In the upstairs gallery of the Summerville Dorchester Museum, amid the salvaged stained glass from local buildings, you will find pictures of locals in various locations around town holding signs that read, "This place matters."
The museum itself is a place that matters. The building at 100 East Doty Avenue used to house the Commissioners of Public Works - you can still see the large concrete blocks that used to support the water tower. In 1976, the building became the home of the Summerville Police Department. When you visit, make sure to look for the display of artifacts from the building's time as a police headquarters and ask which room used to be the holding cell. The building has been a museum since 1993.
Exhibits give you a broad sense of the history of the area, from interesting exhibits on prehistoric fossils, the area's Native Americans and the region's 20th century industries.
But the museum is perhaps best used as a springboard for exploring the Summerville-Dorchester area, which is filled with magnificent architecture. As I learned at the museum in an exhibit called "The Golden Age of Inns," Summerville's mild climate and the supposed healing powers of its pine trees made the spot a popular retreat in the 1800s. It gained further acclaim as a wellness resort when it was named one of the two best health resorts in the world at the Tuberculosis World Conference in 1899. As visitors poured into Summerville, guesthouses and inns were built to accommodate them.
The Summerville Dorchester Museum has displays that take you through some of the history and architectural detail of many of the region's most beautiful structures. After taking in the exhibit, however, make sure that you ask the museum attendant for a brochure called "Summerville's Walking Tour of Homes and Flowers." The self-guided walking tour takes you through the city's tree-lined streets and introduces you to 20 of its most beloved places.
The sense that this place matters to the people who live in Summerville is something you feel throughout the area. It's a place whose citizens are aware of their hometown's great beauty and charm and they are eager to share it with you.
The Summerville Dorchester Museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.