Summerville Preservation Society looks at grand hotels
Opulence, luxury, leisure were hallmarks of Summerville’s grand hotel age.
The period did not last that long, but for a few years in the first part of the twentieth century, Summerville was one of the most popular destinations in the country for the upper class.
This golden age and memories of some of the grand hotels and inns that underpinned it were the subject of discussion for November’s meeting of the Summerville Preservation Society. The meeting also featured the unveiling of a painting of the Pine Forest Inn by local artist Mary Ann Bridgman. The painting is the seventh in the series of historical reproductions that capture the history of Summerville on canvas.
“This is the first print to be published by the Society in 15 years and is definitely special,” Society President Heyward Hutson said Monday.
The idea of Summerville as a grand destination is not new. In fact, an article written in an area newspaper in 1884 noted that, “with a good hotel, Summerville could become a dangerous rival to the island.”
The writer was referring to a hotel on Sullivan’s Island that was a leading destination for the rich and famous of those times, guest speaker Chris Ohm, Curator of the Dorchester County Museum, told the attendees. A few years later, that rivalry got a major kick-start when it was announced during the Paris Conference of 1890 that Summerville, South Carolina and Thomasville, Ga., were two of the very healthiest places in the world to go, Ohm said. It wasn’t long before wealthy travelers seeking to relax, indulge, and most importantly, enjoy the lifestyles to which they were accustomed -- without the incovenient risk of communicable diseases such as typhoid fever -- soon took note, and Summerville’s heyday as a grand hotel, high-end destination began.
“This is the era of big hotels, of unprecedented growth for Summerville, and that momentum was not lost until the Depression,” Ohm said.
At its height, Summerville boasted several grand hotels, including the Pine Forest Inn, The Halcyon Inn, the Carolina Inn, and The Wysteria Inn. While they are all gone now, there are people who remember them, indeed some still live on those properties, and were able to share memories about those places and times.
Panelist Dottie Barnett remembered a number of people who used to visit the Carolina, Squirrel, and Wisteria Inns. She especially remembered a very proper and elderly gentleman, a Mr. Chase -- a founder of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York -- who enjoyed riding her horse, she said.
George Seago, who first moved to the Wisteria Inn property in the 1950s and bought it a decade or so later, said by the time he acquired the property it was no longer an inn, although they rented apartments and cottages. He said he especially remembered a number of high ranking military officers staying there, at various times, over the years.
Michaelle Rogers, who owns the Candlelite Inn property, noted that, while the property has a rich and storied history, it was never actually an inn, although it was apparently a very swank restaurant/dance club.
“It was built on grounds that were supposed to be an inn, but it was never an inn,” she said.
Her father eventually bought the Candlelite Inn property and decided to turn it into four apartments. She said she remembered seeing a very large and ornate chandelier in what was the main ballroom as well as finding all manner of interesting objects and artifacts in what was apparently a refuse pit.
She said she also remembered coming to Summerville as a small child in the 1950s and staying at the Carolina Inn on West Carolina Avenue.
“It was so beautiful – I remember we got there in the peak of flower season,” she said.
Susan Dion remembered the Halcyon Inn as being an especially comforting place.
“Halcyon means ‘tranquil’ and that’s exactly how I felt whenever I was there,” she said.
“It strikes me that Summerville had this grand lifestyle, but it only lasted a very short while,” she said.
Hutson thanked the panelists and the attendees, noting that having first-person reflections and insights is especially illuminating. The meeting time ran short and he was unable to present further information on the Brown’s Hotel, but said he would do so in a future meeting.
He also noted that prints of Bridgman’s painting will sell for $25 and $20, depending on the size. Postcards will be $1 each and reminded the attendees that Bridgman will be having signings at the Central Art Gallery in Summerville on Nov. 29 and Dec. 17 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. She will also be available at the Preservation Society’s open house on Dec. 16 from 2 -4 p.m. at the Old Town Hall located at 201 W. Carolina Avenue.
For more information call Heyward Hutson at 871-4276 or Hal Rigby at 871-6977.