DeReef Park

The city sold DeReef Park to a developer who began building homes, but the project hit a snag when a question arose over how the city would compensate for loss of the park. File/Staff

Those with memories of Charleston's neighborhood in and around the former DeReef Park are being asked to share them next week.

The city, Gullah Society and National Park Service will host a "public History Harvest" for DeReef Park and the surrounding neighborhood area on Jan. 19. The event runs from 6-8 p.m. in the third floor conference room at 75 Calhoun St.

It's part of a larger effort to find a suitable replacement park for DeReef, which the city sold to a developer who began building individual homes there. The replacement park is required under federal law because the city used federal grant money to buy and develop DeReef Park in the 1990s.

To ensure that the replacement process complies with the National Historic Preservation Act, the city agreed to research the park and conduct an architectural field survey of the area.

The former park, which sat off Morris Street between Felix and Smith streets, was named after brothers Joseph and Richard Edward DeReef. They bought the land in 1854, and the neighborhood was home to a vibrant African-American community until it began to change in the late 20th century.

Next week's history session will give community members a chance to share stories, photographs, letters, family Bibles and genealogies, certificates, obituaries and old newspaper articles to help create a shared history of DeReef park and the area between Cannon, Morris, Smith and Felix streets. Oral histories will be recorded Thursday, and organizers will have scanners to make digital copies of documents. The city plans to hold a second, similar event in the spring.

Joanna Gilmore with the Gullah Society said next week's event is being held "to ensure that memories and stories are preserved and that they contribute to the understanding of the diverse history of the DeReef Park neighborhood and Charleston as a whole.”

Meanwhile, the question of how the city should compensate for the downsizing of DeReef Park continues to linger.

More than two years into litigation, residents of Cannonborough and Elliottborough still aren't sure when they will see new park space, and the developer of The Gathering at Morris Square has racked up financial losses because the issue has scuttled his ability to sell the new homes. 

Assistant City Attorney Susan Herdina said the city has been working to resolve both the federal lawsuit and the park replacement plan.

“We hope we’re going to get a resolution soon,” she said.

Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771 or via Twitter @RobertFBehre.