When it comes to arts, museums and cultural events, small communities often seem overshadowed by their larger neighbors. Summerville is a welcome exception to the rule.
To start with there are the Flowertown Players, who have been creating theatrical presentations for town residents and visitors for four decades. Performing on the James F. Dean Community Theatre’s main stage and in its Underground series, the Players offer children’s shows, comedy, drama and musical theater—not to mention educational performances for a three-county area. The Charleston City Paper voted Flowertown Players as the area’s best small-town theater, and the Charleston Post & Courier twice named the group its “Lowcountry Mom’s Choice" winner for theater education.
If symphony music is your passion, be sure to catch a performance of the Summerville Orchestra, a symphonic group founded in 2003 and featuring local musicians, both professionals and amateurs. The orchestra offers classical, jazz and world music performances, including the Ameriprise Financial Concert Series at Summerville Baptist Church; the Encore Series featuring local talent; and “Musical Chats with Wojciech,” live interactive and multi-media talks held at Dorchester County Library.
Sculpture in the South has been one of the highlights of the Summerville visual arts scene since 1999, when 23 bronze sculptures were installed in public places around the town, providing up-close-and-personal experiences. For 16 years, Sculpture in the South held annual shows and sales each May at Azalea Park, with profits funding the city’s Permanent Public Sculpture Collection. Today, its Sculpture Showcase provides a virtual gallery that allows guests to browse and search online for items to purchase. Among the most striking artwork on display is a monument-sized bronze statue of S.C. Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion at the Berkeley County Administration Offices Building in nearby Moncks Corner.
Another popular offshoot of Sculpture in the South is its B.I.R.D.S. program. A public art initiative created by the Audubon Center at nearby Francis Beidler Forest, it includes more than 20 life-sized bronze birds native to South Carolina found perched around town on balconies, windowsills, shop signs and rooftops.
For a taste of local history, the Summerville Dorchester Museum honors the town’s former role as a health resort (dating from World War I) and home of American-grown tea. The museum collects and exhibits artifacts from those eras while conducting educational programs for youth.
You'll also want to visit Colonial Dorchester Historic Site, tracing the history of the trading town of Dorchester from 1697 until the Revolutionary War when it was all but abandoned. A handful of original structures remain, including the brick bell tower of St.George’s Anglican Church and the ruins of a fort built from oyster-shell concrete, known as tabby. Today, archaeologists are still unearthing artifacts of the town’s history.
Also in Summerville, or close by, are three historic plantations: Middleton Place, Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. All three offer tours of the stately homes and their extensive gardens, along with stables, restaurants and shops.
For visitors wanting to do their own historical research, the George H. Seago Jr. Library and Timrod Library are wonderful resources not to be missed. The latter is especially active in the community, providing a variety of print, audio and video materials on area history. Programs include an annual Shrimp Boil in September, a Southern Author Series in February, twice-monthly Children’s Story Hour and a fall Book Fair, which includes a Lowcountry luncheon, bake sale, casserole sale, raffle and silent auction.
And if your idea of indulging in the art world means purchasing art for yourself, Summerville has two locations for that: Off The Wall Art Gallery, where one can find a wide selection of paintings, and Art Central Gallery, operated by 13 award-winning local artists who display their works as well as handcrafted pottery, tiles, note cards and more.