Port Royal has too much personality to be caged by a brand

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJanuary 30, 2014 

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At Christmas, the quizzical statue "Zephyr" gets a special decoration on the welcome sign in the town of Port Royal.

DAVID LAUDERDALE — Staff photo Buy Photo

The town of Port Royal is casting about to define its brand.

I don't know why we all have to have brands these days. I'm told Port Royal's goal is not to reinvent itself, but to help everyone appreciate what the little town in the shadows of Beaufort has to offer.

I would brand Port Royal as "A Real Place."

You can park a john boat in your yard, as God planned it in the Lowcountry. And its only gated community I'm aware of is Parris Island.

Its welcome sign on Ribaut Road sets the tone, featuring the quizzical 15-foot-tall sculpture "Zephyr," formerly known as the "Mother of Rubber Trees." That was when she stood on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Her hair, made of recycled rubber tires, has caused some to call her "Nightmare Witch." Her pose has led others to call her "The Heisman Medusa." But in Port Royal, she's called a landmark that reminds people where to turn down Paris Avenue to check out Port Royal.

Port Royal has been called "The Birthplace of American Civilization" because it is. French and Spanish settlements on what is now Parris Island came long before Plymouth Rock.

Port Royal had a railroad that was going to make it another Manhattan, a deep port that was going to make it another New York, and The Sands public beach on the river that was going to make it another Miami.

But it turned out better than all that. Its docks formed the roots of South Carolina's shrimping industry, and it once shipped Blue Channel canned crab around the globe.

Lake E. High Jr. says Port Royal is the birthplace of barbecue, which is a mouthful. But it's true. The Native Americans knew slow cooking, and the Spanish came along with the pigs.

Port Royal has an elementary school more than 100 years old and a quaint post office pulled right out of Norman Rockwell.

It has the Cypress Wetlands, and Bob Bender's estuarium, now in his home, where he gives tours to explain the Lowcountry environment.

It has a monument to the Gullah culture. It has "The Traveling Buoy" in the Fraternal Order of Police Memorial Park on London Avenue. Its light burns in honor of all fallen police officers in the United States. In 1970, the buoy broke from its mooring in Port Royal Sound and floated to Scotland before being lassoed and returned.

Port Royal has Sergeants Drive, where three sergeants, each with seven children, retired and contributed to the community just as they had contributed to the integration of the Marine Corps.

It has a Saturday morning farmers market near where the Emancipation Proclamation was read publicly in the heart of the slavery zone on New Year's Day 1863.

It has the Beaufort Memorial Keyserling Cancer Center, street music, public art, the Historic Port Royal Foundation, the soft-shell crab festival and The Shed.

Maybe its brand should be "Shhhhhh!" Why overrun a real place, slightly askew of life's main drag?

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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