The Lowdown on South Carolina Low Country

Learn about South Carolina's scenic Low Country.


By: Stephanie Hunt

Carved by rivers and waterways that make a slow crawl toward the Atlantic, the Low Country's distinct character is a convergence of geography, people and history. Founded in 1670 and named in honor of King Charles II who granted eight Lord's Proprietors charter to Carolina, Charles Towne began as a tiny settlement on the banks of the Ashley River. The settlers eventually moved to Oyster Point on a peninsula across the Ashley, where the city of Charlestowne was established in 1680.

Surrounded by a tabby wall and centered around a port, Charlestowne became the center for trade for the southeastern colonies and by 1770 ranked with New York, Philadelphia and Boston as a hub of maritime commerce, making this vibrant port city one of the most wealthy and cultured in North America. The Low Country's merchants, planters and statesmen built some of the finest homes, churches and civic buildings in the new world, and their appreciation for art, refinement, education and religious tolerance continues to shape the region's cultural heritage.

While Charleston is the heart of the Low Country, the region extends south toward Savannah and north toward Myrtle Beach, encompassing the marshes and Sea Islands along this low-lying stretch of coastal South Carolina. The Low Country's distinct flavor and character comes from the mix of people and cultures that shaped the region, including the native Edisto, Sewee and Kiawah Indians, planters from Barbados, early French Huguenot settlers and of course West African and Caribbean slaves brought to work the rice, indigo and later, cotton, plantations that were the Carolinas' economic engine. Today the influences of Gullah culture, including remnants of a creole-based language and culinary and craft traditions such as sweetbasket weaving, are a vital part of Low Country heritage.

Maybe it's the haunting beauty of magnificent oaks cloaked in Spanish moss, or endless marshes graced by elegant herons and ibis, but the Low Country landscape has long inspired residents, visitors and artists. Former rice plantations became hunting and nature preserves of rich Northern industrialists such as the Guggenheims and Du Ponts. Later, paper companies bought immense parcels as timberlands. Today an active conservation community works to preserve the Low Country landscape and natural habitats, and outdoor recreational opportunities abound.

From the ravages of the Civil War to earthquakes to hurricanes, Charleston and the Low Country has seen its share of destruction and hard times, but a certain resilience prevails. The military presence here has always been strong, from the revolutionary era to the Civil War through World War 2, when the Charleston Navy Yard and Naval Base were bustling. The former Navy Base is now a center of innovative technology, home of the Clemson University Wind Turbine lab, and the USS Yorktown, anchored in Charleston Harbor, and the nation's Medal of Honor Museum pay homage to this rich military heritage. In addition, Charleston's bustling shipping industry is expanding with a new port terminal on part of the old navy base.

In addition to the port, tourism is one of the region's leading industries, as visitors are lured by Low Country beaches, world-class golf courses, the beautiful architecture and rich history, as well as a plethora of award-winning restaurants and hotels. The renowned Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto festivals draw arts enthusiasts from around the world. Students and faculty are also an important segment of the Low Country community, home of the College of Charleston, the country's oldest private municipal college (now a state school), The Citadel, Charleston Southern University, the Medical University of South Carolina, Trident Technical School with its noted culinary degree program and Charleston School of Law. This mix of a thriving business community, arts and educational opportunity, rich history and incredible natural resources makes the Low Country a diverse and attractive community for residents and visitors alike.

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