I’ve been able to take off on a few excursions over the last couple of months, but Laura really hasn’t had a chance to get away. With her mom in Florida, and since we had at least one day in common for this spring break, we decided to escape down to the Charleston area. However, we weren’t interested in the city itself, but the outlying areas to do a bit of bird watching. Our goal for the first day was the ACE Basin, and Beidler Forest for the second day.
Driving no the interstate was pure madness. It seems that everyone was out for a weekend away. We decided to get off of the interstate and explore some of the side roads. Laura’s comment was that “South Carolina is much prettier once you get off the interstate.”
We drove into Orangeburg, then headed south. On Highway 61 we saw a sign for the community of Sixty-Six. I’d never heard of it before, so we decided to check it out. It was an old railroad community that didn’t turn out to be much. I may have to do some further research. We did drive through Branchville, which has “the oldest railroad junction in the world.” Laura wasn’t sure about that claim, though, so I filled her in on the history of “The Best Friend” of Charleston, one of the first railroads in the US.
We cruised through several communities, including some of the places I’ve been for trips on the Edisto – Reevesville, Cannadys, Mars Field, Givhens Ferry, and so on. One of the things I love about these communities are the elaborate church names. We passed several “House of Miracles”, but my favorite is the “Whosoever Will Prayer Band Holiness Church” near Cannadys.
We continued along the Edisto toward Summerville, and soon found ourselves crossing the Ashley River. Our first target for the morning was the Old Dorchester state historic site. It’s the site of an abandoned town, so it’s perfect for inclusion in my ghost town list.
Old Dorchester was settled by Congregationalists in the late 1600’s, and was an active township for nearly 100 years, until the time Revolutionary War. It also served as an important munitions cache, and a fort was built to protect that cache.
When Laura and I arrived we had the place all to ourselves. The skies were overcast, it was chilly and windy and threatening rain, but didn’t seem too bad. We started our explorations by wandering down to the river.
We found an old bridge location across the Ashley, then looked back up toward the old fort.
The fort was made of tabby, and was designed so that the gun emplacements could cover all of the walls with a minimum of cannon. The remains of the old munitions building can still be seen in the center of the enclosure.
Apart from the fort, the other significant structure on grounds is the ruins of St. George Church. Now only the bell tower remains, as well as the the historic cemetery. Several house locations were also marked off, as well as other locations around the town.
From Old Dorchester we crossed the Ashley River again, this time heading for the ACE Basin. The skies were clearing, but it was still a bit overcast and chilly. We were headed for the Donnelly Wildlife Management Area.
I had been to Donnelly just three weeks ago with the guys from Lowcountry Unfiltered. On that trip we entered the abandoned Boynton House, thereby invoking a curse on our trip. This time we decided to avoid the Boynton trail and rice fields all together, and just pause at the ponds to do some bird watching. And there were plenty of birds to be seen – herons, storks, gallinules, coots, pelicans, egrets, kingfishers, and other interesting things.
We road over to the alligator pond. Instead of lining the banks and sunning themselves on the islands, this time most of the alligators were floating in the water. We counted a couple of dozen.
We stopped at several overlooks, then headed out of Donnelly toward the Bear Island WMA. This is another location in the ACE Basin that has an extensive pond system with lots of birds.
In all we spent several hours at the two wildlife management centers. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were quite fierce. At one point when I got out at Bear Island I thought I was going to be eaten alive. We drove out to Bennett’s Point on the Edisto River, where they have some interesting housing – single-wide trailers raised on stilts. From there we decided to have dinner on Edisto Island, then drive back inland for our next day at Beidler Forest.