Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site Attraction


Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site Attraction
300 State Park Road
Summerville, SC 29485

The town of Dorchester — the third settlement in South Carolina – is an historic site is situated on a neck of land between the Ashley River and Dorchester Creek, originally known as Boshoe Creek. It was colonized by a group of Puritans who resettled from Dorchester, Massachusetts, to a site on the upper Ashley River in 1696.Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower to Massachusetts colony in 1620 named their town “Dorchester” after  Dorchester, England. When a group of them sailed to Carolina as missionaries in 1696, they called their new settlement, eighteen miles upriver from Charles Town, “Dorchester” as well.  They first built a church in the center of what would become Dorchester. St. George’s Anglican Church was completed in 1719 and the Bell Tower, which stands today, was added in 1751. When British troops occupied Dorchester later in the war they used the large church and burned it before they were chased out of the village in December 1781. Dorchester was laid out in an orderly fashion with 116 quarter-acre lots between parallel and perpendicular streets. The main thoroughfare was called “High Street” as was traditionally done in small British towns. They left an open area in the town, or common, for a market place. The site’s advantageous location helped the town thrive. Nearby roads led to Charleston and the Ashley River provided a convenient highway for the shipment of goods and produce. Trade with Native Americans, the development of rice and indigo as cash crops and a growing population, helped secure Dorchester’s economic peak in the mid-1700s. A bi-weekly market was established in 1723 and a Free School dedicated in 1734. By 1781, Dorchester additionally boasted about 40 houses, a library and a fort overlooking a strategic bend in the river. Fifty-acre farm lots lined the riverbank, and there was a wharf, boat-building facilities and a bridge across the Ashley. By 1748, the town’s population was 3815. Dorchester’s location made it a strategic military site. Fear of a possible French invasion prompted the construction of a powder magazine and fort from 1757 to 1760. Originally designed to be constructed using brick, the fort and powder magazine were eventually made of tabby, a concrete material made of lime, sand and oyster shells. The wall is 8 feet at its highest and is 2 feet to 2’10” at the bottom. It encloses a rectangular area of more than 10,000 square feet. During the Revolutionary War the fort was a rendezvous point for local militia units. The fort fell to the British when Charles Town fell in 1780. The British held the fort until 1781, then left, burning the town and driving away most of its remaining residents. After the war, the fort housed a tile yard, with the magazine converted into a kiln for firing clay roofing tiles. But like the rest of town, the fort was soon abandoned. By the early 1800’s little remained of the formerly bustling town but ruins of homes, their bricks scavenged for reuse in nearby Summerville. The Great Charleston Earthquake of 1886, whose epicenter was less than a mile from Dorchester, destroyed even the ruins except for the old church tower, its graveyard and the walls of the fort. The site was covered by brush and trees until the “Colonial Dames of America” cleared the brush in the 1920s. In 1969, the site was donated to the South Carolina State Park Service and was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today the property is the site of a 325-acre park where you can stand below the towering remains of the brick bell tower of St. George’s Anglican Church, catch a glimpse of a log wharf during low tide, or view one of the most well-preserved oyster-shell tabby forts in the country.  Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site Attraction offers you a glimpse into South Carolina’s Colonial past with burial sites and cemeteries, as well as on-going archaeological digs that are still unearthing the settlement’s history. An interpretive trail with kiosks and exhibits to explain the history of the village that once prospered here.

As featured in South Carolina Back Road Restaurant Recipes