Colonial Dorchester State Park
Established in 1960 as a South Carolina state park, Colonial Dorchester Park is not only a historically rich site but also a quiet, beautiful place to enjoy the scenery of the Lowcountry. Located 30 to 45 minutes from downtown Charleston, this small park is great for a short yet scenic walk and a history of the area. Its tall trees and wide fields welcome you into the past.
After driving through the wonderfully preserved gates near the front entrance, you may park in a lot at the center of the property. From the parking lot, there is freedom to choose what to observe first; I went along a short trail to the edge of the Ashley River. This time of year the trees are tall and colorful and shower plenty of crunchy leaves that carpet the path to the river, which extends along the edge of the property and graces it with the quiet sound of rushing water. As a soft breeze guides you along the path, there are several places to stop and get an up-close look at the beautiful river and its ecosystem. Spanish moss hangs familiarly from the low branches of trees, providing a perfect frame for the sparkling green water.
The trail slowly dissolves into the greater area of the park, and you find yourself choosing where to venture next. There are two main historical attractions, the first being the remains of an old war fortress. The fort was used by American soldiers, including the beloved officer Francis Marion, during the Revolutionary War, and is constructed of a substance called tabby (formed from oyster shells). The surface of these walls is rough to the touch and allows you to imagine the life that occurred within them. The old fort looks almost like a large maze, as its tall gray walls surround a small area of grass. Also inside are the remnants of a brick building; the broken slabs of brick give evidence of how old this site is. It invites you to step into the past as you stand within its remarkably preserved barriers, which were first built around 300 years ago.
War fortress remains
After studying the fort for a while, I walked a brief distance across the field that was populated with trees to the next main attraction. The remains of the Bell Tower of St. George’s are located on a small hill near the front of the park. The church was completed in 1720, and the bell tower was added in 1751. Although Dorchester was founded in 1690 by Puritan Pilgrims, this Anglican church was deemed the official church of the colony. Only the bell tower remains on the property, but it is well preserved. Its tall redbrick walls reach three to four stories in height. Visitors are allowed to walk through the aged yet elegant arches to the center of the tower. As you look up, you can see the ceiling of the tower and the sunlight reflecting onto its inner walls through the four Palladian windows of the upper story. You can almost hear the bells of the church ringing as you are immersed in the graceful architecture.
The bell tower of St. George's
In addition to these two larger exhibits, there is a small cemetery located just left of the bell tower, as well as a brick outline of where a colonial home once stood just behind the tower. The cemetery holds only a few graves, yet this small landmark is a reminder of the lives of those in the colony of Dorchester. In addition, the brick outline of the house gives you further knowledge about home life in the colonies. It defines where the walls might have been in the first story of a colonial home, including rooms and doorways.
To finish my parade of the property, I ventured down a paved road just left of the admission box. There are a few private residences off this street, and the road dead-ends but allows walkers to continue along an unpaved path to yet another view of the Ashley River.
Overall, this park was a very gratifying experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the beautiful forest, meadow and river. I am in awe of how well the historical sites are preserved and humbled by the knowledge of my ancestors. It is a perfect place to escape the busyness of the city and return to a simpler time. This park is a hidden gem that combines the glorious natural environment and the astounding history of our country into one peaceful and intriguing experience.
If you’d like to visit, the park is located at 300 State Park Road, Summerville, SC 29485. Hours are daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during daylight saving time and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the rest of the year. Admission is $3 for adults (over 16), $1 for children (ages 5–15) and $1.50 for senior citizens; children under 5 are free and pets are allowed.
Images courtesy of the author