Charles Towne Landing
Any look at West Ashley must begin where everything began, with the 600-acre historic site Charles Towne Landing (1500 Old Towne Rd., 843/852-4200, www.charlestowne.org, daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., $5 adults, $3 students, 5 and under free). This is where Charleston’s original settlers first arrived from Barbados and camped in 1670, remaining only a few years before eventually moving to the more defensible peninsula where the Holy City now resides.
For many years Charles Towne Landing was in disrepair and borderline neglect, useful mainly as a place to ship busloads of local schoolchildren on field trips. However, a recent, long-overdue upgrade came to fruition with a grand “reopening” of sorts in 2006, which has been very well received and has given Charles Towne Landing a newfound sheen of respect. A new audio tour has been instituted, where you rent an mp3 player ($5).
A life-size replica of a settlers’ ship is the main new highlight, but another feature is the long interpretive trail that takes you around the long reconstructed palisade wall and the remains of some of the original structures. A 12-room visitors center has many exhibits on the history and daily life of the early settlers.
Many traces of Native American habitation have been found on-site as well, and don’t miss the exhibits chronicling the 6,000 years of human history here before the Europeans arrived, including an apparent ceremonial area. Ranger-guided programs are available Wed.–Fri. at 10 a.m.; call ahead for reservations.
Not just a historic site, Charles Towne Landing is also a great place to bring the family. It features Charleston’s only zoo, the “Animal Forest,” featuring otters, bears, cougars, and buffalo, and 80 acres of beautiful gardens to relax in, many featuring fabulously ancient live oaks and highlighting other indigenous flora the settlers would have been familiar with.
Archaeology and renovation are ongoing at Charles Towne Landing, with a key project being the excavation of the original western palisade wall. They’ve even found one of the settlers’ tobacco pipes, marked with the maker’s name, “Wil. Evans.” You can choose to participate vicariously through the “Digital Dig” interactive exhibit—or who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to join the park’s archaeology volunteer program. It offers internships for college credit.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition