Saturday, January 29, 2011

Visit to the Chapel of Ease on St. Helena Island, South Carolina

02 historic markerIt’s near-impossible to drive more than ten miles along a South Carolina road without seeing something to write about. Well, the high-speed, homogenized interstates may be an exception. But even they have their moments.

[As always, click any of these photos or videos for a larger view.]

coe aWhile camping last week at Hunting Island, I decided to pay a long-delayed visit to nearby Fort Fremont. It’s not far. Out Route 21 to the Frogmore intersection, left on Martin Luther King Jr. drive, and down Lands End Road for a while. Even the names of communities and roads around here enrich the scene! “Frogmore”? “Lands End Road”? I mean! 

route to chapel of easeIt was well into afternoon by the time I’d finished lunch and got started. And I wanted to reach Fort Fremont while there was still enough light to take a few photos. No time to dawdle along the way!

03 coe sideBut a few miles down Lands End Road, what should appear on the left-hand side but this site. The ruins of the St. Helena’s Chapel of Ease. Just look at this!

sheldonYou may recall our visit a few weeks back to the Old Sheldon Church ruins. Well, this Chapel of Ease brings Old Sheldon Church to mind. But it turned out to be quite a different place. 

ft fremont signWith at least a few photos of the Fort Fremont site in mind, I resisted temptation to stop for a closer look. On down Land’s End Road I drove, to the recently renovated Fort Fremont site and its impressive parking lot. 

ft fremontNow, the Fort Fremont site takes some time to see. Lots there of interest. So all too soon the light began to fade, and I had to pack up camera gear and head for a grilled steak dinner at the Aliner parked on Hunting Island’s beach. Driving back, of course, along Lands End Road.

coe duskWell, there it was again. Soft dusk light, with sunshine now only in the tops of taller trees. Surrounded by lower live oaks that had the look of having seen it all. An inviting parking lot well off the road. The walls of the chapel, gleaming pale white in the dusk light. Who could resist stopping for at least a quick look around! 

So, that’s just what I did. Pulled in to park and took a few photos and video clips as dusk turned to dark. Have a look at this interesting site:

The grounds also include a 19th century cemetery, with an interesting crypt:

There’s a story behind that partially finished brickwork. But not one I could verify, so you’ll have to find it for yourself.

When you plan your visit to the Fort Fremont site on St Helena Island, be sure to save time to stop at the Chapel of Ease as well. Another example of the interesting places the South Carolina visitor can explore.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Interview with Mr. Al Hester, Historic Sites Coordinator for the South Carolina Park Service. December 15, 2010

Al Hester 01

I first met Mr. Al Hester, Historic Sites Coordinator for the South Carolina State Park Service, while gathering material for an article about Sesquicentennial State Park’s mid-18th century log house.

cabin 0aSince first visiting Sesqui, as the Park is fondly known to nearly everyone around here, I’ve been fascinated by this log house. So it seemed about time late last year to begin a series of articles that describe the house in more detail.

Nearly everyone I contacted to learn more about this remarkable building mentioned Mr. Hester as an excellent source of information. So, I gave him a call.

Now, Al Hester is hardly the sort of person I expected to meet. Somehow I was ready for an introverted, bookish sort of person, steeped in state bureaucracy, with the protective instincts of a small university research librarian about the irreplaceable materials under his care. Well! That’s far from the person who answered my call!

Not only was Mr. Hester accessible. He seemed genuinely pleased to talk with someone interested in one of the historic sites within his area of responsibility. He even offered to do the interview right at the log house rather than at his downtown office, as I proposed!

Here, Mr. Hester describes his background, education, and preparation for the important post he now occupies in South Carolina’s Park Service. I hope this short video gives you a sense of the person, and his approach to his important responsibilities.

Next, I asked Mr. Hester to describe his responsibilities as coordinator of historic sites for the South Carolina Park Service.

Quite a challenge. Lots of responsibility. And though Mr. Hester didn’t mention it, I doubt that he’s given a huge budget to work with.

We then turned to the origins of this interesting historic structure. I’d already read everything about the building I could find on the internet, and had consulted a few hard-copy reference materials. Mr. Hester here is far more specific. He also corrects some of the inaccuracies in the materials available electronically. True to his training as a public historian, he readily admitted that not much is known about the early life of this log house.

The journey from it’s original location, in an old Columbia neighborhood near the Broad River, was our next topic of conversation.

cabin1It’s a miracle that the house even survived! Scheduled for demolition as a derelict property, only the sharp eyes of City workers on the scene saved it from destruction. Someone on that crew recognized that a very old log house existed in quite good repair underneath the nondescript wooden siding! They alerted folks more interested in historic preservation, and the house eventually was dismantled and moved – piece by piece – to its present location at Sesqui.

We then talked briefly about the Park Service’s plans for this impressive facility. Let’s hope that funding can be found to open it at least on weekends to Park visitors. Including the additional staffing and interpretive signs required to make public visits more meaningful.

