Situated north of peninsular Charleston, North Charleston has more than 75 different neighborhoods and communities with an estimated 94,000 people, making it one of the three largest municipalities in the state. North Charleston is celebrating its 40th year as a municipality this year after it was incorporated in 1972 under the driving force of first mayor John E. Bourne Jr.
North Charleston is also considered the retail shopping headquarters of the Lowcountry. That includes the Tanger Outlet Mall, which is just a short ride from Charleston International Airport and close to Interstate 26.
More recently, though, the city has gained international fame as the center of the aeronautics industry in South Carolina, boasting the assembly plant for Boeing's massive 787 Dreamliner.
Earlier this year, the company rolled out its premiere South Carolina-made jet, the first commercial Boeing plane to be built and assembled outside of the West Coast since World War II.
During most of the last century, North Charleston was widely identified as an industrial hub, including the home of the former U.S. Naval Base and Shipyard along the Cooper River.
But after the yard closed in the 1990s, several of North Charleston's older neighborhoods are now seeing a renaissance, expanding with an emerging social scene centered around the Olde Village of Park Circle. It's a four-block area of businesses, eateries and bars off East Montague Avenue where sidewalk dining is encouraged.
The adjacent Park Circle neighborhoods, with its mix of young and old residents, is one of the city's more desirable housing sites. Also nearby is the modern Oak Terrace Preserve area, billed as an attractive and environmentally friendly neighborhood to the northwest of Park Circle.
North Charleston's most focal gathering site is along the water at Riverfront Park, located north of the former Navy shipyard and along the Cooper River. After the Navy pulled out in the 1990s, the new park for the first time gave residents access to a waterfront that had been off limits because of the military's needs.
South of Riverfront Park is the Warren Lasch Conservation Lab, home to the restoration effort of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. The vessel became the world's first successful attack sub when it sank the Union blockade ship Housatonic off Sullivan's Island on the night of Feb. 17, 1864. It was recovered four miles offshore in 2000 and brought to the new lab.
The city is also home to the North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Education Center. The site, near the Tanger Outlet Mall and the North Charleston Coliseum, covers the history of the fire-fighting industry. It includes 18 restored vehicles, some dating to the 1800s.
Current Mayor Keith Summey, only the third mayor in the city's history, is in his 17th year in office. He regularly promotes North Charleston as “a great place to live, work or play.”
More than 700 homes and other buildings in Summerville are on the National Register of Historic Places. The largest remaining virgin tupelo and cypress swamp forest in the world, along with 50 miles of the world's longest free-flowing blackwater river, are in Dorchester County.
Surprised? Shouldn't be. This town and county sometimes get overlooked in the Charleston experience. But they have histories, wonders, attractions and fun of their own.
Flowertown Festival, Summerville's signature arts and crafts event, draws an estimated 200,000 people each spring to its floral Azalea Park. What gets overlooked is that the festival, and the park itself, is in the residential “old town,” the heart of the historic district. The district features buildings that date back to the town's mid-19th century founding and period-piece architectural beauties from the town's “Golden Age” as a pineland health resort.
The southern boundary of Dorchester County is a 50-mile stretch of the Edisto River, that “longest” free-flowing blackwater beauty of black willows and sandbars. Hundreds if not thousands of people float it on weekends during the summer in a modern, often partylike version of an old country cooling-off tradition. About two-thirds of the way down, Four Holes Swamp flows into it. The National Audubon Society's Beidler Forest sanctuary has a boardwalk running nearly two miles through the heart of the swamp.
Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site sits just outside Summerville on the Ashley River, off to the side of the usual “historic sites” tours.
If the nearly three-century-old church bell tower and tabby walls of the riverfront fort were on the street in Charleston, visitors would swarm them. But miles from downtown, it's somewhat overlooked.
The colonial village of Dorchester was one of the first Lowcountry inland settlements, founded in 1697. It was a frontier trading post for Charleston and much bigger than most people realize. The grid of streets stretched nearly a half-mile from a wharf on the river.
The rapidly growing towns and cities north of Charleston in Berkeley County are known as bedroom communities. But they're good for playing as well as sleeping.
Goose Creek, the county's biggest municipality, takes the lead in recreation. The city has miles of paved bike and walking trails, and they're well off the roads for safety.
Sports fields are scattered throughout the city. The biggest is the Felkel Field Sports Complex on Lucy Drive in the Beverly Hills subdivision, with seven lighted ball fields, a concession stand and press boxes.
The massive Crowfield Plantation boasts a host of amenities, including a city golf course that's open to everybody.
Hanahan also has been expanding its recreational opportunities. A gymnasium by City Hall is popular, and a city sports complex behind Trident Technical College has seven baseball and softball fields, a soccer field, another gymnasium and a senior center.
A city boat landing at the complex allows boating and fishing on the Goose Creek Reservoir.
Moncks Corner also puts a priority on recreation, and is working on a 50-acre complex on Main Street.
Plans include fields for baseball, football and soccer, as well as a walking and biking trail that connects the fields to a nearby school. Tennis and basketball courts and a center with a swimming pool and jogging track are also planned.
There are plenty of places to enjoy nature in Berkeley County. Cypress Gardens is a world-famous nature preserve between Goose Creek and Moncks Corner. Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie draw boaters and fishermen from around the country. And Mepkin Abbey, a tranquil community of Trappist monks along the scenic Cooper River near Moncks Corner, is a great place for some quiet reflection under the big oak trees.