Hiatus Update: Roads, Ruins, and Courthouses in the Low Country

Some cottages on Edisto Island taken during my 2013 trip, via a Motorola Droid 2.

I confess that there’s not much of an update here aside from a desire to keep writing about courthouse-adjacent topics while doing little research as I try to maintain progress on my own stuff. This post has been written in the spirit of trying to accomplish both tasks. I just can’t keep my mouth shut!

Even though I’ve only been there once back in 2013, Edisto Island is a favorite place of mine. One of South Carolina’s Sea Islands, Edisto’s a hundred miles up US-17 from Savannah and about an hour down the same route from Charleston. In fact, the unincorporated parts of the island -65.4 square miles, or 96% of it- are part of Charleston County. The 414 people who live in the island’s lone community of Edisto Beach reside in a discontiguous portion of Colleton County, the seat of which is forty-seven miles away. What I’m trying to say is that Edisto Island is remote! The Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, so far away on the mainland, is depicted in the image you clicked on to get here. We’ll talk about it later.

We stayed in this house during my single trip to Edisto. It’s on stilts, and our cars parked underneath. The house shook from side to side during the windy December week.

My trip to Edisto was in response to a family crisis, but my family knew about the place slightly earlier: about 2010 or so, my grandparents stayed on Edisto before pronouncing it too cold and windy for their liking. My parents came shortly after and loved it, so seven of us ventured to the island during the Christmas of 2013. My parents returned three more times. Their latest trip was last week. Though I took some of today’s featured photos with the crappy, 5-megapixel camera of my Droid 2 back in 2013, my mom took the rest last week. Thanks, mom!

Though the island features many older structures, I was absolutely taken by Edisto’s 1876 Trinity Episcopal Church during my visit; especially by way of the heavy belfry built above the building’s columned entryway.

Edisto Island is home to twenty-nine sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places- the place is an absolute haven for the history buff! I can’t help myself from giving a quick history: The island was first settled by the Edistow Indians, a sub-tribe of the Cusabos who were eradicated by disease after Europeans came into the area prior to 17001. Edisto was divvied up into tracts of land called plantations around that time, and eventually its landowners became wealthy from the production of what was called Sea Island cotton. Most of the cotton was harvested by slave labor. By 1790, 223 whites lived on the island, compared with 1,692 black slaves. By 1860, those numbers had increased to 329 whites and 5,082 slaves2. Freedmen, confederates, and union soldiers came and went during the Civil War after planters abandoned the island in 1861, but cotton production generally continued until 1917 due to the arrival of the boll weevil3.

Today the island’s home to old plantations, churches, roadways, and palmetto trees, along with 2300 residents, about 60% white and 40% black, spread across its 68 square miles..

The 1847 Cassina Point plantation home.

Lots of old plantation houses still remain on the island in one form or another. Above is Cassina Point, built in 1847 for the daughter of one of Edisto’s most prominent citizens, William Seabrook. In 1825 Seabrook hosted General Marquis de Lafayette at his nearby home and gave him the honor of naming his new daughter4. He christened her after her birthplace and, well, himself: Carolina Lafayette Seabrook Hopkinson lived in the home until her death in 1879 and her family continued ownership of the property until the early 1980s. The house was featured in the 2010 movie Dear John.

The ruins of the Sea Cloud plantation. Image courtesy Barbara Swander Miller, my mom.

I also saw the Bailey and Seaside plantations during my trip to the island in 2013, both of which still stand in good condition and are privately owned. There are ruins to be found on Edisto, though, including those of the 1825 Sea Cloud plantation house, said to be named after the marriage of a Seabrook family member to a McLeod. The building was abandoned around 1900 and mostly torn down in 19305, when its lands were combined with the neighboring Bleak Hall plantation to form a new enterprise called Botany Bay. There’s much more to see there, of course.

The Bleak Hall Ice House is one of several structures still standing at Botany Bay. Photo courtesy Barbara Swander Miller, my mom.

Today, both properties comprise the Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area. While the old Bleak Hall house succumbed to a fire, several of the plantation’s outbuildings still remain. Above is Bleak Hall’s old ice house.

I guess this is a historic image now, since BI-LO has closed in Edisto.

If you’ve made the circuit through Botany Bay, you’ll exit onto Highway 174 via Point of Pines Road just next to the historic Bailey’s store and the old Bailey plantation. About a hundred-and-fifty feet north is Wescott Road, a canopied path that is said to be part of the old King’s Highway6. Road fans rejoice! The King’s Highway, named after King Charles II, went from Charleston to Boston. An 1825 map documents it at least as Edisto Island’s main drag, and when SC-174 was aligned in 1937, this 2/5 mile segment was preserved7. I didn’t care enough about the pathway to take a photo of it in 2013, but I did manage to grab this shot of the BI-LO supermarket on Jungle Road in Edisto Beach instead. Go figure. 

Thankfully, my mom was willing to play cleanup for me on this most recent trip, so here it is, facing north:

Wescott Road, facing north. Photo courtesy Barbara Swander Miller, my mom.

And here it is facing towards its southern terminus at SC-174. Today, segments of US-17 from Charleston up to Boston more or less take the old road’s path. Some of this stuff is so old that it’s nearly incomprehensible to me!

Here’s Wescott Road’s southern side as it attaches to the a9137 alignment of SC-174. Photo courtesy Barbara Swander Miller, my mom.

In 1994, the seventy-year-old Warren through truss swing bridge that connected Edisto Island with the mainland to replace a mandatory ferry service was itself replaced by the McKinley Washington Jr. Bridge, a mile-long, concrete structure also known as the New Dawhoo Bridge after the river it rises over. My favorite vantage point on the island is at Steamboat Landing to the southeast of the bridge, near the old William Seabrook house. You can barely see the new bridge off in the distance in this photo: 

Steamboat Landing at Edisto Island, facing the McKinley Washington Jr. Bridge.

Here’s another photo from Steamboat Landing, this time facing southeast. This topography is totally alien to what’s common here in East-Central Indiana.

Edisto Island from Steamboat Landing.

Now, I mentioned a courthouse earlier and this is a courthouse blog, so here it is, Colleton County’s. The building’s original portion, at center, was constructed in 1826. That makes it nearly twenty years older than any courthouse still in use as a government building in Indiana.

The 1823 Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Barbara Swander Miller, my mom.

The building was added to in 1844, though its appearance changed more substantially in 1939 when its east and west wings were added.

The east wing of the courthouse. Photo courtesy of Barbara Swander Miller, my mom.

Architect Robert Mills designed the central portion of the structure, which features four doric columns and curves staircase. Though the building appears to be built of stone, it’s actually made of stuccoed brick8.

The Colleton County Courthouse features separate stairways to access its floors, which add symmetry to its asymmetrical additions. Again, photo courtesy of my mom!

I’ve never actually seen this courthouse in person, but my mom and stepdad were willing to take photos of it for me on their way down to Edisto before checking in at their condo there. I’m glad they did! Indiana’s only courthouse similar to this oneis Paoli’s in Orange County. I love adding context to my research!

I’ve never explored Walterboro or the rest of Colleton County set apart from Edisto Island. Frankly, I’d have my hands full exploring each part of the island that I haven’t encountered! I’m grateful that my parents took some time to locate the courthouse, along with the things I missed taking photos of during my trip there. I’ll soon go back. We’ll leave Edisto with a couple of photos I took back in 2013 with the crappy camera.

Edisto during Christmas, 2013.
A restaurant in Edisto Beach near a breakwater.

What a place. I intend to go back as soon as I can! Meanwhile, my parents stopped at seven other historic South Carolina courthouses on their way down in order to send me photos. There’s a lot to unpack!

To be honest, one thing to unpack is the sight of an abandoned Ferris wheel in the middle of some hilly woods north of Knoxville on I-75 that we stopped near on our way down. Our 2013 trip to Edisto Island was my first really long drive, and I was a bit fatigued by the time we stopped here. Here’s the photo I took. My phone camera struggled with the distance.

Some Googling led me to find its location while my parents drove back home, so naturally I asked them to stop and take pictures if they encountered any abandoned amusement park rides north of Knoxville. They complied, found the site, and stopped! While the Ferris wheel in my photo is across the interstate, it seems to have been part of the old Patriotic Palace fireworks store that burned in 2014 and had a ton of different roadside attractions that included two additional Ferris wheels, an enormous Titan rocket, and a couple of other treats. A little more research led me to find that the same family owned the land on both sides of the interstate, and here’s what it looks like now. Just beyond the closed-off road, a barbecue trailer set up on the property that was, unfortunately, closed when my parents passed. The rocket, two Ferris wheels, and the turreted entrance to the scorched store are all visible here.

The remains of Patriotic Palace’s operation.

It’s timely that my parents went back to Edisto when they did, as we’re approaching the ten-year anniversary of the family change that prompted my first visit there. Though I thankfully haven’t been gone through anything so disruptive since then, I’d still love to go back. Preferably during Christmas, of course, as that’s the off-season.

Until then, the photos I took eight years ago, along with my mom’s taken just last week, will be enough to get me by. Merry Christmas from Edisto Island- in advance!

1 Peterson, Bo. “Researchers explore local tribe’s ties to legendary temple” The Post and Courier [Charleston]. April 17, 2005. Print. 
2 Starobin, Paul “Madness Rules the Hour: Charleston, 1860 and the Mania for War” PublicAffairs [New York]. April 11, 2017. Print.
3 “Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area” Edisto Beach. Web. Retrieved 3/28/21.
4 Clements, Emily. “A Home on the Marsh” The Newberry Observer [Nweberry]. September 21, 1992. Web. Retrieved 3/28/21. 
5 Spencer, Charles. “Edisto Island, 1663-1860” The History Press [Charleston]. 2008. Print.
6 “Wescott Road” SC Picture Project [Charleston[. 2021. Web. Retrieved 3/28/21.
7 “Historic Wescott Road” Edisto Island Open Land Trust [Edisto Beach]. Web. Retrieved 3/28/21. 
8 Marcinko, T. “Cultural Resources: Sites of Public Interest,” National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, [Washington]. October 14, 2014. Web. Retrieved 3/28/21.

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