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Welcome to Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties

JB Charleston Welcome to Charleston Berkeley and Dorchester Counties

Welcome to South Carolina’s Lowcountry, a flat, dreamlike land of water and salt marshes, a history of pirates and plantations, a future where tourism, transportation and information technology are increasingly important, and a strategic spot where the military has been in some way part of almost every story.

The Atlantic Ocean and its beaches form the eastern border of the Lowcountry and its sea islands, among them Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s, Folly, Morris, James, Kiawah, Seabrook and Edisto as well as Fort Sumter National Monument on its man-made mound guarding the entrance to Charleston Harbor. The Lowcountry’s western reach ends at the “Fall Line,” where upland rivers start their tumble from the higher Piedmont or Midland parts of the state to the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the southeast.

In 2015, Charleston County had a population of nearly 390,000; it is home to the city of Charleston, the county seat; North Charleston; the suburban community of Mount Pleasant; and Joint Base Charleston, the congressionally mandated 2010 merger of Charleston Air Force Base and the Naval Weapons Station. Berkeley County to the northeast had nearly 203,000 residents; its county seat is Moncks Corner. To the northwest, Dorchester County had just under 152,500 people; its largest city is Summerville with nearly 49,000 residents.

This was one of the first settled regions in the South, so all the counties are rich with historical and cultural attractions. In addition to beaches, open skies, serene natural settings, famed cuisine and the scent of the sea, there are archeological and Civil War sites, museums and parks. Outdoor activities abound, among them birding, fishing, swimming, boating, golfing, tennis, hiking and team sports.

Then there’s shopping, dining and nightlife opportunities to explore. Annual events and festivals celebrate everything from the area’s colorful history to music in the world-renowned Spoleto Festival that fills what seems like every possible venue with opera, theater, dance and chamber, symphonic, choral and jazz music. All showcase the region’s vibrancy.

History

JB Charleston Welcome History

The counties’ history begins back in 1663 when England’s King Charles II granted a charter for Carolina lands to eight friends, the Lords Proprietors, who had helped restore him to the throne. They divided their lands into four “proprietary counties”; it was seven years, though, before their first settlement, Charles Town, was established on the west bank of the Ashley River and proclaimed the capital. That location proved difficult to defend from the Spanish, the French, pirates and Native Americans, and 10 years later Charles Town moved to the strategic peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers — or as locals put it, “where the Cooper and Ashley rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.”

By 1768, South Carolina had been divided into judicial districts similar to today’s counties; in 1783, with repudiation of all things kingly after the American Revolution, “Charles Town” became “Charleston.”

Charleston County was created in 1800; Berkeley County was carved out of Charleston County in 1878 and Dorchester County in 1897, leaving Charleston County its present boundaries.

Charleston, population 132,609, is the oldest city in South Carolina and has cycled through riches and ruination in its long, eventful history. Two major wars have rolled over it, the American Revolution and the Civil War, and invading armies have occupied it. Pirates, among them Blackbeard, attacked, and so did the Spanish, the French and Native Americans; fires have reduced whole sections of the community to smoking rubble; it is no stranger to hurricanes nor to storm surges (the county’s highest point is just 20 feet above sea level), and the biggest earthquake ever to rock the East Coast, a 7.6 on the Richter scale, knocked down 14,000 chimneys and damaged almost every building on Aug. 31, 1886. At least 60 people died.

Early on, Charleston became a trade center, thanks to its natural deep-water port. Rice, indigo, cotton, tobacco, furs, deer hides, lumber and ships’ necessities were the main exports.

The Civil War, touched off by Confederate forces firing on the federal Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, wrecked the vital port. Federal troops continued to occupy the state and made Port Royal to the south a Navy operating base and ship repair facility. In 1900, Sen. Ben Tillman, with strong support from Charlestonians, induced the Navy to move its operations from Port Royal to Charleston, and by 1902 the Charleston Navy Yard had been built. The military remains a core economic driver, along with tourism and some manufactured products, among them paper and cigars.

