Sunday, December 28, 2014

Once A Showplace Among Summerville's Distinguished Plantation Past

The azure rays of the winter's afternoon sun streamed through the gnarled branches of the numerous trees scattered around on the solitary, circular piece of landscape. As I surveyed the surrounding topography, the reason for selecting the site to build a house became obvious. It was the highest point on the sprawling 3000 acre royal grant, which was given to a merchant of London by King Charles II.

Over the span of its grand history, three different houses would grace the hilltop; the last would be considered one the largest mansions in the southern part of South Carolina. The land grant was known as the Newington Plantation, so named by Daniel Axtell after an estate in England.

To say the least, the Axtell family was a genealogical jigsaw puzzle. There were four different Daniel Axtells around the same time, not including the Daniel Axtell who was executed for the regicide of King Charles; also the father of the Daniel Axtell given the royal land grant by King Charles II, which became Newington Plantation.

Daniel Axtell, the grant owner, was married to Rebecca Holland and they had a son whose name was Daniel Axtell. Daniel Axtell, the son, died in 1681 on a ship bound for South Carolina from England; he was coming to visit his parents at Newington. Daniel Axtell, the grant owner, died three years later in 1684. Lady Rebecca inherited the plantation.

To make things even more complicated, a Daniel Axtell of Marlboro, Massachusetts moved to South Carolina in 1690 and became part owner of a saw mill in the area of what later would become Summerville. His wife's name was Thankful Pratt and they had a son named Daniel.

In time, Lady Rebecca gave the plantation to her daughter Elizabeth, but willed three hundred acres of the grant to Daniel Axtell from Massachusetts and to his son Daniel two hundred acres. Daniel Axtell from Massachusetts was the nephew of Daniel Axtell the owner of Newington, the land grant. By the way, Daniel and Thankful's first child was a girl named Elizabeth. So, there you have it, the Axtell enigma.

The first of the three houses was started in 1680 by Daniel Axtell, but after laying the wooden frame he died, never seeing its completion. In 1705, Lady Rebecca was granted 1000 acres of land on the north side of the Ashley River and around 1711 gave Newington to her daughter Elizabeth, whose last name was now Blake. Around 1715, the first house was burned in the Yemassee War, possibly by Indians. Sometime later, the second house was built. At the time, Lady Axtell was living in the house with Elizabeth and her grandson, Colonel Joseph Blake. The colonel was one of the richest men in the Low Country. As to the demise of the second house, one source says it burned and a second states it was reportedly removed by Colonel Blake to make way for the third house. The year was 1730.

It was a magnificent plantation home. Built with bricks and in the Georgian style architecture with elaborate cornices and moldings, it was called "the house with a hundred windows." The front overlooked grand English gardens with terracing and hedges and a large reflecting pond. The approach was lined with a double row of live oaks. It had an open floor plan in the southern style with a central hall flanked by four rooms, two on each side for maximizing air circulation during the hot, summer months. The second floor followed the same pattern with a great hall or ballroom. At the time of the Revolutionary war, the house was considered a showplace.

In 1837, the plantation was sold to Henry A. Middleton. It burned in 1845 and laid in ruins until 1876. In that year, Middleton leased the property to the United States government as an experimental tea farm, under the direction of Dr. Charles Shepherd.

Newington is an intrinsic part of the distinguished plantation history of Summerville, as is the famous Pinehurst Tea Plantation it ended up a part of. The reflecting pond is all that is left, aside from the solitary piece of hilltop now encircled by a subdivision of homes.

Take the pilgrimage to the crest of the hill, circle its preserved grounds, walk among its remaining trees. Then, step back with the reflecting pond directly behind you and with you mind's eye scan the circular landscape. With the help of the historical record and a little imagination, the subtle outlines of "the house with a hundred windows" and its grand English gardens can be seen shimmering in the warm, azure rays of the winter's afternoon sun as they filter through the trees and wash over the aura of Plantation Circle.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Celebrate Charleston's Bill Murray Connection--"Come Freeze Your Bills Off"

Bill Murray is a big name anywhere, but with pun intended, sliding around Charleston, South
Carolina, he is a huge name. Famous for unexpectedly slipping in and out of parties and gatherings, during a rain delay at a Riverdogs' game, he ran unto the infield like a ground hog and slid all over the rain-drenched tarp to entertain the crowd who laughingly soaked up the Murray hijinks. As the owner of the Riverdogs, he has been seen on any given night during baseball season catching and throwing out ceremonial first pitches or coaching first base.

