MCCLELLANVILLE - Anyone turning onto Old Georgetown Road between Rutledge Road and S.C. Highway 45 might think they're riding on just another rural dirt road, one that occasionally offers a bumpy ride and more than one muddy patch.
But they would be wrong.
In fact, this 6.6-mile stretch is a rare portion of the old King's Highway that survives in something like its original form, when it connected Boston to Charleston during the colonial era and when President George Washington used it during his travels down the coast.
Those who are aware of the road's special history and who are trying to protect it have scored a recent victory. The road was placed on the National Register of Historic Places this summer.
Selden "Bud" Hill, director of the The Village Museum here, helped the effort. His home is one of about a half-dozen along this stretch and sits next to the historic St. James Santee Church, which lures many visitors down the road.
The road began as an Indian path called the "Broad Path," and it later was incorporated into one of the first coastal roadways. It became a Post Road used to deliver mail, and some believe it became known as "the King's Highway" because the King of England sent his couriers along the way.
Hill said the dirt road's survival was due to a fluke of progress in the early 20th century. Much of the King's Highway became Route 40, which later became U.S. Highway 17.
But when Route 40 was being laid out around 1929, McClellanville folks pushed to straighten out the old King's Highway alignment and bring the road closer to town. That helped them use the improved road to get their produce to market.
"Progress gave us this," he said. "Now we're trying to protect it against progress. We're trying to keep progress from destroying it."
Charleston County, which maintains the road by grading it about once a month, is well aware of its special history, Public Works Director Jim Neal said.
Neal said the road is listed in the county's inventory simply as "County Road One."
"We've tried to put signs up like that, but somehow they just disappear," he said.
Neal said Old Georgetown Road and the old King's Highway is believed to be the oldest road in the state, older than the Ashley River Road, which also is listed on the National Register.
One unique aspect to the road is that it is actually a gap between owned parcels.
"Most roads have an overlaid road plat," he said. "This road has never been surveyed in. Only the parcels on either side have been surveyed with a gap that says, 'This is reserved for the King.' "
The right of way varies from about 100 feet to 50 feet or less, and Neal said the road is a good bit smoother today than it was in its original incarnation. The county has installed a gravel base along some sections, Neal said, but then it was covered with sand "so it still maintains that appearance."
"Nobody really wants to drive on a 1600s or 1700s road," he added. "They were not pleasant to drive on. They were either corduroy roads made of logs, or they were just mud."
Hill said the road's historical muddy and often impassable state is what led villagers to build a chapel of ease in the heart of McClellanville. They held services there when they were unable to reach the St. James Santee church. Over time, regular services shifted to the chapel, and the original church is currently used for a Sunday service only once a year.
While the National Register nomination, written by Jennifer Kelley Garrett of Charleston, covered only the 6.6-mile stretch from the Santee River to S.C. 45, Hill said he eventually would like to nominate another piece, if he can win support from the approximately 50 property owners there.
The section just south of S.C. 45 is owned by the state and paved, but it eventually reverts to dirt for a few miles before ending at U.S. 17 across from the Buck Hall Recreation Area.
While the National Register nomination was designed to protect the highway from progress, it doesn't seem progress currently poses much of a threat.
Neal said the county plans to keep the road unpaved for several reasons, including cost and a desire to protect its historic ambiance.
"And nobody wants us to pave it."
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.