Ashley River – Charleston, South Carolina
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The Ashley River winds through South Carolina’s Lowcountry and eventually joins the Cooper River to form the Charleston Harbor. The blackwater river, or freshwater river stained with tannins, begins in Berkeley County, flows to Summerville alongside Colonial Dorchester, and continues around 17 miles to the harbor before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Ashley River was the first designated South Carolina Scenic River in the Lowcountry. It was named for Anthony Ashley Cooper, who was Earl of Shaftesbury in the 1600s and one of South Carolina‘s eight Lords Proprietors. He was also an important philosopher of his time, who along with John Locke wrote the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina in 1669. At the time the document was “the unalterable form and rule of Government forever” in Carolina. “Carolina” originally also included the land between present-day Virginia and Florida.
The tidal river was ideal for growing rice, which depended on the regular submersion of crops. Subsequently, English planters established rice plantations along the Ashley River from Summerville to Charleston, and several remain as museums. Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation, and Drayton Hall are all open to the public and afford unadulterated views of the Ashley River. Remnants of rice fields are also visible along this Lowcountry river.
Bacon’s Bridge and Marion’s Oak
Below is an historical photo of the old Bacon’s Bridge – for which a major road in Summerville is now named – crossing the Ashley River in Dorchester County. The photo is labeled “(Steven’s or) Bacon’s Bridge” because the bridge, which was public, was originally called Steven’s. It dated to at least 1722 and was maintained by fees from white males in the parish. Looking at the photo, the road leads into Summerville.
The photo was likely taken by Dr. F.F. Sams; it was contributed by his grandson and namesake, Franklin Sams. The note above and below the photo reads:
Of the dam and pumphouse, contributor Elliott Mellichamp, Jr. of # explains, “The dam had two purposes. The dam converted the Ashley River (above the dam) into a reservoir. Fresh water flowed from the Edisto River at Givhans through the tunnel into the Ashley. The dam also separated the fresh water from brackish water. Tides rose and fell that far up the Ashley and, in dry seasons, the water could become brackish. The brick building was the pump house that sent the water on to Summerville and Goose Creek.”
On a lighter note, Mr. Mellichamp adds, “Up river from the dam was a small bluff and a rope tied to a tree overhanging the river. Great thrill swinging off the bluff into the river. Even greater thrill was when water was fairly high we rode over the dam.”
On the photo itself, an oak tree is described as “Another Marion Oak under which the guard at the bridge would camp.”
This interesting note references the Marion Oak, a famed live oak tree located at Ingleside Plantation (also called Hayes Plantation) that is said to have served as the location of a supper hosted by General Francis Marion for his rival, England’s General Charles Cornwallis. It is further said that the General Marion and his troops camped under the tree while guarding the crossing here at Bacon’s Bridge.
The tree is no longer extant but survived until at least 1908 or 1909. Although the tree shown here matches the general description of the Marion Oak, we are assuming, based on the note by Dr. Sams, that a second, more famous one was located nearby. Contemporary descriptions place the oak within or near a double row of cypress trees located on a slope between the Ingleside home and the Ashley River.
Below is the story of the Marion Oak as recorded in Good Housekeeping in 1906.
If you can elaborate on either Bacon’s Bridge or the Marion Oak, we’d love your help. Please add your information here. Thank you!
Reflections on the Ashley River
Contributor Cynthia Jarrell says of her photo: “I just happened to be driving along Lockwood Drive in downtown Charleston and saw this explosion of color. I pulled over and set up as quickly as I could on the sidewalk that follows along the river’s edge. As I continued to shoot I noticed the tour ship the Schooner Pride entering the scene, and I just couldn’t resist capturing its sails filled with the colors of sunset.”
Ashley River Add Info and More Photos
The purpose of the South Carolina Picture Project is to celebrate the beauty of the Palmetto State and create a permanent digital repository for our cultural landmarks and natural landscapes. We invite you to add additional pictures (paintings, photos, etc) of Ashley River, and we also invite you to add info, history, stories, and travel tips. Together, we hope to build one of the best and most loved SC resources in the world!