By G. Harris Jordan

By now most people in and around Charleston, South Carolina and elsewhere have at least heard about the proposed development of the 9,000-acre Cainhoy Plantation area north of the city.

The setting and history are impressive in their depth and richness of artifacts and cultural contribution. Since the death of the man who established one of the largest land holdings around Charleston, the Cainhoy peninsula is one of the few remaining large, unmolested parcels of land around Charleston.

Growth of cities, their populations and their businesses is inevitable. The question is how to provide accommodation for people, businesses and necessary infrastructure in a manner that preserves as much of an area’s nature and history as is possible. That often gets lost in the frenzy inherent in major real estate developments. The proposed development of Cainhoy Plantation is a case in point.

What have we here?

We know that Native Americans - the Wando tribe - originally inhabited the Cainhoy peninsula. They gradually died off from disease, exploitation and war by the 1700s. By that time European and African settlers occupied the same land.

Charleston native, author, journalist and public relations expert Herb Frazier researched the area thoroughly and wrote a compelling book - Behind God’s Back: Gullah Memories of Cainhoy, Huger, Wando, St. Thomas Island and Daniel Island. Frazier explains: “The story of these early settlements mirrors the founding of coastal South Carolina. Relatively few European settlers owned and managed the indigo, rice and cotton plantations while thousands of enslaved Africans actually worked the land, tended the crops, cut the trees for lumber and fuel, dug the clay for bricks and pottery and worked as house servants.”

These settlements grew to feed the ever-increasing demands of a growing Charleston populace and commerce. The work of the Cainhoy plantations and businesses made that happen. Concurrently, the local black communities grew. And so, it was here, on a relatively isolated peninsula that the African-based culture called Gullah flourished. This is a piece of unique American history and heritage. Frazier notes: “Rivers, creeks and marshes have separated coastal Gullah communities from the mainland, creating isolated pockets where people retained their African ways. Development along the coast, a changing economy and population shifts eventually led many Gullah people to join mainstream America. Changes threaten the continuation of the Gullah way of life.”

“Cainhoy peninsula is inhabited primarily by African Americans, many of them descendants of the enslaved people,” Frazier writes. He goes on to explain that today’s residents live in some 22 close-knit rural communities throughout the area.

Even the name Cainhoy - or Cain Hoy, as some spell it - is unique. Many legends surround the origin and usage. The original Cainhoy was a small community established no later than 1735. Also known today as the “old village,” it is situated at the end of Cainhoy Village Road on a bluff overlooking the Wando River.

The Guggenheim legacy

During the Great Depression, many of America’s wealthiest families took advantage of undervalued or distressed-sale land, buying up large tracts of choice properties. In the 1920s and 30s some members of the Guggenheim family had purchased property in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Solomon Guggenheim, founder of the New York City art museum baring his name, purchased a 12,000-acre plantation near Walterboro in the 1920s. It was used as a hunting preserve and then as a well respected horse-breeding stable. Solomon also bought the Roper House on Charleston’s High Battery. Another Guggenheim, Robert, purchased another plantation on the Ashepoo River in the same time period. Harry Frank Guggenheim (HFG), nephew of Solomon who had some involvement with his plantation, increased family investment in the Lowcountry by assembling a large plantation through multiple purchases throughout several years in the 1930s.

Harry Guggenheim was looking for land to buy for hunting preserves in the area north of Charleston. The collapse of the timber industry made large tracts attractive prospects. Research by Michael K. Dahlman and his son in their excellent book “Daniel Island,” also authored by Bob Brannaman, Jr., explain that one of Harry’s attorneys, Paul Berringer, had a brother, serving as a forester for Sumter Hardwood Company in Sumter, S.C. They, along with the Sumter Hardwood’s operations manager, had access to information on tracts of land available for purchase. Working for Harry for several years, they helped him purchase upwards of 10,000 acres on the Cainhoy peninsula. Harry named the land holding Cain Hoy Plantation. Interviewed by the Charleston News and Courier in 1955, Harry made plain his understanding of the term’s origin. Hearing of the legends he would tell people he found the name on an antique map “Broad path to Cane Hay” - easily corrupted into Cainhoy.” He saw it as reference to the cane chair production site on the peninsula. He is said to have consistently used the two-word spelling of the name.

The lands had originally been granted to some of the earliest landowners in Charleston, including Beresford and Smith, and included the former Hartford Plantation site, which was a working plantation in the late 1790’s, just south of Flagg’s Creek on the Cooper River.

