Music and applause resonated throughout downtown Summerville on Friday as a lively crowd gathered to celebrate and marvel over the million-dollar Hutchinson Square renovation.
Local and state elected officials joined community members for the first official look at the remodeled site and chant a final countdown—“three, two, one”—before giant gold scissors cut the ribbon on the popular public venue.
“This rival’s anybody’s park, anywhere,” said Mayor Wiley Johnson.
Senator Sean Bennett urged community members to admire and take in the beauty of their surroundings.
“If you turn around, look behind you, look beside you,” he said. “This is a special place.”
Bennett also emphasized what he believes is the more meaningful benefit behind small-town spaces.
“There are so many things going wrong in this country right now, and a lot of that can be attributed directly to the lack and the loss of community spirit and the connection between people,” Bennett said, “and I’m just happy the town had the foresight to put something together to improve what we already had to make sure that this place would not fall into the same trap so many other areas across this country have.”
State Rep. Chris Murphy, who commended former Mayor Bill Collins’ early vision for the square, expounded upon Bennett’s heartfelt thoughts about the power of close-knit communities and their contagious hometown pride—particularly mentioning how Summerville is the envy of the rest of the state.
“Your town square is your heart,” Murphy told the crowd. “Summerville is the No. 1 small town in the state of South Carolina.”
From the start, town leaders and staff envisioned a more welcoming area with an enhanced landscape and open space, drawing locals and visitors alike to designate the park a central community hangout and event site.
“This space is everything that a public space (should) be,” Czarnik said. “Think back to a year—you could not push a stroller or a wheelchair through this park. Even an able-bodied person had to watch their feet to make sure they weren’t stumbling over roots.”
The project has been years in the making, costing the town $2,374,103, according to town spokesperson Mary Edwards. The town also sought public feedback on the conceptual designs. In November 2014, Town Council members agreed on issuing a $56,500 purchase order, funded from a 2014 Community Development Block Grant, to Stantec Consulting Services to create a master plan development for Hutchinson Square. The governing body officially approved the renovation plan in August 2015.
The initiative’s first phase was completed in 2016 and the more recent phase—nine months of construction that was often delayed by weather—finished up last month with the project’s crowning moment: installation of the park sign.
“This project has been a long one, but I feel the results have been worth the wait,” said Doyle Best, director of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department. “And here we are nearly exactly five years later cutting the (ribbon) on this newly-renovated and revitalized park.”
The cast aluminum fixture is a replica of Summerville’s original sign that once greeted visitors and locals alike traveling on 19th century Main Street. Other historical aspects of the revitalization project include a central fountain and pavilion designed to mirror the town’s old train depot.
Additionally, the square’s name honors late Summerville Mayor Edward L. Hutchinson, whose oldest-living descendant, retired U.S. Army Col. Edward Hutchinson Miler, was in attendance at the event. The Summerville native is a Vietnam War veteran and Citadel graduate.
“This park honors our past and yet is completely modern,” Czarnik said.
Other unique aspects of the space include the large holly tree—the centerpiece of the space and towering staple for the annual Christmas lighting celebration. Surrounding the tree are eight handmade cast iron benches. Comprising the ground under the seating area is a combination of blue stone, granite curving and brick pavers—also historic in nature. Town officials said during the renovation work, Wildwood Contractors unearthed the bricks, once part of an old area roadway.
“It is my sincere hope that from here forward this space will be a blessing to (merchants) and to our entire community,” Czarnik said.
And people and pets are already enjoying the improved ambiance of the outdoor retreat.
“It’s much better,” said Gloria Burkheimer. “It’s a little gem of the town.”
Summerville residents Sue and Kelvin Kinnear agreed.
“We think it’s fabulous, and we expect to use this area a lot,” Sue Kinnear said.
The ceremony also featured various food vendors and live music from Customs Four and Friends—the first band to serenade the town from the pavilion stage.