Just steps away from the modest house where she was born, Betsy Frasier sits in a shade-giving shelter and weaves sweetgrass baskets as Mount Pleasant traffic rushes by on Long Point Road, threatening to drown out conversation.
Behind Frasier’s stand, row crops farmed by her brother, Eddie Wright, are coming up on several acres owned by members of the extended family. Wright grows okra, onions, squash, greens and tomatoes, depending on the season, and collects eggs from a henhouse.
A hand-lettered sign along the road lets people know when produce and vegetables are ready for sale.
It’s a little slice of the vanishing rural lifestyle in the Belle Hall area. The land where Wright farms and Frasier weaves is now surrounded by subdivisions, shopping centers, offices and apartment buildings.
Frasier said she gets offers all the time from people who want to buy the family land.
It’s valuable now, as commercial property. The town is reviewing a plan to build 99 homes and 30,000 square feet of commercial space along Belle Point Drive, next to Frasier’s property.
“I would never sell, and I would never move, until Jesus takes me away,” said Frasier. “Money is not everything.”
The family’s land offers a glimpse of the way things used to be not so long ago. Until the 1980s, there were no large subdivisions nearby, no shopping centers, the Wando Welch port terminal hadn’t opened and the extension of Interstate 526 to Mount Pleasant existed only on paper.
“I can remember when (Long Point) was a sand road, one lane down and one back,” said Frasier, who came into this world with a midwife’s assistance in 1948, in the house where she lives today. “My granddaddy used to say, ‘This is going to be a city.’ ”
His prediction was spot-on. Mount Pleasant still calls itself a town, but it was the ninth fastest-growing U.S. city in 2013, and most recently had an estimated 77,796 residents.
In 1970, the town was home to fewer than 7,000. That’s the year the town annexed a large property along Long Point Road and U.S. Highway 17 that would become Snee Farm, the first in a series of huge subdivisions as the town began to rapidly expand toward Awendaw.
Frasier’s house had no electricity or indoor plumbing when she was a child, and she recalls riding in an ox-drawn cart to buy supplies with her grandfather. She said all the growth and development has brought positive changes, such as public water and nearby shopping, but at the cost of rural quiet.
“We have conveniences, but the traffic is very loud,” she said, eying the five lanes of asphalt between her home and Belle Hall Shopping Center. “I can walk across the street to the grocery store.”
The rapid development of the Belle Hall area took place in the 1980s. That’s when most of the 1,300 homes were built at Snee Farm, the State Ports Authority opened the Wando Welch terminal at the end of Long Point Road, and Mount Pleasant annexed land that would become the Belle Hall Shopping Center and the Longpoint, Hobcaw Creek Plantation and Belle Hall Plantation subdivisions.
The growth brought still more growth. Port-related businesses followed the opening of the Wando Welch Terminal, retail stores and offices opened to serve the residents of new subdivisions, and local governments built schools and recreational facilities. Long Point Road was widened, and an interstate highway interchange was built in the early 1990s when Interstate 526 crossed the Wando River.
Frasier said that, years ago, it would have been hard to imagine having a traffic light on Long Point Road.
Not far up Long Point Road, between the Belle Hall and Longpoint subdivisions, between the road and the marsh along Foster Creek, the historic and predominantly black community of Snowden has remained largely intact despite all the growth-related pressures.
Freddie Jenkins lives in the east end of Snowden, adjacent to the Longpoint subdivision — land where he and his friends used to hunt and fish as children. He said it’s nice to drive past the property where Frasier and Wright live, and see the produce in the field.
“I really do like that some people are keeping up with tradition, and the old ways,” he said. “That’s kind of how we grew up; planting a garden was one of the ways a family fed their children.”
Jenkins, 63, said that down Long Point Road toward Frasier’s home, most of the land was farmed, and he and his friends would work the fields in the summer to earn money.
“There was only one family where Seacoast Church is, and down the road there might have been a few houses,” he said. “You could have laid down in the road and gone to sleep.”
“Now in Mount Pleasant, we’re building houses on top of houses, and you can hardly have a garden,” said Jenkins.
Frasier said the people who used to live closest to her moved years ago.
“I had neighbors across the street, they sold out,” she said. “Other neighbors, the land went for taxes.”
Like most of the Snowden community, Frasier’s property is surrounded by Mount Pleasant but remains outside the town limits, in unincorporated Charleston County. Frasier believes taxes would be higher otherwise.
“My hope for the future is to stay on this land and not sell it,” said Frasier. “My grandparents bought this property before I was born.”
Reach David Slade at 937-5552.