Recently, before it was auctioned off in November, a painting of Murray hung in Coastal Coffee Roasters of Summerville as part of a "Bring Bill to Summerville" event and countless numbers of locals and visitors sought to have their pictures taken with the painting depicting Bill hoisting a cup of java into the air--painted by April Aldrich. The money from the auction was given to a charity of Murray's choice. However, Bill is no stranger to Summerville. He was a show stopper when he visited the James F. Dean Theatre in Summerville for a performance of "Forever Plaid."

As 2014 comes to an end and 2015 begins, Murray's Charleston connection is honored in the "Annual Bill Murray Look-a-Like Polar Bear Plunge" at the beachfront of the Tides Hotel on Folly Beach. Why anyone would want to plunge into the near 54 degree waters of the Atlantic Ocean on New Year's Day is anybody's guess, but I imagine it could be useful in shaking off a night of partying. This is the second year for this event and all attendees are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite Bill Murray character and "freeze their Bills off." Murray's Bob Wiley character in "What About Bob" is my favorite followed by Phil Connors of "Ground Hog Day."

Registration for the plunge and contest begins at 11am at the information booth and judging of the Bill Murray Look-a-Like Contest begins at 12pm. The panel of judges will present awards for Best Guy, Best Girl, Best Team and Best Overall Bill Murray. The plunge takes place at 1pm.

Folly restaurants and bars will open early so that guests can enjoy pre-plunge Screwdrivers and Bloody Marys for just $4 each. And post-plunge festivities will be happening all day at restaurants
and bars all over Folly.

Not connected to Bill Murray, there are two other plunges taking place around the area. The "Dunleavy's Pub Polar Plunge" has been around for 19 years and since 2003 the Pub and their patrons have helped raise thousands of dollars for Special Olympics South Carolina. Dunleavy's Pub at 2213 Middle Street on Sullivan's Island will open at 9:00am and the plunge takes place at 2:00pm. For this cold dip, you are encouraged to create a costume for this one or simply show up in your favorite swim suit.

"Plunge into the New Year at Kiawah" is the third--no connection to Bill. The plunge takes place at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in front of The Sanctuary at 12:00pm. There is an "After Plunge Party at Loggerhead Pool Deck with music plus food and beverage offerings. Again, you are encouraged to dress up for Best Costume and Group Costume awards.

So, kick off the year shockingly right and slip into the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean Bill Murray style. It is a fun way to cap off a night of celebrations that will be taking place all over the Holy City. Let me know if you are going to be a participant and write a comment. For a list of end of the year celebrations go to Charleston events. Consider a visit to the Homegrown Brewhouse in Summerville and have a beer with Bill.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ding, Ding, Ding, The Trolleys Are Coming To Summerville

The nostalgic green and red colored transportation vehicles Summerville residents have seen traveling the streets of the downtown area on Fridays and Saturdays this past year will be increasing their presence in 2015. The Lowcountry Loop Trolley will be offering their hop/on, hop/off service to Summerville seven days a week beginning in February. It will establish stops throughout Summerville from Nexton to the old plantations on Ashley river Road.

Rightfully declared the "Birthplace of Sweet Tea," Summerville is benefiting from a unique heritage that has been brewing since the early 1800's and quoting a phrase my dear uncle often uses, "How sweet it is." Throughout 2014, sweet tea and tours have put the town in the Lowcountry spotlight. As a beneficial result, the "Sweet Tea Trail" was formed and the "Sweet Tea Festival" was established.

The town's beautiful Visitor's Center celebrates the heritage by offering complimentary cups of sweet tea to its visitors and the Summerville Dorchester Museum celebrates it by hosting the now famous Summerville Trolley Tours. The "Good Eats on the Sweet Tea Trail" tour with story teller Tim Lowry and local historian Barbara Hill has been a huge success and has been highlighted in magazines and on news features. In partnership, The Lowcounty Loop Trolley has become a common sight in town.

The proposed schedule
The new Summerville trolley service will be called the Green Line.  Monday through Saturday the proposed service will begin at 8:00am at Azalea Park, but you can pick it up at nine other locations at varying times running every thirty minutes. You choose where you would like to pick it up and at what time. All you need to do is drive your car to the stop, arrive at least five minutes before the scheduled time, and park your car. Once on the trolley, you can hop on or hop off anywhere along the line throughout the day. Cost will be $14.

Hop/on, hop/off locations will be Hutchinson Square, Summerville Visitor Center, Azalea Square, Magnolia Plantation, and Middleton Place. For visitors, it will have planned stops at hotels like the Nexton Courtyard Marriot, the Wingate Hotel at Charleston Southern and other Summerville hotels. Sunday shuttle will run from 10:30am to 6:30pm.

