Tea Time in Summerville

  • Thursday, May 9, 2013

         Our town has recently – and officially – been branded as the “Birthplace of Sweet Tea” by the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce.  The chamber has also trademarked “Birthplace of Southern Hospitality” and “Birthplace of Sweet Tea and Southern Hospitality,” at the urging of Nancy Jean Nettles, chamber board president and Rita Berry, chamber president and CEO. They did that, because as Nancy Jean told Tina, “we absolutely do not want to leave any combination open for someone else to grab!” Attorney Mark Wise volunteered his time to steer the approximately 18-month process to completion.
This tourism initiative, blended with the newly minted Sweet Tea Trail, harks back more than a century to when the production of this enticing drink first attracted visitors to our tiny village. It was tea which helped spark our first tourism surge. Today we’ll see how the birthplace is steeped in tradition; next week we’ll unravel the trail from inception to route.  For the graphic result of this dual project, check out the logo on this page.
So what sparked this renewal of tea history – and promotion? “It was Azalea Magazine,” said Tina Zimmerman the chamber’s tourism coordinator. “Even before I started working here (three years ago in September) I read that publication’s history of tea and this was the first time I saw Summerville called its birthplace.” Tina thought: “how cool,” and remembered her reaction when she came to work at the chamber. At the time the tagline was “Small Town Big Charm,” but Tina said they had used that for awhile and were seeking new marketing. While brainstorming, staff concluded that the sweet tea birthplace was a novel and intriguing approach.
         “Initially, a lot of people thought that was ridiculous,” recalls Tina, and invalid. History proved naysayers wrong on both counts After a good deal of planning and research, a logo was developed. This wash helped by resident Christine Morris, winner of advertising and marketing awards in New York, who volunteered her design skills. The “Birthplace” logo is now proclaimed in a variety of locations, including billboards. Many business and organization leaders are adapting the logo to help promote their establishments as they help promote their town – a prime example of a successful community give and take.
         Tina tackled the history by producing a distribution card outlining confirmed Sweet Tea Facts. Research shows the tea plant landed in Summerville in the late 1700s via the Ashley River to what is known today as Middleton Place Planation. In 1888 Dr. Charles Shepard, a scientific philanthropist, established the Pinehurst Tea Plantation (now a residential area called the Tea Farm) in Summerville and for 27 years cultivated prize winning tea. The Tea Plantation drew multitudes of visitors including Presidents, William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. After Shepard’s death the plantation was closed. A half century later many surviving plants were moved to Wadmalaw Island and through a series of owners became the Charleston Tea Plantation producing American Classic Tea. This mirrors Dr. Shepard’s accomplishment of 125 years ago, now using some plants from Summerville to become the only U.S. company to produce black tea.
         The Sweet Tea Trail is being blended into the process to guide people to and through Summerville attractions. Next week we’ll see how an amalgam of brewers is making that happen.

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