For 50 years the would-be Marines who headed to boot camp on Parris Island first traveled through a sleepy Lowcountry town via a train depot the military built specifically for the purpose.
Incoming recruits from the eastern half of the United States were shuttled from the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to the Charleston & Western Railroad at the receiving barracks in Yemassee soon after Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island began operating in 1915. Once the future Marines were off the train in Port Royal, a variety of boats carried them across the water to the base.
Yemassee’s longstanding connection to the Marine Corps is the subject of a new piece of art in town. “Where Heroes Stood,” a mural by Hilton Head Island native and Hampton County resident Sophie Docalavich, now covers a wall of a vacant building across from the train depot.
Town and county officials officially unveiled the piece during a ceremony Wednesday.
Hundreds of thousands of Marine recruits passed through Yemassee during the 50 years the military used the station, from 1915 to 1965. Active-duty Marines passed through the station on the way from Parris Island to home or a new assignment. In the 1920s, the town was referred to as the “bridge from civilian life to life in the Corps,” according to the Marine Corps.
In 1965, the Marine Corps terminated its lease with the railroad company. Greyhound buses largely took over transport duties, and recruits were eventually flown to the Charleston airport.
Now, that history is recognized in the 12-by-24-foot mural. The painting includes a striking figure of a Marine in uniform as a centerpiece against the backdrop of an American flag. Figures are shown exiting a train, engaging in battle and remembering those lost to war.
“For the people coming by, I want them to think about this area and the history that happened here because there was a lot that went on, and I think it’s nuts,” Docalavich told television station WJCL. “I want them to think about the classic Marine, heroic and bold, but I also wanted to symbolize the sacrifice, and I hope that they acknowledge and notice it when they come back.”
The piece was commissioned by Jake Sullivan of Veteran Owned Real Estate, with partnerships from Brunson Building Supply and the Town of Yemassee.
The town soon plans to renovate the adjacent building for a new use, and the area in front of the mural will be completed as a park for youth in the northernmost reaches of Beaufort County, town clerk Matt Garnes said.
Docalavich honed her art growing up in Estill, painting likenesses of the chickens and goats on her family’s property, according to a biography on her website. Murals cover her roadside chicken coop. She previously worked with other community members on a mural in downtown Estill. The mural is promoted as showing the area’s commitment to the arts as a driver of social and economic change.