Mayor John Tecklenburg approached Peter Evans' home, perched on one of James Island's highest points, with a sense of excitement.
"I'm told this is literally one of the best sunset views in the Charleston region," he said.
Tecklenburg and others hope to pull off a $6.7 million deal to acquire the home and surrounding property and turn it into the city's newest park. The 8.4 acres not only offer an expansive view of the Stono River but also contain the remains of Fort Pemberton, a significant Civil War earthwork where Evans' home currently stands.
During the Revolutionary War, the British army valued the view, too, as did the Confederate army about 80 years later.
"They had such a commanding view of the river," Tecklenburg said. "They could see any navy and any boat activity in both directions way before they came in cannon range."
'The right thing to do'
Fort Pemberton was envisioned shortly after the 1862 battle of Secessionville, a Confederate victory at the other end of James Island that halted the Union advance toward Charleston.
But the Confederates worried that the Union would try again, likely by a different route, so they began building an earthen fort that would help defend Charleston from Union gunboats approaching via the Stono River toward and Elliott Cut on the island's northwestern edge.
The five-pointed earthwork, one of the largest built around Charleston, was constructed mostly by slaves from nearby plantations and named after Confederate Brig. Gen. John Pemberton, commander of Charleston's defenses.
It was finished in 1863, and its points closest to the river rise 15 to 20 feet from the bottom of the moat, while those farther away are less discernible ridges that climb 3 or 4 feet.
The fort never saw any battles, and six decades after the war, development began approaching the site, as the Riverland Terrace neighborhood took shape. Even though a house was built on top of one of Fort Pemberton's points around 1948, the earthwork is considered remarkably well preserved. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Evans, who played on the fort has a child, eventually bought and renovated the house more than a decade ago with his family, and they gradually began thinking about what to do with the rest of the property.
They put a conservation easement on part of it and created a planned development with up to 11 units — about one-third as many that might have been allowed without the easement. The idea of selling it as a park began with informal conversations more than a year ago.
"It's the right thing to do. I'm glad it looks like it's going to work out," Evans said recently. "It should be enjoyed by the people. A lot of people suffered to create this."
The deal hinges on the city securing about $6.1 million in greenbelt money from Charleston County, a process that could take about two months. It's also seeking $600,000 from the S.C. Conservation Bank.
The county's Greenbelt Program has received 16 applications overall for new projects totaling $23.5 million. They include Fort Pemberton and five other urban projects received that total $13 million and would affect 637 acres.
Charleston County officials are remaining mum for now. The Fort Pemberton application and others will go before a Greenbelt Advisory Board subcommittee on April 10, and the full board is expected to consider them on May 8. County Council ultimately makes the final decision on the grants.
The initial feedback from the Riverland Terrace neighborhood has been positive.
"I'm hoping the neighborhood is very supportive of it," said neighborhood president Troy Miller. "I think it will be a great addition to the city.”
City Councilman Bill Moody, who represents this part of James Island, said he only learned about the fort's existence a year ago.
"This is in my district, and I didn't even know it was here," he said. "If we don't (pursue a city park), it's going to be developed; that's the problem."
The distant view also one day might feature a view of Interstate 526, whose extension from West Ashley to James Island was resurrected by the state and Charleston County earlier this year. Its path would extend from Citadel Mall across the Stono and Headquarters Island, then onto Johns and James islands.
Once the city acquires the land, it would begin planning on exactly what changes to make, such as possibly removing the house, a detached garage, two storage buildings and one of the two existing docks. The process would seek public feedback and also would define places for trails, parking and any structures.
Miller said he expects the new city park would be a very passive, heritage area that focuses on the site's history.
Tecklenburg said the new park also could provide access to the water for kayaks and canoes and work with other public parks to create a "blue trail" along the Stono and Ashley rivers.
"We've got to take one step at a time," Tecklenburg said. "Obviously, the first step is securing the property."