Thinking about having lunch at Fast and French, walking the Old Market or shopping King Street? The Green Line will also offer a convenient service the old Southern Railroad System used to offer Summerville residents--access to downtown Charleston without having to drive your car. From the Charleston Visitor Center, you can pick up the Red Line with stops at places like the Naval and Maritime Museum, USS Yorktown, and Charleston Harbor Resort. Several tours also leave from the Visitor Center such as the Island "Sip and See," "Plantation Tour and Taste Special," and "Chop, Shop, and Dine."

Want to spend the afternoon at the beach on Sullivan's Island or Isle of Palms? The trolley has stops there too. Do you like to kayak or paddle board? How about a stroll on a boardwalk overlooking a beautiful waterway, dining by the water, or cruising on a party catamaran? Shem Creek is the perfect place with RB's, Water's Edge, Red's Ice House and the Palmetto Breeze. Other places you will have access to include the IOP Marina, Mt. Pleasant Towne Center, and historic Boone Hall.

When Summerville was declared the "Birthplace of Sweet Tea," the possibilities have become "sky's the limit." The resulting festival and trolley tours have sweetened the sweet tea cup of growth. With a huge potential sitting on the city's limits, the Lowcountry Loop Trolley service planned for the town will assist in releasing that potential and help manage the flow without increasing the traffic.

So, put out the southern welcome mat of hospitality and complimentary cup of sweet tea. Ding, ding, ding, the trolleys are coming to town.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The "Ville" Is Alive With The "Sound Of Music"

It was "clothes from curtains" up for the opening performance of "Sound of Music" at the James F. Dean Theatre on December 5th--the enduring musical inspired by the music and lyrics of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The message from the melodious sound was loud and distinct--don't miss the remaining performances.

"Sound of Music" is a book written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse turned into a musical loosely based on Marie Von Trapp's autobiography "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers." The original Broadway production starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel opened on November 16, 1959. Probably, the most remembered of the adaptations was the film released in 1965 starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

Veteran director Monica Shows and musical director David McLaughlin pinned down a worthy cloud of singers and performers. From the collection of ladies portraying the symphonic nuns to the group of youngsters portraying the children of the Von Trapp family, they pooled together a successful partnership of talent. The youngsters ranging in age from 6-17 were a joy to watch and at times provided the "Ah" factor.

Set design was detailed elegantly with smooth transitions between changing scenes, which was creatively supported by the use of a blank curtain. The costumes were numerous and colorful thanks to Patti Kelly and team. Daniel Lungs choreographed dance scenes were executed well.

How did Monica and David solve the problem called Maria?--Sarah Farra. With excelling versatility and colorful body language, Sarah showered the stage with Champagne enthusiasm from the moment she descended the theater stairs. As the free-spirited, free-singing governess, her excelling moments were her interactions with the cast of Von Trapp children beginning with "Do-Re-Mi." Suitably paired with Sarah as the strict, military father was Keith Timmons(Captain Von Trapp). Keith graced the stage with the necessary determined and polished deportment reflected in his character, but puts you at ease with his soothing, baritone voice.

Olivia Juretich was a standout as the 16 year old love-struck Leisl. Her collaboration with Chase Street(Rolf) in "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" was a play highlight—both demonstrating controlled vocals and dance moves. Matt Sims(Max Detweiler) opportunistic ways and quirky sophistication provided some laughs. Cynthia McLaughlin as the understanding and authoritative Mother Abbess blew the top off the Austrian Alps with her operatic vocals. Congratulations to the whole cast and crew.

After returning home from the after party, I am not embarrassed to admit I caught myself singing some of the lyrics from play favorites like "Maria," "Do-Re-Me," and "My Favorite Things" to name a few. It’s just that kind of play and that kind of music. It is old-fashioned. It leaves you with a warm feeling. It leaves you with the idea light and virtue can still triumph in an otherwise dark and cruel world. "Sound of Music" is a play that grows on you like Edelweiss on the Alps and the Flowertown Players in Summerville.

Von Trapp Children - Group 1
Friederich, age 14-Trevor Bierd
Louisa, age 13-Riley Hatch
Kurt, age 11-Taran Gabriel
Brigitte, age 9-Lilly Smith
Marta, age 7-Caitlyn Campbell
Gretyl, age 6-Alana Armenti

Von Trapp Children- Group 2
Friederich, age 14-Andrew Hebert
Louisa, age 13-Rayleigh Deaton
Kurt, age 11-John Luke Taylor
Brigitte, age 9-Julia Maguire
Marta, age 7-Alanna Campbell
Gretyl, age 6-Lexia Woods

Purchase tickets at Flowertown Players.