It was in August 1847 when village leaders Henry Arthur, William Boyle, George Heape and Edward Hutchinson petitioned the South Carolina legislator to create the town of Summerville. Here it was, the first part of December and no word had been heard yet. But on the last day, of the last session, of 1847, the state legislature did vote. On Friday, December 17 incorporation papers were ratified. Summerville became an official town in South Carolina. People had been in the area since 1680 but now it was a real town.

The first settler in Summerville was Captain James Stewart, a rice planter and local militia officer who loved to hunt. He was from his Beech Hill Plantation about four miles away. Captain Stewart decided to camp overnight. It was in the summer season and it had been a hot day. He found a ridge some 70 feet above sea level that was covered with large pine trees. He found it wonderful. He found the night was fragrant from the pine tree’s scent, relatively cool, and it was mosquito free. At that time people didn’t know that mosquitoes brought malaria. The piney ridge was sandy and water drained away quickly. Captain Stewart recognized a good thing. He built a rough summer house closely followed by militia colleagues and other plantation neighbors that he had talked to. M. E. Hutchinson wrote that after Stewart built his home, Colonel Walter, Colonel Richard Perry, John Miles, Captain Joseph Waring, Mrs. Vaughn, Elias Scott Sr, John Sam Peake, Charles Boyle, John Boyle, Josiah Perry, Mrs. Boone, Mr. Schultz and Dr. Cornelius DuPont, built their summer homes.

Summerville’s first intendent (or mayor), was Edward L. Hutchinson. The town square was named after him. The town seal was later designed by Charles Boyle. The motto “Sacra Pinus Esto” (let the Pine be Sacred), was adopted then, and officially acted on immediately after incorporation. What was the first thing voted on by the new town council? A tree ordinance! That’s right trees over a certain size could not be cut down. Streets had to accommodate themselves to the trees. That’s why when you see an old picture of Summerville; you’ll see a tree growing up in the middle of Main Street. Even today you’ll find streets in Summerville with a tree growing up in the middle. The ordinance gave the new town council control of this precious asset. No one today can cut down trees of a certain size even on personal property, without first petitioning Council and giving specific reasons why you want to cut the tree down. After inspecting the tree, permission is either granted or refused. Fines and even jail time can result from non-compliance. Summerville’s protective tree ordinance is thought to be one of the oldest in the country.

In 1831 the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company purchased a large tract of land here in Summerville. The railroad company purchased about 1500 acres of land, for 37.5 cents an acre. They paid $600 for the land, realizing about $3000 initially from timber, and they sold lots for upwards of $3, 600, plus reserved a large amount of wooded land for future uses. The first public sale was in the second week of August. The Railroad Company auctioned off 131 one-acre lots, for $3684. The railroad company made a good profit, and they got their pick of trees for construction of the railroad tracks. There was also a lot of land not sold. This is why Summerville felt it needed a law to protect its trees. That is also why Summerville was divided in half. When people came to maroon, as they called it, they brought their cows with them for milk for the children. The cows would graze and then come home at night. That’s why the streets in old Summerville are so winding. They are old cow paths. The new town layout, new Summerville, was created by railroad engineer, C. E. Detmold. Detmold had played an important part in the selection of the route of the Charleston Hamburg railroad. The Detmold plan for new Summerville still exists today. The streets form city blocks.

Mark D. Woodard
Summerville Tours
(843) 817-8618

Research sources:

  • Hill, Barbara Lynch. ¬†Summerville, SC 1847-1997 Our History. Wentworth Printing, West Columbia, SC (1998)
  • McIntosh, Beth. Beth’s Pineland Village. The R.L. Bryan Company, Columbia, SC (1988)
  • Kwist, Margaret and others. Porch Rocker Recollections of Summerville, South Carolina. Linwood Press, Inc. Summerville, SC (1980)