Historical Marker program gaining popularity

Historical markers dot the county This marker sits in the median at Highway 17-A and Highway 52 in Moncks Corner.

Many people have pride in the place they call home, interested in their local history and heritage; but some residents go a step further to discover the facts. Michael Heitzler said he is convinced that Goose Creek, the city he governed as mayor for 40 years, is the “cradle of the Deep South culture.”

Modern day Goose Creek was one the earliest major trading paths in the Carolina colony. Around 1670, English settlers were trading guns, ammunition, rum, furs and skins with Native American tribes including the Catawbas, Coosas and Westos, who all lived in the Lowcountry, and the Cherokees, Creeks and Chickasaws, who resided in the backcountry.

Dubbed the “Goose Creek Men,” the group known as the founding fathers of the Deep South, consisted of English planters who settled in South Carolina from Barbados, Heitzler said. Two-and-a-half centuries later their history is preserved through literature, including books Heitzler penned.

“People have different consciousnesses about their community,” he said. “Some they learn in song, story and legends; others like to read about historical facts and figures.”

For those who enjoy the latter approach, there are more than 90 historical markers in Berkeley County, and nearly dozen were erected by Heitzler.

“I try to put those 23 markers not where people drive, but where they walk and might actually stop and read some or all of it,” he said. “Even if they don’t read it they know something historical happened there, and it added value to that piece of property.”

Heitzler said his involvement in placing markers around the county has, more than anything else, been about increasing property values in Goose Creek.

“I believe sincerely that if you have a historical ambiance or brand in your community it adds to your lifestyle and value,” Heitzler said. “Progressive and wise communities capture their history and find ways to present it.”

The South Carolina Department of Archives and History oversees the state’s marker program, and since 1936 has aided in the establishment of more than 1,500 markers statewide.

The process of erecting a marker involves a state agency’s time, money and communication to determine the exact location to place it.

Unlike neighboring states, South Carolina does not provide any state funding for its marker program; the price tag is covered by a historical, patriotic, or civic organization.

Once an application is submitted, along with a $250 research fee, the state agency takes over. Names and dates are checked, the office conducts their own research and even writes a draft of marker text to send back to the sponsor.

Once state director approves a project, a manufacturer in Ohio creates an aluminum cast of the marker. Since 1990 the silver casts, consisting of raised letters, have cost in excess of $2,000.

Brad Sauls, director of the S.C. Historical Marker Program, said about 50 markers are approved annually, a number greater than neighboring states that place a cap on the total markers approved each year.

Sauls said the program has been increasingly popular and steady over the last few years.

The subject of a marker has to be at least 50 years old, but aside from that stipulation, can focus on anything or anyone locally or regionally significant, he said.

Heitzler said his work on historical markers may be done, at least for the Goose Creek area. He said while he can’t think of any additional ones that should be placed in the city, he does think there are probably other places to erect them across Berkeley County. He said Moncks Corner “is blessed with nice geographic features” and through markers there, residents are trying to capture that town’s past.

Over in Dorchester County, there are more than 30 markers, half of which are located in Summerville, according to Heyward Hutson, president of the Summerville Historical Society.

Hutson has worked to erect many of the markers across Flowertown. His own family’s roots date back to the 1860’s when Hutson’s great-great-grandfather, Rev. Robert I. Limehouse, built Summerville’s first town hall in the “heart of the old village.”

Hutson has devoted countless hours to exploring Summerville’s heritage and promoting its history.

“I’ve really learned a lot in the past 30 years,” he said.

The Summerville native’s research has included background on Summerville’s White Church Cemetery, Timrod Library and Pine Hurst Tea Farm, among other historical sites.

Hutson said the marker in front of Guerin’s pharmacy in downtown Summerville is a “good example of capturing local history.”

“So many good memories about Summerville happened in that area,” he said. “Guerin’s represents the feeling of history, friendliness and hospitality that Summerville has to offer. We’re trying to capture the history and preserve that forever.”