Every good thing has to start somewhere. South Carolina did not just spring into being overnight, but there is a place you can visit to see where South Carolina first broke ground and a colony took root.
Less than two hours from Bluffton, a quiet park overlooking the wide marshes of the Ashley River and commanding a view of the spires of the city of Charleston is Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site. Here, a wooden palisade reminds visitors of a past when South Carolina was mostly wilderness with deep woods filled with the unknown. Cannons frown from a moated wall and the replica of a 17th century ship floats expectantly in a creek where shrimp pop and fiddler crabs conduct their business. Wood smoke drifts from a fire near a reconstructed village cabin and bears and bobcats can be heard from a small, well-kept zoo nearby.
If you close your eyes and stretch your mind, you can be transported back to a time when the idea of South Carolina hung on a knife-edge and each turn of the season was a life or death matter for those families who had chosen this land for a new beginning.
Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site was commissioned in 1970 as part of the tricentennial celebration of the state. Founded by the Lord's Proprietor, Charles Towne Landing was destined to be South Carolina's "Jamestown." After a settlement at North Carolina's Cape Fear had failed, three ships filled with colonists sailed for a wide, inviting harbor and fertile land to the South. Two ships were lost in a storm along the way but the surviving ship, the Carolina, arrived in 1670. The weary Europeans discovered a land that was wild and promising -- but far from empty. Bison and bears roamed the woods, fish teemed in the waterways and a hot Carolina sun beat down on their fragile gardens. They also discovered that they were not the first visitors: Native Americans emerged from the forest and trade began that would form the foundation of a prosperous settlement.
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Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site seeks to recapture the presence of these adventurers and those affected by their arrival so long ago. In time, the settlement crossed the water to the protection of the peninsula where the city of Charleston took root. This has left an ideal place to reconstruct and revisit the past. Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site offers you many unique things that make it a treasure for all ages and interests. A modern museum greets visitors with state-of-the-art facilities and hands-on displays for hands young and old to enjoy. Paved walking paths, and even a shuttle service, take visitors across the 664-acare site making it accessible to most everyone. A wooded zoo with spacious enclosures preserves wildlife that would have been experienced when the colony was founded. This is a little-known gem of a place where you can experience river otters at play and see deer and other animals in their habitat. In the old village area you can see living history displays, including farm life, a colonial garden and cannon firings at the palisade. The replica of the Carolina is open to the public and when you step aboard you will marvel at the determination of a small band of colonists who sought a new beginning in an unknown land.
My family and I have visited Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site many times and on a recent visit enjoyed new discoveries with a snap of early spring in the air. The children enjoyed interactive displays, checking out a 1670 cabin and climbing through the giant ribs of a full-sized ship reconstruction. The park itself was a playground of sorts as people of all ages strolled about in the sunlight. In so peaceful a place it was difficult to imagine the hazards of colonial life: hard farming, difficult conditions, the threat of Spanish raids, but by that it was clear that the pleasure we found that day had been dearly bought by all who worked the land and gave it one more season -- to make South Carolina move from idea to reality.
Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site is an hour and 45 minutes from Bluffton and a very easy ride. Take U.S. 17 to Charleston and at 48 miles turn left onto Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. At 2.5 miles turn right onto Charlestowne Drive. Take a right onto Old Towne Road and an immediate left onto Old Towne Plantation Road. Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site is at 1500 Old Towne Road in Charleston. There are daily tours offered of the park as well as the beautiful Legare-Waring House. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily year round except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Admission is $10 for adults; $6.50 for South Carolina seniors; $6 for youth ages 6-15; free for children 5 and younger. Cannon firings occur every third Saturday, and there are many informative and fun special events throughout the year. Check out www.southcarolinaparks.com, www.friendsofcharlestownelanding.org or call 843-852-4200 for information.