By Susan J. Young
If you’ve been to Charleston, SC, you’ve traveled to an incredibly historic spot with antebellum homes, cobblestoned streets and Fort Sumter just offshore. But did you know that the site of today's Charleston is not the original landing site where British colonists first landed and settled in April 1670?
It’s true. The landing of 148 English colonists at Albemarle Point, soon to become the original Charles Towne (see photo above of the site), occurred three miles south of today’s historic (but more modern) city.
Charles Towne became the first permanent English settlement in the Carolinas.
The settlers had to quickly establish homes, food and defenses to survive and create a successful colony. (See photo of a re-created small building and garden at left).
Now operated by the South Carolina Division of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, the original Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site is a multi-faceted experience. This peaceful 665-acre park is on a marshy point off the Ashley River.
Many visitors never make the short trek south of Charleston, but it's a highlight of a Low Country visit for many who do.
An avenue of oaks is one of many attractions to view at Charles Towne Landing.*
In addition to learning about maritime trade and the site's history, you'll walk through an on-site zoo with native animals in natural habitats; see archaeology in action; learn about culture in the settlement; stroll through gardens and an avenue of oaks (shown above*); and view re-created 17th century fortifications and a sailing vessel.
Explore Family-Friendly Exhibitions
Opened in 1970 as Charles Towne Landing State Park, the park was re-tooled in 2006 with a sharpened focus on the site’s remarkable past and the opening of an impressive new visitors center (see photo at right*).
The center houses a 12-room, interactive museum that includes a “digital dig.” Children and adults alike enjoy hitting buttons to see treasures – artifacts like spoons and pottery – show up under the soil.
Many exhibits (like the one shown at left*) focus on how the colonists survived in those early years, detailing everything from their farming techniques to their daily lifestyle.
The center also houses the information center, restrooms, vending services, a gift shop and park offices.
Saunter along the History Trail
Leave the visitor's center, shown above and head out to explore the park's many natural areas, its historic re-creations and fortifications, native American and African-American historical spots, gorgeous gardens, an avenue of oaks, and an eco-friendly zoo of native animals.*
After viewing the exhibits and audio-visual offerings, head out to explore the park, either on foot or via roadway.
One good option is to stroll along the 1.5 mile History Trail. New this year, you may rent an MP3 audio player at the center for $5.
As you reach 22 marked stops along the trail, you'll then hear detailed accounts of the significance of the spot. (Earthen fortifications are shown at left.*)
Play time of the recordings is 40 minutes, while the entire walking tour takes about 90 minutes – more or less depending on your speed of walking. The audio players are available from 9 a.m. and must be returned by 5 p.m.
Among the attractions along the route? You'll see a Native American Ceremonial Centersite. (Charles Towne Landing is also home to "The Landing Brave," a native American carving by Peter Wolf Toth shown in the photo at right; it can be found near the entrance to the Animal Forest.*)
The tour continues on to Albermarle Point on Towne Creek. Along the way and nearby, you'll find a reconstructed palisade wall; full-size and functional cannon reproductions; and a crop garden.
Maritime buffs will enjoy viewing the Adventure, a reproduced 17th century cargo vessel.
This type of vessel was designed to carry supplies, provisions, commodities and livestock between New Amsterdam (present day New York) and Barbados in the West Indies.
Designed by shipwright William Avery Baker in 1969, this cargo ketch was launched during the Tri-centennial at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in 1970. Adventure was recently been restored.
At Albermarle Point, defensive fortifications have been re-constructed.
It’s a great spot for kids and adults alike to view cannon and re-constructed walls (see photo at left*). You'll learn how the colonists planned to defend their settlement.
The Palisade was a wooden fence of sharpened logs with a ditch to the front to prevent access by hostile Native Americans who were allied to the Spanish
A formidable Spanish fleet was based in the already well-established Spanish settlement of St. Augustine, FL, only 100 or so miles away.
Spain was the powerhouse in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, while Britain was merely an upstart influence at the time of Charles Towne Landing’s settlement.
From the fortifications, the trail then winds past the Legare-Waring House.
The Legare-Waring House shown above and at left is located at the Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site; it's a popular spot for weddings and special events.*
The mansion was the former home of Ferdinanda Legare-Waring. He sold the property to the state of South Carolina in 1969.
Planning a wedding or special occasion? This mansion is a popular spot for nuptials or anniversary celebrations.
For event rental, contact 843-805-3063 or visit www.legarewaringhouse.com.
Nearby, you might walk or bike along the marsh (see photo at right*).
Or, you might stroll through 80 acres of English park-style gardens.
In spring, you'll peruse thousands of azaleas and camelias. Some live oak trees are several hundred years old
Year-round the park is a superb eco-area for strolling.
Pay attention, however, as the park is home to many native critters.
We spotted an alligator sunning on a bank (see photo at left ).*
Walk Among Critters at the Animal Forest
When the colonists arrived in the early 17th century, they encountered many wild animals they had never seen before. Today, Charles Towne Landing’s Animal Forest showcases those native, North American animals that colonists first encountered.
What will you see? Exhibits include bison (shown at right*), black bear, river otters, white-tailed deer, puma, elk, otter, bobcat and many more critters.
Essentially, it’s a walking experience through natural habitats – a zoo at a historic site. Many of the animals live together in mixed species exhibits.
One interesting fact? The zoo resides in a 22-acre forest along a salt marsh. So, if you pay attention, you’re likely to see many of the forest’s wild counterparts – such as foxes, raccoons and birds along the forest trails or in the marsh.
Birds present in the area include the Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, Great Egret, Black-Crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Snowy Egret, Wild Turkey and Turkey Vulture.
In Search of Artifacts
Depending when you visit, you might observed archaeologists in action. In the pre-Colonial era, it was a Native American site.
Archaeological evidence suggests continual human occupation of the site for at least 6000 years. Excavations at the park have provided clues to the daily lives of Native Americans, European settlers and African slaves.
What’s been found so far? Archaeologists have uncovered Native American shell middens, camp sites, villages, and a ceremonial center.
Colonial period evidence revealed an early palisade, household artifacts and a possible domestic structure. Also found were Revolutionary War earthen fortifications.
While in the park, you’ll likely encounter interpretive rangers or volunteers in 17th century attire (see photo at left*) who tend their crops or demonstrate other colonial crafts or skills.
For instance, you might watch a cooking demonstration or a musket cleaning focus. At left, a child learns how the settlers created a cookfire.*
The Charles Towne Landing Experimental Crop Garden tries to follow the same 1670 instructions given to Captain Joseph West, the leader of the Carolina expedition.
Also on site is an African American cemetery, dating from the late 19th to the mid-20th century.
If You Go
Given the plethora of activities, the $5 adult admission is a real bargain. Kids 6-15 and seniors pay only $3. Kids 5 and under are admitted free.
The scenic beauty of the Charles Towne Landing State Historic Park is shown above and below right*
For More Information
The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.
Charles Towne Landing
1500 Old Towne Road
Charleston, SC 29407