Harry Guggenheim built a state-of-the-art manor house, out buildings, water filtration and electric generation facilities. He made Cain Hoy Plantation a successful timber business operation. And, as one would imagine, he was involved in the community. Plantation property surrounds the grounds and building of the Anglican church of St. Thomas and St. Dennis (often known as St. Thomas Church). The current building dates to 1819 when it was built to replace the original church destroyed by fire. It sits just off Cainhoy Road, across from an edge of the Francis Marion National Forest. Shortly after his manor house was built, Harry funded the restoration of the church building and rebuilding of the ruined vestry house.

Herb Frazier also notes that Guggenheim hired nurse Eugenia Broughton to care for the people of the Cainhoy peninsula, as well as the workers who tended to his cattle farm on Daniel Island. She also advocated for, and eventually established with the help of the Reformed Episcopal Church, a clinic at the intersection of Clements Ferry Road and Cainhoy Road.

In 1946 and in 1955, Harry purchased land on Daniel Island, increasing the plantation’s size to some 15,000 acres. He changed much of the island area into pastures and cattle management pens, developing a complete, modern and efficient operation.

Guggenheim’s passion for the plantation was hunting. Abundant flocks of turkey and coveys of quail made outings exciting and rewarding. He delighted in bringing groups of people to the plantation to hunt. There were typically two major hunting parties each year. One in December and another in February, as well as family visits during the Christmas season. After WWII ended, Harry invited many senior military and political personages to hunt, calling the groupings his “generals” parties. Among the frequent guests were Gen. Jimmy Doolittle - famous for the first U.S. bombing raid on Tokyo in 1942, and Charles Lindbergh. Like Harry, they were all aviators and lifelong friends.

Since Harry spent his winters on the plantation and frequented downtown Charleston, he became known as a winter resident of the Lowcountry. He was quoted as saying that of all the things he’s ever owned or been a part of, there was nothing that brought him more pleasure than Cain Hoy Plantation.

In 1971 Harry Frank Guggenheim died and ownership of the Cain Hoy plantation moved to The Harry Frank Guggenheim Trust. The Dahlmans’ book reports that the nature of economic activity change affected the area. Much of the cattle were sold off and truck farming returned. The Cainhoy peninsula remained primarily an agricultural area with scattered small businesses providing essential support for blacksmithing and the like. But times were changing.

The growth of Charleston as a major East Coast port spurred infrastructure construction, especially roadways. A semi-circular highway around Charleston and connecting to Interstate 26 was essential for truck traffic supporting the port terminals. By 1992, I-526 had crossed the Cooper and Wando rivers. The potential value of development to meet projected population and commercial growth spurred numerous efforts to exploit the lands of the Cainhoy peninsula.

Before the highway’s completion, developers and Charleston County and city politicians and planners were hard at work securing land to feed their dreams. The Dahlmans write that The Guggenheim Foundation “refused to sell the land to developers for several years but eventually decided to allow the city of Charleston to annex Daniel Island.” Foundation representatives expressed concern for preserving the nature and beauty of the island. Protracted negotiations ensued before the city of Charleston reportedly promised to provide sewer and water service, construct public buildings and parks. With agreement reached, the city annexed the island in 1991. The Daniel Island Company purchased the island from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation in 1997. Real estate professionals relate that building the first residential properties began in 1996. The development is said to be halfway through its 30-year plan.

What comes with development?

As many Charleston residents are aware, there is now an effort to annex the rest of Charleston-area Guggenheim holdings - now known as Cainhoy Plantation - and develop it. The plans are comprehensive, large scale and imposing. They seek to build nearly 20,000 homes on all of the highland acreage as well as allow commercial building areas all the way up to the boundary of the Francis Marion National Forest. When one looks at the drawings for the plans, it is clear that this area will become a densely populated urban center – if elected officials and citizens do as Matt Sloan is requesting. Sloan is president of the Daniel Island Company and representative for the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

Actions by the city of Charleston have been scheduled and postponed several times but pundits in the know agree that the mayor, city council and planning commission seek an expeditious conclusion of necessary approval. If anything close to the plan as originally presented is approved, they will considerably alter the landscape and bury or destroy much of the peninsula’s heritage and past. Is that the path citizens of the Lowcountry desire? Citizens have an opportunity to speak up loudly now.

In Part II, we shall treat the plans and the politics in some detail.

G. Harris Jordan is a former lobbyist for associations and consultant for federal government affairs; he is an active small business consultant. He lives with his wife on John’s Island, S.C.

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