David Lauderdale

At Gardens Corner, something special is sprouting at the intersection of past and future

The people of Gardens Corner want their sense of place and history back.

It was lost when the state Department of Transportation improved the deadly intersection of U.S. 17 and U.S. 21 in northern Beaufort County, a junction that for centuries has been the gateway to Beaufort.

The new intersection, with its overpass and traffic circle, was dedicated two years ago.

It added safety so joyfully accepted that the B.J. Scott Choir from the Huspah Baptist Church next door sang, "Walking Up The King's Highway" at the ceremony.

But the construction all but stripped bare a place that once burst with personality and Lowcountry beauty.

Its story includes Native American trading posts, the botanist for whom the gardenia is named, and the first command of Francis Marion -- the "Swamp Fox" -- a hero of the Revolutionary War.

It includes the family-like hostelries of the days before bland interstates -- places with names like the Magnolia Inn and the Gardenia Restaurant.

"The chain of history was kind of broken," said Woody Collins of Sheldon. "Everything that represented the history was gone, except for six oak trees on one side and seven on the other. To this point, they alone are its history."

Over the past year, he has pushed for a remedy. A major step was formation of the nonprofit Friends of Gardens Corner.

What happens next may be less a history lesson than a primer on how future citizens can make lasting improvements to Beaufort County.


Beautification and historical markers became the goal after a small group gathered in Beaufort to discuss Gardens Corner in late 2011.

Collins said it included Ian Hill, historical preservationist for Beaufort County; Rob McFee, the county's director of engineering and infrastructure; and interested citizen DeDe Passeggio of Brays Island.

From that has come a lot of study on the area's history, meetings with the state highway department, formation of a 501(c)(3) Friends group, support from Beaufort County, support from the Beaufort Council of Garden Clubs, and dreams of what Gardens Corner may look like in a few years.

Landscape designer Frances Parker worked with the steering committee and got SCDOT involved; Bill Thompson of Buds & Blooms Landscaping in Beaufort created an early conceptual plan to show at the first community meeting; Brad Hill of Beaufort Planning Group landscape architects and contractors in Beaufort is drafting a formal beautification plan to be submitted to SCDOT for approval. Collins said Lee Edwards of The Greenery has volunteered to cost out the plan.

All of this is pro-bono work.

The goal is not only new plantings, but ongoing maintenance. Collins said the planning has been well received by the highway department.

Friends of Gardens Corner, meanwhile, is working on adopting a 2-mile stretch of U.S. 17 for regular litter removal.

Cecile Dorr, president of Beaufort's seven-club council of garden clubs, said, "We think they are doing a terrific job. They are trying to involve the whole community, trying to involve history and trying to make it special. We hope to work with them down the road on fund-raisers."


Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic immediately endorsed the project. The county has agreed to pay for the fabrication and installation of two historical markers, a total of $4,110.

Wording for the signs is being drafted for approval by the S.C. Department of Archives and History.

And the Friends of Gardens Corner has begun a series of lectures that will explore the rich history of the area from the Combahee to the Coosawhatchie rivers.

The organization will hold a meeting Feb. 16, with election of new officers. Initial officers are Collins, a retired shrimper and oysterman who owns property in the area, president; Deborah Johnson of Beaufort, who coordinated the Beaufort Three-Century Project, vice president; Sidney Peeples, whose father operated a store in Gardens Corner for 45 years, treasurer; and Sally Hodges, secretary.

The lecture series is designed to increase membership, and public interest.

William McIntosh III of Charleston will lecture on his book, "Indians' Revenge -- Including a History of the Yemassee Indian War, 1715-1728."

"This project epitomizes the idea of grassroots community support being the catalyst to make something good come to fruition," said Johnson.

"Woody Collins' vision and tenacity has moved this forward and I think we will look back in a few years at this project as the poster child for bringing individuals, businesses, nonprofits and governmental entities together to do something amazing and something that we can all be proud of in our county."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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