On Sunday, October 17, 2010, the Lowcountry Oral History Alliance (LOHA) had its first official group outing, a bus tour of the Cainhoy peninsula guided by Herb Frazier. We all knew that Herb would be a great tour guide, but the depth and scope of his talk was really impressive. Living in Charleston for over half a decade, I am still constantly learning about the local history. Daniel Island is a place I admittedly have known little about. To me, it has always been what you first see when you take the exit from Interstate 526: new homes, a little urban shopping area with restaurants and medical offices, and the sports landmarks, the Family Circle Tennis Center and Blackbaud Soccer Stadium. The area exudes modern upscale living and deceivingly looks like it has been inhabited for only the last fifteen years or so.
Behind this first impression of Daniel Island, however, is an incredibly deep history. Concerned about development in the area and its possible contribution to the disappearance of the long-standing African American culture that exists there, the Coastal Community Foundation asked Herb Frazier to research and write on the area in 2004. Herb began collecting oral histories from the area in 2005, and the result has been a much larger project than originally anticipated. He has identified about 22 distinct African American communities in the area, while his talk only covered a few of these.
Geographically, Herb’s book covers the Cainhoy, Huger, and Wando areas of St. Thomas Island and Daniel Island. Prior to 1992, when the Mark Clark Expressway (I-526) was built, the land was hardly developed. The 15,000-acre Cainhoy Plantation was owned by Harry Frank Guggenheim until his death in 1971, at which point it was turned over to the Guggenheim Foundation. The Guggenheim Foundation sold the land to the Daniel Island Company in 1997. Guggenheim had used the land mostly as a hunting retreat.
The first stop we made on the tour was a little cemetery right behind the big tennis stadium. The juxtaposition of the tennis stadium next to the cemetery was a clear manifestation of development in the face of a vanishing history. Buried in the cemetery was part of Philip Simmons’ family (Simmons was born on Daniel Island and came to Charleston at the age of eight), along with other family members of people whose stories were essential to Herb’s research.
We also stopped at the Keith School Museum to talk to Fred Lincoln, head of the Community Development Corporation, who grew up in the Jack Primus neighborhood. Fred talked about the history of the museum, which is a reproduction of a one-room schoolhouse that was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo. While the history of the structure itself was quite interesting, the more pertinent issue of land ownership and how that relates to the preservation of the Gullah culture was fascinating.
Our final destination on the tour was a real surprise and treat, Middleburg Plantation. Built in 1697, Middleburg was important to the rice culture in the Lowcountry (Jonathan Lucas revolutionized the cleaning of rice there). In 1981, Jane and Max Hill bought the property and have since undergone restoration of the lands to their pre-1926 appearance. It is an ongoing project, and while the house has been structurally restored, other features of the original plantation have not, and it is not a site open to the general public. It is the oldest surviving wooden plantation dwelling in South Carolina. Max gave us an extensive talk on the architecture and structural history of the building, along with interesting anecdotes about the property’s involvement in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
I highlighted our stops, but Herb told a lot of interesting stories along the way that I wasn’t able to include here! Thanks to Lisa Randle, we have an audio recording of the 3-hour tour available in full here at the Avery Research Center. Click below to access a selection of this audio, where Herb recounts two Cainhoy murder stories.