Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Dream That Is Summerville Will Endure The Ages

Unlike "New Summerville," which was laid out by the 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.

The Ashley River planters who came to the sandy hilltop in the pines to escape the oppressive heat and voracious mosquitoes of their lowland rice fields 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.

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.

Other notable cow paths of original Summerville connected to the Great Thoroughfare was 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 formed in 1831 showed the layout of the early streets and homes.

There were 15 homes in "Old Summerville" in 1831 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. Connected by the railroad to Charleston and points west, 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 a longtime commitment to preserve and protect its sacred pine trees, the city 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 was built. While the 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.

Then, in 2010, Summerville experienced a new renaissance of growth 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 26th broke ground in the remaining space of the Coastal Coffee Roasters building with the laying of its cement floor.

With a name inspired by the old plantations on Ashley River Road, Oak Road Brewery will make 108 E 3rd North Street the complete, all-day entertainment package--top notch, freshly roasted, organic coffee, a variety of treats and culinary delights, live music weekly and a line of creative craft beers brewed on sight, all of which will be paired with a heavy dose of Summerville hospitality and community. "Oak Road Brewery will be an integral part to the growth of Summerville's culture with a focus on working with local small businesses to enhance the quality of life for its citizens and tourists alike," said Ben Bankey, owner and partner with Brad Mallett.

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, but their treasured history perpetually blossoms year after year like the town's famous azaleas and refreshed with the lifting of every flavorful glass of sweet tea. Since 1847, Summerville has reinvented itself time after time, but always respectful of its past, grafting its roots into every change. The dream that is Summerville will endure the ages.

No comments: