Summerville’s annexation of the Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site will be a boon to the town and to the 325-acre state park.
The annexation, finalized this month, effectively makes the town a partner in the historic riverfront site. As such, Summerville can provide new assets to help tell the story of the 17th-century village that was a precursor to what is now South Carolina’s fastest growing community. Residents and tourists will both benefit from Summerville’s enthusiastic support.
Colonial Dorchester’s tabby fort, bell tower and archeological remains are situated just off Dorchester Road. The park provides a respite from all of the bustle along the busy thoroughfare, which is in the process of being widened.
The park offers a small interpretive center that includes a diorama of the village, some artifacts and information on the site. The village was abandoned in the years following the American Revolution.
The annexation greatly expands the potential to create a real museum, to expand archeological exploration and to provide more on-site interpretation. Summerville Mayor Bill Collins expects to see more involvement by town residents in the docent program and in the annual re-enactment of a Revolutionary War battle.
But the biggest asset the town offers is its considerable hospitality tax fund. At present, it generates more than $2 million a year, half of which is designated for tourist-related projects.
Mayor Collins, who initiated the annexation plan, says the town will work with state park officials to promote Colonial Dorchester and assist in the site’s improvement. At the same time, he says, the association will help Summerville to “create a better tourism identity.”
“It makes us one of a handful of municipalities in the United States that has a historical site dating back to 1690 within its boundaries,” he says.
Not surprisingly, the town’s interest has been supported by officials with the cash-strapped park system. State park officials recognize its potential for helping them make new strides in research at the historic site and in its presentation to the public.
Meanwhile, plans are under way for students with the American College of the Building Arts, headquartered in Charleston, to outline some of the house locations discovered by archeologists. The historically accurate masonry foundations will provide a sense of village scale.
The park includes the original roadbed, now slightly sunken, from the Ashley River to the village. Remnants of the village’s wharves can be seen in the river at low tide.
The fort, erected in 1757 and briefly commanded by Gen. Francis Marion during the Revolution, is one of the best preserved colonial-era tabby structures in the nation. The mixture of oyster shell, lime and sand is a signature Lowcountry building material.
The park includes about 250 acres of forest across the Ashley River, and the annexation has encouraged the idea of rebuilding the arched bridge that once crossed the river during the heyday of Colonial Dorchester.
That ambitious proposal reflects the broader scope that the town’s attention already has encouraged. The partnership of Colonial Dorchester and Summerville promises to be a productive marriage of like-minded interests.