Robert Behre // The Post and Courier

The main house of the Ashem property was built around 1915, just after the Ravenel family bought the land for use as a truck farm. An easement will protect this home and one other from being demolished or dramatically changed.

Those walking the paths along the 55-acre peninsula known as the Ashem property can glimpse scores of grand trees and unspoiled marsh vistas -- all just a stone's throw from South Carolina's birthplace.

And as of this week, the property's now in public hands.

The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission recently spent $5.1 million in half-cent sales tax money to buy Ashem, a former truck farm, horseback riding center and residence near the state-owned Charles Towne Landing.

Executive Director Tom O'Rourke said the commission will work closely with the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to decide how the public will use the property.

"We don't want two separate parks out there with a big fence in the middle," O'Rourke said. "We want one seamless thing."

Duane Parrish, director of the state PRT, agreed. "I think there's an opportunity there to really turn it into something spectacular. We don't know what that is yet -- there are smart people who will figure that out."

The Lowcountry Open Land Trust held the property and sold it to the county -- a deal that had the blessing of its former longtime owner, the late Emily Ravenel Farrow.

Elizabeth Hagood, the trust's director, said the property's pristine state is a tribute to Farrow, an early trustee of the Historic Charleston Foundation. Her family owned the property for a century, buying it around 1910 to grow beans, potatoes, tomatoes and other produce hauled off by trucks.

"Her preservation ethic and conservation ethic were so complementary to who she was," Hagood said. The "Ashem" name is a blend of her first name and that of her husband, Ashby Farrow.

Emily Farrow also placed an easement on the property with the foundation stipulating that it not be subdivided more than three times; that its future development be limited; and that the two early 20th-century homes built by her father be preserved.

That easement also reduced the appraised value of the larger, 44-acre tract by more than half, making the deal even more attractive to the county, Hagood said.

Her son, Charleston mayor candidate David Farrow, said his mother's handling of the property personifies who she was.

"To her, it really was holy ground," he said. "Because of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, the foxes will still prowl the property."

Most people who drive along Old Towne Road know the site only by the trees they could see through its usually locked wrought iron gate just beyond a city's fire station.

O'Rourke said it's unclear when those gates may open for good. First, the commission will conduct an archaeological survey of the site, then it will put together a master plan to decide what trails, parking and other features the property should have.

"There's never been an archaeology on the property, so we're really excited about that part of it," he added. "There will never be a water park there or soccer fields."

While the property borders on Charles Towne Landing, the two sites are separated by a creek and marsh that extends almost to the highway.

Parrish and O'Rourke said new boardwalks ultimately could provide connections. "We may share an entrance," O'Rourke said.

It's unclear what, if anything, the earliest colonists did on the Ashem site after they created their settlement in 1670, said Winslow Hastie, the Historic Charleston Foundation's director of preservation.

The site has no visible remnants from the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries, but one could assume there was early colonial activity there just because of its proximity to the original English settlers.

"It's a great question," Hastie said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.