To many motorists, Gardens Corner can pass in the blink of an eye. But to one small group of residents, it's not only rich in history, but the gateway to Beaufort.
Over time and with road construction that ended in 2011, the intersection of U.S. 17 and U.S. 21 has receded into a bland shadow of its former self.
So the Friends of Gardens Corner has launched landscaping and beautification projects to restore lost luster.
"This golden stretch of the highway contains every bit of our history," says group president Woody Collins. "The Yemassee Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Reconstruction -- so much went on in this area."
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Group member Bill Ladson said the Friends have so far adopted six miles of road for cleanup -- two miles along each of the three "spokes" radiating from the traffic circle that is now the heart of Gardens Corner.
As more volunteers come forward, that cleanup will stretch farther. Ladson hopes it eventually covers six miles to the Combahee River on U.S. 17 toward Charleston, about four miles to the Whale Branch River along U.S. 21 toward Beaufort, and about eight miles to Point South on U.S. 17 toward Savannah.
"We are the center, the gateway to those three cities," Collins said. "You can't avoid that."
Ladson is seeking helping hands for the cleanup wherever he can find them. Inmates from the Beaufort County Detention Center assisted the June effort. He has spoken with the Parent Teacher Organization at Whale Branch Early College High School about recruiting students.
"Anyone, anywhere is welcome to become a member," he said. "We all see Gardens Corner. It is our traditional front door."
At the traffic circle and interchange, the Friends plan a $50,000 landscaping project. The fledgling nonprofit is seeking grants and hopes to start work in a few years.
"Considering what it is going to give Beaufort County, I don't look at that as a lot of money," Collins said. "We still have to get it, but I have faith and confidence that we will."
The landscaping project would put flowers, trees, shrubs and two historic markers where overgrown grass, weeds and small trees have overtaken the former garden spot.
Beaufort County has agreed to pay for the markers, which cost about $2,000 each. They will tell about American Revolutionary War Col. Benjamin Garden, for whom the community is named, and of wars and other historic events in the area, Collins said.
To raise money, the organization is arranging lectures and selling memberships and $10 T-shirts. People also can pay only $5 for the shirt if they give it to a youth who volunteers to help clean up the highways.
Collins says the new Friends group is reviving an old tradition in Gardens Corner. Various garden clubs have added their touches over the years, from rows of palmetto trees planted by the Alexander Garden Club in the late 1930s, to later groups that planted fields of daffodils, Collins said.
"So we're just keeping in line with the traditional history that there are people who care about Gardens Corner," he said.
After all, he said, "this is our front door to Beaufort County, and we want it to look like our front door."