North Charleston, population 108,304, a separate city since 1972, has long moved away from its 17th-century rice and indigo economy to take a place among South Carolina’s major industrial and retail centers. Joint Base Charleston is there, as is Charleston International Airport, which shares runways with the Air Force. In 2009, Boeing chose North Charleston for its plant to build 787 Dreamliners, one of only three places in the world that manufacture the wide-body aircraft.

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a stunning cable-stayed eight-lane bridge spanning the Cooper River, links downtown Charleston to the suburban city of Mount Pleasant, first populated by English settlers in 1680 and a hotbed of secession prior to the Civil War. The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley launched here to attack and sink the USS Housatonic, part of the Union blockade of Charleston Harbor, though the crippled Hunley also sank on her way back to shore, drowning her entire eight-man crew. After the war ended, freed slaves developed the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Scanlonville, one of the first African-American communities in the area. These days the U.S. Census counts 81,317 residents of Mount Pleasant.

The Legislature established Berkeley County in 1882 with the county seat first at Mount Pleasant and then, after 1895, at Moncks Corner, population 9,873. Moncks Corner, which began as a trading post plus a few taverns and stores, preceded the county by 147 years; French Protestant Huguenots, fleeing torture and death in France, sought refuge in South Carolina, starting in the 1680s, and many of them wound up in Moncks Corner, which took its name from landowner Thomas Monck. New tracks laid through town in 1853 by the North East Railroad brought growth and prosperity, and the depot, now the Visitor and Cultural Center, remained the town’s social and commercial hub even after rail service ended after World War II. County and local government, the schools, the medical sector and small businesses are the lynchpins of Moncks Corner’s economy.

Goose Creek (with 40,633 residents), also in southern Berkeley County, was officially established in 1961, but the community is hundreds of years older than that; by the late 1600s, settlers known as the Goose Creek Men already held office in the colonial government. Naval Weapons Station Charleston has facilities in Goose Creek.

Congregationalists were the first settlers in Dorchester County in 1696, naming their community after their fondly remembered former home in Massachusetts; the name was appropriated by the county on its creation in 1897.

Summerville, population 48,848, is mostly in Dorchester County with a little spillover into Berkeley and Charleston counties. It’s at a higher elevation than Charleston — 89 feet versus 20 feet — and wealthy Charleston residents used to spend summers here to escape the fevers, insects and vermin closer to the swampy coast. It began as Pineland Village in 1785, right after the Revolutionary War, and took its current name in 1847, the same year it became the first U.S. city to forbid cutting down significant trees; anyone who did faced a fine of $25, a hefty amount at that time. The official town motto is “Sacra Pinus Esto,” or “The Pine Is Sacred.” Every April, Summerville hosts the Flowertown Festival, the largest arts and crafts festival in South Carolina, in Summerville Azalea Park.

Weather and Climate

JB Charleston Welcome Weather and Climate

The warm, steamy Lowcountry gets most of its rainfall, and it gets a lot of rainfall, from storms moving inland from the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Summers are hot; temperatures can soar past 90 degrees, and high humidity turns the thermostat up from “hot” to “swelter.” Statewide, from June through August the average summer rainfall is 15.66 inches, mostly from thunderstorms, though summer through early fall are also tropical storm and hurricane season; October and November usually are the driest months, and winters are mild, with the temperature rarely dipping below 30 degrees. The warm season extends from May 27 to Sept. 23, when daily highs average about 84 degrees, June having the hottest readings; the cold season is from Dec. 3 to Feb. 25, when the high rarely climbs about 63 degrees. The coldest days tend to be in early January. Snow is rare.

Local Hazards

Every second counts in a disaster so planning and preparation can be lifesavers.

The South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD), part of the Adjutant General’s Office, is the state’s coordinating agency responsible for the statewide emergency management program. Its mission is to develop, coordinate and lead preparation for, response to and recovery from emergencies and disasters to save lives and minimize suffering and property loss. SCEMD gives residents, communities, public safety professionals, businesses and schools valuable information and resources regarding a variety of emergency scenarios. The website provides information on creating an emergency plan and emergency kit, pet preparedness and disaster preparedness for children. For more information about local disaster preparedness, visit www.scemd.org.

