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West Ashley Flashback — The History of Our Water (part 1 of 4)

Recalling the completion of the water main from the peninsula To St. Andrew’s Parish

On May 5, 1935, someone climbed the water tower that was built to service the Windermere neighborhood and snapped this picture.  Once water service was provided to St. Andrew’s Parish the water tower was no longer needed and was disassembled. (Photograph courtesy of Carolee Williams)On May 5, 1935, someone climbed the water tower that was built to service the Windermere neighborhood and snapped this picture. Once water service was provided to St. Andrew’s Parish the water tower was no longer needed and was disassembled. (Photograph courtesy of Carolee Williams)


January 25, 2018
By Donna Jacobs | Contributing Writer

Water is arguably an important influence on the course of history. Enter ‘water influence on history’ in the Google search engine and the top link is a journal devoted to this subject entitled “Water History”, of which volume 1 issue 1 is dated July 2009. Whether one is speaking of crossing oceans, bridging rivers, growing crops, preparing food, or sustaining hydration, water’s influence is not only a critical element but also a determining factor in the course of human activity. Specifically a sustainable source of potable water is an essential ingredient for successful settlement and future community development. On October 22, 1943 a “Celebration of Progress” was held in St. Andrew’s Parish, the area where neighborhoods were cropping up west of the Ashley River from Charleston. The years filled with community development, business establishment, new church spires reaching to the sky and classrooms for children living in the area were celebrated. But the major cause of celebration on that day was the recent completion of the water main from the peninsula to the Parish. How exactly did this celebration come to be?

In 1670 English adventurers sailed up the river into a small creek, set anchor and settled into the low country of the Carolinas. The river would become known as the Ashley River, the creek – Olde Towne Creek, and the settlement area – Albemarle Point. The issuance of land grants to these adventurous people encouraged exploration beyond Albemarle Point and in 1680 the settlers moved to Oyster Point on the peninsula bordered by the Ashley River and the Cooper River primarily because of water. A timeline published in “A History of Charleston’s Water, 1823-2010: The Development of a Public Water and Wastewater System” illustrates the course of potable water history for Charleston. Ultimately personal wells would became contaminated, cistern collection of rainwater would come into play, next four artesian wells were sunk to constitute a primary water supply for the city prior to the establishment of a public water system. The City realized the need for forward thinking with regard to water. Recruitment of industry and the associated workers would require a consistent supply of potable water.

Toward this end from 1897 to 1938, the City took on the following projects: the purchase of 1300 acres at Givhans Ferry along the Edisto River; damming of Goose Creek to create a reservoir; building the Hanahan Steam Pumping Station; formation of the Commissioners of Public Works; and completion of the 22 mile tunnel from the Edisto River to the Hanahan Plant thus making this the city’s major water source in 1938.  It was during this same time period that the land West of the Ashley River known as St. Andrew’s Parish was transitioning from an agrarian landscape to an early suburban society. This transition was the result of several factors over the course of a few decades: a new Bridge across the Ashley River opened in 1889 replacing the one that was burned during the Civil War; the Charleston Naval Yard opened on the banks of the Cooper River in 1902; the influx of ten thousand workers to the Yard during World War I began to strain the infrastructure of the greater Charleston area, New Deal contracts brought additional work to the Yard; and finally World War II intensified the need for workers and thus more housing. The subdivisions of Ashley Forest, Carolina Terrace, Edgewater Park, Pierpont, Pinecrest Gardens, School View, Stono Park, St. Andrew’s Heights, Windermere, Wappoo Heights, and The Crescent in St. Andrew’s Parish built during the period from 1924 until 1932 grew out of this need. And soon a source of potable water would become paramount if the growth in the Parish was to continue.

During the early 1940s, the War in the European Theater was a reason for nervousness.  The United States responded by rebuilding its military resources. The Charleston Naval Yard was bustling. Action was necessary to fill the housing demands of a capacity work force at the Yard. The leaders in the community of St. Andrew’s Parish were not unaware of this dilemma. Local legislative representatives and Parish leaders began discussions on the feasibility of building a water main connecting the city of Charleston’s supply with the new suburban community in St. Andrew’s Parish.

This is the first of a series of installments on how water was brought to St. Andrew’s Parish.

Do you have any water stories? Contact Donna Jacobs at westashleybook@gmail.com.

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