|Summerville around 1880|
Who was Summerville’s competing counterparts? Actually, there were two other notable resort towns in the world known for their health benefits, Arcachon, France and Bournemouth, England. Rivals in one sense, yet so similar in another. Threads of the same color pattern were eerily woven throughout the tapestry of their histories leading to a common destiny.
In the beginning of the 19th century, Arcachon was just a sleepy little fishing village located on the south side of the tranquil Arcachon Bay in south-west France--a long-time oyster-harvesting area. As the years serenely unfolded, its idyllic location and soothing sea air quietly changed the character of the village. It began to procure a reputation as a place where sick people went to heal. The sea air was deemed to be a beneficial part of the recovery process. Ironically, it was fittingly referred to as the Ville d'été--summer village.
In 1860, improved transport train links to Bordeaux and Paris helped in the development of the land above the beach. Arcachon was topographically endowed with another natural asset. It was framed by lush pine forests--pineland air was believed to be beneficial in the curing of tuberculosis, as observed by Doctor Pereira. A group of business men, and in particular the Pereire brothers, and the owners of the railway line between Bordeaux and La Teste came up with the idea of extending the rail line to Arcachon and developing it as a winter resort for tuberculosis sufferers. This area above the beach was called Ville d'hiver--winter village.
In the beginning, the commercial project wasn't a huge success, but the Pereire brothers continued to develop the summer tourism and the thermal tourism of the famous les Abatilles spring. The town started to attract rich merchants from Bordeaux and the rest of France. By the end of the 19th century, those who were irresistibly lured to this part of town above the beach built magnificent villas both to extend the summer season and as an alternative to seeking cures in the high mountains of Switzerland for tuberculosis.
Napoleon III visited Arcachon and put his seal of approval upon it and there was no looking back. French writer Alexandre Dumas lived in Arcachon for a while and French painter Toulouse-Lautrec owned a house on the sea-front. Arcachon's fame spread while directly north in England a similar story was simultaneously unfolding.
In the beginning of the 19th century, an Englishman by the name of Lewis Tregonwell coveted a piece of deserted scrubland located on the south coast of England he had come to love through the years. As an officer in the army during the Napoleonic wars, he spent much of his time searching this scrubland along the coast for French invaders and smugglers. The only settlement of the area was by cows, gypsies, and a few fishermen living in rickety timber-framed cottages. Tregonwell had an idea for this land of the grand kind.
|Tregonwell's house, Bourne Cliff, now is part of the Royal Exeter Hotel|
Inspired by a popular Regency notion that the turpentine scent of pines had health-restoring powers good for lung ailments, and in particular tuberculosis, prompted Tregonwell and Tapps to plant hundreds of the stately conifers featuring a tree-lined walk to the beach that would become known as the Invalid's Walk. The cherished trees grew and so did his dream.
In 1820, Tregonwell bought up more land from Tapps-Gervis for building a number of cottages and stylish villas set along newly-laid streets for leasing to holiday-makers wishing to engage in the increasingly fashionable pastime of ‘sea bathing’, an activity with perceived health benefits. These holiday retreats of course would establish the core function of the developing health resort. By 1832, the year of his passing, Tregonwell’s dream was securely in place.
In 1835, after the death of Sir George Ivison Tapps, his son Sir George William Tapps-Gervis inherited his father's estate. Bournemouth started to grow at a faster rate as George William started developing the seaside village into a resort similar to those that had already grown up along the south coast such as Weymouth and Brighton.
In 1841, the town was visited by the physician and writer Augustus Granville. Granville was the author of The Spas of England, which described health resorts around the country. As a result of his visit, Dr. Granville included a chapter on Bournemouth in the second edition of his book. The publication of the book, as well as the growth of visitors to the seaside haven seeking the medicinal use of the seawater and the fresh air of the pines, helped establish the town as an early tourist destination.
With the arrival of the railway in 1870, there was a massive influx of seaside and summer visits to the town, especially by visitors from the Midlands and London. Bournemouth became a recognized town in that year. The Winter Gardens were finished in 1875 and the cast iron Bournemouth Pier was finished in 1880 when the town had a population of 17,000 people. By the late 1900's, when railway connections were at their most developed to Bournemouth, the town's population had risen to 60,000.
Bournemouth was now poised to be thrust into the world spotlight along with its seaside rival in Arcachon, France, and a second rival across the pond in the United States in South Carolina, Summerville.
It was 1891. Tuberculosis has been a scourge of the age. The International Congress of Physicians, also called the Tuberculosis Congress, assembled in Paris, France. The physicians then attending measured these three resort locations in their deliberations comparing climate, temperatures, and the presence of pine forests. The result of their findings was a ringing endorsement of Summerville.
Adding to the weight of this historical recommendation was a letter by Dr. Robert Harvey. Written after making a thorough examination of the climate and porous soil of Summerville, he stated it to be superior to both Arcachon and Bournemouth because it was dryer and had a more equable temperature. Also, unlike Arcachon, where its pineland forest borders the resort, and Bournemouth's resort is scattered around its one time hand-planted pine forest, Summerville's pineland is an inseparable part of the town, thickly scattered throughout its interweaving and winding roads.
Once an insignificant fishing village and a deserted seaside scrubland, Arcachon and Bournemouth had progressed into popular and attractive seaside destinations crowned with magnificent estates, lavish villas and opulent castles bordering on the Disneyesque. Rail lines connected them to the rest of their homelands and the people seeking what they had to offer. By the end of the nineteenth century, they had fulfilled their destiny for which they were conceived, to be world class health resorts.
In comparison, Summerville was once an uninhabited plateau near the Ashley River discovered by a wondering planter and soon after became a marooning refuge to escape the oppressive heat and yellow fever carrying mosquitoes of Charleston’s coastal lowlands.
|Arcachon sand dune--one of the highest in the world|