In conclusion, Mr. Hester tells us more about the challenges the Park Service faces in renovating and preserving Sesqui’s mid-18th century log house.

Thanks again to Mr. Al Hester for his generous contribution of time and expertise to the CarolinaConsidered Project.

Stay tuned since there’s plenty more to come here about the log house. Next up will be an interview with Sesqui Park Manager Daniel Gambrell who will describe the Park Staff’s role in the recent renovation.

Click here to return to the Sesqui Log House Page

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Nature Center at Hunting Island State Park

Nature Center Main Sign

Here again this week at Hunting Island State Park, near Beaufort, South Carolina. One of the most popular Parks in the whole State system. Lots to see here. This Park is an especially nice destination for day visitors interested in the natural environment of this part of South Carolina.

Bridge to Fripp Island 2I completed an interview on Fripp Island [more on that in a later post] earlier than expected this morning. Then decided while driving back over the bridge to stop for a few minutes before lunch at the Park’s Nature Center. Hadn’t visited for a couple of years.

Nature Center Building From Back

Nature Center DoorwayHunting Island’s Nature Center building is nicely maintained, but nothing very special when viewed from the outside.

View of Nature Center PierWell, with the exception of this long wooden pier out back, with its benches, fishing stations, and informative signs.

Oyster Info Sign

Inside was another matter entirely. It was immediately obvious that lots of work has gone into renovating and upgrading the Center’s many displays. Staff members in attendance too were welcoming and informative.

Nature Center Display UpkeepIn spite of having complex exhibits to maintain. Exhibits that because of their accessibility require lots of attention.

Here’s a short video that presents some of the things you’ll find at this impressive facility:

Thanks again to Interpretive Ranger Mitchell Helms and his enthusiastic staff for taking the time to show me around. I look forward to a return visit in early March.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Interview with Edisto Beach State Park Manager, Ms. Susan Spell

01 Edisto shoreEdisto Beach State Park ranks high in any category imaginable among South Carolina’s 47 State Parks. Indeed, among any of the State’s attractions. Visitors I’ve interviewed during repeated trips to Edisto Beach when asked about the Park respond in near reverential tones. Each mentioning a particular feature of the Park that brings them back time after time.

[Click any of these photos for a larger image]

altEdisto doesn’t attract the Park System’s highest annual visitorship. But I suspect it has the highest number of repeat visitors of any Park in the System. During multi-day visits here over the past decade I’ve heard only one visitor complain. And that was about service at the nearby grocery store; not about the Park or campground.

altI know; I know. It sounds too good to be true. So you’ll just have to visit here for a few days and decide for yourself.

If you have an RV there are two quite different campgrounds to accommodate your rig. One even offering 50-amp service. If you tent-camp, there are all sorts of places to spread your gear. Including one less expensive walk-in “primitive campground” that doesn’t offer electricity.

04 cabinAnd, if you have neither an RV nor a tent, the Park rents five fully furnished cabins, recently renovated, with screened porches that look out over the nearby brackish creek and marsh.

South Carolina’s State Parks all are located in beautiful and interesting surroundings. But beautiful surroundings alone do not make a successful Park. Even the best facilities must be maintained and the Park managed in a way that offers visitors an enjoyable experience during their stay. While at the same time managing to conserve the natural environment that inspired placement of the Park there in the first place. Not an easy balance!

I’ve yet to visit all of South Carolina’s State Parks. There are still sixteen or seventeen to go. But, those I have visited persuade me that park management makes an enormous difference in the visitors’ experience. The realization that inspired this series of interviews with State Park managers and Park Interpretive Rangers.

05 spell awardAfter some persuasion, Edisto Beach State Park Manager, Ms. Susan Spell, agreed to take time for an interview on January 4th. Like many of her colleagues, she was a reluctant subject. Especially reluctant when she saw me arrive with camera gear and digital microphone.

I finally persuaded her with the argument we would spend most of our time talking about the Park. Well, we did that. But we began, as usual, with discussion of her personal background and how it prepared her for this job. Click below for the first of five segments of this inspiring interview to learn more about Ms. Susan Spell.

From there we moved on to Ms. Spell’s remarkable twenty-one-year Park Service career. It demonstrates, I think, that Park Managers don’t win awards like the one pictured above without some serious effort and hard work.

We then, much to Ms. Spell’s relief, moved on to her description and interpretation of Edisto Beach State Park. There’s so much at Edisto to describe that it took us three full interview segments. And even then much remained on the cutting room floor, so to speak. Here’s the first segment:

And here in the next segment Ms. Spell describes camping at Edisto Beach State Park in more detail: 

We concluded the interview with Ms. Spell’s description of the Park’s Indian Mound, or the Spanish Mount, as it’s sometimes called. An important Southeast American Indian archeological site that’s been preserved by the Park Service in a way that has maintained its accessibility for visitors. It’s something you have to see:

Thanks again, Park Manager Susan Spell, for your time and for your contribution to the CarolinaConsidered Project.

Click here to return to the CarolinaConsidered Project website.