Dewees Island History and Nature Self-Guided Tour
In 2023, the Archives committee decided to revisit and flesh out the original self guided History and Environmental Tour. The original tour was based on the research of Jim Cochrane (published 2007) with input from environmental staff Carl Ohlandt and Lori Sheridan Wilson. We have added and modified stops based on research from current Archivist Kendall John and resident Judy Drew Fairchild, as well as input from Charleston County Library Historian Dr. Nic Butler.
Begin at the Landings Building
Basically, the tour goes counterclockwise around the island, and you’ll find numbered signs to help you on your way. At each sign, you’ll find a QR code to scan to learn more about that spot, as well as links to research about the topic. Or you can click the labels below to get to the content for that spot.
The technology to flood a field with fresh water was brought to the Lowcountry by enslaved Western Africans. While the blowing salt wind would have made rice hard to grow here, at one point all cultivatable creeks in the county were used to grow rice, making Charleston the richest city per capita for generations.
In the late 1700’s, the island operated as a palmetto logging plantation, selling wood at the Charleston markets. A 1791 inventory of improvements included a cabin for 30 enslaved people, probably located near here. Palmetto trees were shipped from Dewees Island to Sullivan’s during the revolutionary war. Their spongy centers absorbed the energy from cannonballs: some even bounced right back. The “Palmetto state” nickname traces back to that triumphant Battle on Sullivan’s Island.
From this spot, the Sewee would have noticed the arrival of the British ship, Carolina. While the relationship was originally quite friendly, eventually the Sewee were interested in trading directly with England rather than using colonists as brokers. They set sail in dugout canoes, were swamped in a hurricane, and survivors that were “rescued” by a British ship were sold into slavery into the islands.
Built as a “fire tower” in 1942 by the US Army, this watch tower was a plotting room to keep track of military activity in the Atlantic. Part of a 5 fort defense system, it was manned by the Coast Guard during WWII. In 1944, sentries inaccurately reported an “invasion” on Bulls Island. It turned out to be a pod of pilot whales beaching themselves.
Coulter Huyler arranged the construction of several other residences for island workers. The island superintendent lived in a house built at the site of the present Landings Building. Arthur Moore, who lived on Capers Island and who moved to Dewees was the first superintendent and boat captain. Subsequently this building was used by other island caretakers, Oscar Leppert and Stan Betzhold. It was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo.