A Big Victory in the Fight to Preserve South Carolina’s Ashley River Region

Posted on: July 1st, 2009 by Guest Writer

By George McDaniel

Watson Hill

Strong preservation campaigns are needed to protect the historic Ashley River Region from development threats. (Photo: Brad Nettles)

I am thrilled to report a positive outcome in our long campaign to stop the mega-development, Watson Hill, and to preserve the historic Ashley River Region.

The wonderful news is that the timber company, MeadWestvaco, which initially sold the tract in July 2004, is re-purchasing Watson Hill and folding it into their larger conservation-minded land development project named East Edisto. Ken Seeger, project manager of East Edisto, informed me last week that they had signed a contract and explained that they envision following the county ordinance we finally got passed for the district in 2007, which calls for low densities and clustering.

Had the developers of Watson Hill won and developed their 4,500 proposed units – along with hotels, commercial center and golf courses – the impact on the Ashley River Region would have been tremendous.

Since the 1990's and early 2000's, Drayton Hall and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have been engaged in protecting and preserving the Ashley River Region. Through our work, we have secured a management plan for the river; bought the land across the river from Drayton Hall; passed an ordinance in the city of North Charleston requiring 100-foot vegetative buffers for the Drayton Hall, Middleton and Magnolia historic sites; and won designation of the river as a state scenic river, and of the road as both a state and national scenic byway.

But threats still abounded, and in 1996, we designated the region to our 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. Unfortunately, many of our efforts, even for simple things (much less zoning changes to protect the region), were met with vehement public hostility in regards to property rights and were defeated decisively by the Dorchester County Council.

We knew there was danger, but even as of 2004, I had never heard of Watson Hill. In late July of that year, I got a telephone call while on vacation from a developer asking me if I'd heard of the recent sale of Watson Hill and the plans for development there. I asked, "Where's Watson Hill?" Little did I know that for almost the next five years, it would be very much a part of my life and that of hundreds, if not thousands, of our supporters.

Both in word and deed, this support was decisive to this remarkable victory. Please join me in celebrating!

Learn More About the Ashley River Region:

> Drayton Hall

> The Ashley River Historic District

> Map: The Ashley River Region, Courtesy of Drayton Hall

> Map: Ashley River Region Threats and Opportunities, City of Charleston, Planning & Neighborhoods Department

> In the News: The Watson Hill Victory (Charleston Post & Courier)

> In the News: There are Good Reasons to be Optimistic About Watson Hill (Charleston Post & Courier)

George McDaniel is the director of Drayton Hall, a National Trust Historic Site in Charleston, SC.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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