Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tranquil Halcyon Inn--An Enduring Icon Of Summerville's Prosperous Golden Age

Halcyon is likely not a commonly recognizable word by the average, everyday person unless you are of Greek decent or a student of Greek mythology. And may I add to this short list of the privileged few, the older residents of Summerville and the few observant Summervillians who have seen it while driving along S. Main Street.

To the Greeks, the Alkyonides Meres(Halcyon Days in English) is a name used to describe a two week period of warm and calm weather that generally occurs around the winter solstice, though not exclusively. They can also occur in February.

To a student of Greek mythology, the mythical explanation for the sunny days of calm seas and winds that appear every year between mid January and mid February in Greece is found in the story of the goddess Halcyon(Alcyone in Greek) and her mortal husband, King Ceyx of Thessaly. Their story is one of love, commitment, and death, but to make a long story short, ends with them being transformed into seabirds(many myths say Kingfisher birds) to be together forever. So her eggs can survive during the harsh winter weather, Zeus gave her 14 days of good and calm weather--thus the birth of the Halcyon Days. The term has come to signify prosperity, joy, liberation and, of course, calm.

To the older residents of Summerville, the word Halcyon is remembered as the name of one of the grand resort inns that served the town during its most prosperous days called the Golden Age. If you are a Summervillian who has traveled up and down Highway 17-A while going about your everyday business, you likely have driven past Halcyon Place many times. Perhaps, even casually observing the street sign bearing its name, but unaware of the unique history hidden beyond the tall trees, the white pillars and black gates.

The exact construction date of the house that eventually became known as Halcyon Place is unknown. The Colleton County records, the properties original county, were lost in a fire in 1865. The earliest surviving reference to the property indicates the house was built between 1830 and 1840 and was called Duke's house--the original owner being John R. Duke. It was built in the classic Southern style. A 12 x 50 foot spacious two-story columned porch greeted you on arrival. On the porch was a joggling board--one of its owners tells a story of acquiring the joggling board she felt completed the porch.

Inside, the first floor featured a 33 x 20 foot living room with 13 foot ceilings, a spacious 26 x 20 dining room, two large dens, a bedroom and stairs leading to the second floor. The second floor contained four bedrooms and a hall. The most unusual second floor feature was a door that led to nowhere, no stairs, no landing and no indication anything was ever there except empty space. Mrs. Dion, one of its owners, jokingly referred to it as the door for invisible inhabitants.

A 1909 plat of the property shows Halcyon Place covered eight acres, which included a pear orchard.
Aside from the house, on the grounds were some old outbuildings, service buildings, servants quarters and a gazebo. It was these buildings that were turned into guest houses when Halcyon Place served as an exclusive resort inn under the ownership of the Weeds. One of the guest houses was called "Magruder's House." It was named after a slave that lived there until the 1930's. Another, called the "Pink Cottage", was a former stable and still had the barn doors to prove it. Located in a garden with a bricked-in spring, the octagonal gazebo was considered a historic landmark.

Halcyon Inn is not known for accommodating any famous guests like the Pine Forest Inn and Carolina Inn--at least none I am aware of. Mrs. Caroline Parameter, daughter of Mrs. Weed, was well known for her delicious menus--at one time she ran the Tea Room at Middleton Place. To its Northern visitors, Halcyon Inn was an oasis of tranquility and calm, a safe haven away from the rough waters of life and harsh winters--many of them staying a whole season spanning from late October to April.

Today, it remains a picture of resilience and serenity with its beautifully landscaped grounds, safely tucked away under the properties old oaks and beyond its large black gates. Appropriately named and forever immortalized in the historic writings of Summerville's more prominent residents, it is a reminder of the town's "halcyon days" and a surviving icon of the Golden Age.

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