Citing potential development nearby, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named a collection of old colonial-era sites outside Charleston to its annual list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”
The Ashley River Historic District spans the early 18th century plantation homes of Middleton Place and Drayton Hall down to the timber industry holdings from the 20th century. The terrain includes swamps marshes and historic sites along the Ashley River outside of North Charleston and Summerville.
The trust’s associate general counsel Will Cook said the district made the list due to a plan by North Charleston to annex roughly 2,200 acres of the district in an area known as Runnymeade Plantation. That would allow the city to then zone another 6,000 acres across from the district, since state law requires all areas inside city limits be contiguous, or touching.
“We anticipate that will lead to zoning changes that will usher in intensive development,” he said.
Cook is worried future development could destroy the ambiance around the popular plantations and tree-lined roadways along the Ashley River corridor.
“The ability of this place to tell its over 300-year-old history depends a lot on the historic viewshed and landscape, context and atmosphere,”” he said. “This is what people have worked so hard through the decades to help protect.”
The city of Charleston has sued to prevent North Charleston from annexing the land, agreeing with the National Trust that any development could negatively impact the area.
Places do not automatically receive protections for being on the National Historic Register and the property’s owner in unincorporated areas is largely free to modify any structures or landscapes. However, there are often federal tax incentives to keep the property in a preserved state.
The Ashley River District also made the Most Endangered list in 1995, but the threatened development across the river ultimately did not occur.