, winding roads of "Old Summerville", you would have come upon a white directional sign offering you a choice between eight different lodging establishments.

Surveying the selections, the Pine Forest Inn was the recognizable grand dame, but around this year another name was emerging in popularity as an inn with exceptional accommodations and tasty cuisine.

The inn's address - the crossroads at W Carolina and Sumter Ave. But on this day of November 21, 2013, standing at the street sign marking the location, no traces of the graceful 67-room lodging with a swimming pool remained.

Unmercifully, in the 1960's, it suffered the same irreversibly regrettable fate that also awaited the Pine Forest Inn, total destruction. So, with some imagination and preserved photos, I gazed out over the heavily treed landscape and visually reconstructed the old inn.

Dorchester Inn
The property had a history as old as the trees that overshadowed it and an identity that varied as much as a chameleon changes colors. In 1810, Moore's Tavern stood on the property. It would become the Brown's Hotel around 1855 under the ownership of I.T. Brown--also called the Summerville House. The Brown's Hotel suffered damage from the 1886 earthquake. It closed around 1890 and reopened again in 1895. Next, it became known as the Dorchester Inn featuring full, wrap-around porches and numerous shuttered windows. In 1912, T.R. Moore owned the Dorchester Inn and after enlarging the structure, extensively remodeling the interior, and updating the building, it opened its doors as the Carolina Inn.

Wood-rail fencing, beautifully landscaped walking gardens, and an acquired reputation for excellent accommodations and cuisine, it would become preferred by many travelers for its discreet elegance and atmosphere in comparison to the opulence of the Pine Forest Inn. There was an east wing and a west wing with one large, window-lined dining room sectioned off into two dining spaces and table settings containing china and sterling. A third dining room was reserved for staff employees who accompanied their employers when staying at the inn. The fine cuisine included an offering of duck and quail, two dishes the inn's kitchen was renowned for.

Unlike the structured offerings of the Pine Forest Inn, there were no activities organized by management. Patrons were left to their own devices. One of the favorite pastimes of the guests was competing in bridge tournaments and competitions. Somewhat similar to tourism today, other diversions included historical tours, garden tours, maybe a silent movie at the Arcade Theatre, or shopping and sightseeing excursions into Charleston on the Southern Railway out of Summerville.

Looking down Sumter Ave toward W Carolina today.
Looking down Sumter Ave toward W Carolina in the early 1900's.
Carolina Inn is sometimes mistakenly confused with White Gables by some today--another inn found on the directional sign. A Southern adaptation of Greek Revival architecture, White Gables was built in 1830 at the crossroads of Palmetto and Richardson Streets and was purchased by Sarah Woodruff in the early 1900's. There are some interesting stories associated with the Woodruffs and White Gables. Sarah was Summerville's Scarlet O'Hara when it came to business.

There was about ten years age difference between Sarah and her husband, Harry Woodruff, a station master in Charleston. Mr. Woodruff had an infamous reputation as a gambler and according to a family story he once gambled away downtown Houston in a card game in Texas. Concerned about her husband's history and the family's monetary future, Sarah formed a plan to secure it. She always admired the White Gables property and after observing the large number of people coming from Charleston to stay at the Carolina Inn, saw a potential in the house and its servant cottages as a source of income and proceeded to boldly put the wheels in motion to purchase it.

One particular day Sarah's husband arrived at the Summerville train station from railroad business and as usual was met by the family retainer with his horse and carriage to take him home. Upon noticing a change in route, Mr. Woodruff asked the driver, "Charlie, where are you taking me?" As he pulled into the driveway, Charlie answered, "Mrs. Woodruff bought this house and this is where you live now." Sarah had no qualms about purchasing the property without her husband's knowledge. In addition, a man by the name of Henry Clay lived on the third floor for almost four years without Mr. Woodruff ever knowing. Mr. Clay was sent to Summerville by his doctor for health reasons and while looking for a place to board met Sarah and arrangements were contracted.

For nearly 26 years, White Gables was famous for Southern hospitality under Sarah's ownership. After the Woodruffs, eventually White gables became a private residence. It has survived the winds of change in Summerville. Today, it looks much like it did in the early 1900's, except some of the trees may be naturally bigger. It is presently up for sale. Would you be interested in owning a beautiful piece of Summerville history?

White Gables November 21, 2013

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

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