The following are considered significant hazards in South Carolina.

Earthquakes

Earthquakes are common in South Carolina — 10 to 15 occur every year thanks to the Middleton Place-Summerville Seismic Zone, but most are so slight people don’t notice them. However, there have been two big ones: the 1886 Charleston/Summerville earthquake and another in Union County in 1913. The former did more damage than any other earthquake in the eastern U.S., and a 2001 study confirmed that the state remains vulnerable to earthquake activity. An earthquake gives no warning, but there are things you can do in advance to help get you, your family and your property through it. Go to www.scemd.org/planandprepare/disasters/earthquakes to find out how.

Flash Floods

Because it is so flat, near sea level and laced with lazy rivers, streams, wetlands and swamps, the Lowcountry is at risk of flooding. Heavy rains can quickly fill rivers and streams past capacity and they will burst their bounds, with nothing to stop them. Coastal flooding from severe weather, such as a tropical storm or hurricane, sweeps inward from the sea with a combination of storm surge, wind, rain, erosion and battering debris.

A flash flood watch is issued when flash flooding is expected within six hours after heavy rains have ended. A flash flood warning is issued for life- and property-threatening flooding that will occur within six hours. During a flash flood watch or warning, stay tuned to local radio or TV stations or a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio for further weather information.

If you are outdoors during a rainstorm, seek higher ground. Avoid walking through any floodwaters — water just 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. If you are driving, avoid flooded areas. The majority of deaths in flash floods occur when people try to drive through high water. Roads covered by water may not be intact, and water only a foot deep can carry away your vehicle. If your vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water can quickly engulf a vehicle. Go to www.scemd.org/planandprepare/disasters/faqs for more.

Hurricanes

South Carolina has six coastal counties fronting the Atlantic Ocean and is one of the states most susceptible to hurricanes and tropical storms. Densely populated low coastal areas, with the add-on of thousands of tourists in peak seasons, greatly increase the state’s vulnerability. Hurricane storm surge is the biggest threat to life and property, but heavy rainfall, high winds, tornadoes and inland flooding typically accompany these storms. Make a hurricane plan in advance and make sure everyone in the household knows what it is. Be prepared. Once a powerful storm hits, it’s too late to get ready. If you live in a mobile home, a high-rise, on the coast or a floodplain, near a river or inland waterway, or if local authorities order you to evacuate, do so without delay. Go to www.scemd.org/planandprepare/disasters/hurricanes for life-saving information.

Sun Exposure

Some exposure to sunlight is good, even healthy, but too much can be dangerous. Broad-spectrum ultraviolet radiation, listed as a known carcinogen by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, can cause blistering sunburns, as well as long-term problems like skin cancer, cataracts and immune suppression. Overexposure also causes wrinkling and premature aging of the skin.

Cloud cover reduces UV levels, but does not block them. Depending on the thickness of the cloud cover, you can still burn on a cold, cloudy day, so be prepared with sunglasses, sunscreen, long-sleeved garments, wide-brimmed hats and a parasol.

Thunderstorms

While more likely at certain times of year, thunderstorms can happen anytime, and all of them are dangerous. Every one of them produces lightning and can knock out power, bring high winds, flash floods and hail, and spin into a twister in seconds. Pay attention to storm warnings. Remember the rule: “When thunder roars, head indoors.” The National Weather Service recommends following the 30/30 Rule: People should seek shelter if the “Flash-to-Bang” delay — length of time in seconds from the sight of the lightning flash to the arrival of its subsequent thunder — is 30 seconds or less, and remain under cover for 30 minutes after the final thunderclap.

For more safety information, visit the National Weather Service’s website at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.

Tornadoes

Tornadoes can develop quickly and with minimal warning, and South Carolina has averaged 11 per year since 1950. It’s important to have a plan in place before they strike. If a tornado watch is issued, weather conditions favor the formation of tornadoes, such as during a severe thunderstorm. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado funnel is sighted or indicated by weather radar. You should take shelter immediately during a tornado warning.

For more information on tornado preparedness, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/tornadoes.

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