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.

Climb the stairs to the memory garden for a great view of Dewees Inlet and find out more about the early resident family that gave the island its name. The shelter here is made of one of the earliest building materials used by colonists: a mix of burned oyster shells, lime, and other shells.

This medicinal thorny tree was well known to the indigenous people who used Dewees Island for hunting and gathering. It grows well in the calcium rich shell middens they left behind. Pottery shards from these middens give us a glimpse into their lives.

This site is one of the highest points of the island, making it the home site of John Murphy and the probably location for the Dewees family home. An old cistern is all that remains of a residence in this location.

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.

This dominant species of the maritime forest can tolerate short term flooding and withstand high winds. Curved pieces of oaks were used in shipbuilding. Oaks provide food for birds and pollinators, and habitat for a wide variety of other species like resurrection ferns and spanish moss.

Loblolly and Slash pines were very important to the early colonists for the Naval Stores industry. Trees were tapped for their resin, which was distilled into products that could waterproof and repair ship decks and spars.

From 1924-1956, the Coulter Huyler family used Dewees Island as their second home and retreat. Their home was between this spot and the marsh, and a remaining brick wall protects the spot where Mrs. Huyler relaxed in the sun.

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.