Azalea Park is a little gem of a green space in Summerville's Historic District. This picturesque setting is the starting point for the town's self-guided Walking Tour of Homes and Flowers.
Some 700 buildings in Summerville are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The tour takes you past some of most notable private homes, many of them dating back to the early 1800s.
Originally called Pineland Village, the town started out in 1785 as a refuge for Charleston plantation owners seeking to escape the Lowcountry's swamp fevers and insects. Situated on a dry, sandy ridge, these "summer camps" were nothing more than temporary dwellings.
In time, settlers began building permanent structures, erected high off the ground to ward off mosquitoes. The Brailsford-Browning House - No. 6 on the tour - is a stunning example of the early Summerville architecture. One of the original 29 houses comprising the village, the home was built in 1830 with an open first floor. It was enclosed after 1915.
By the 1850s, there were 372 homes, five hotels and boarding houses, three churches and nine stores in Summerville. The town gained international acclaim in 1899 when a world congress of medical specialists in the field of respiratory disease named it one of the two best health resorts in the world. It was said the long leaf pine trees that covered the area charged the air with fragrant derivatives of turpentine, alleviating lung and throat disorders.
After the turn of the century, Summerville became a winter resort for Northern visitors who came to hunt and enjoy the mild climate. Among the most popular lodging was the Squirrel Inn. Renowned for its fine cuisine, it remained open until 1966. The building was renovated and converted into condominiums in 1979, but the front door still bears the stained glass image of the namesake squirrel. You'll find the former inn at stop No. 20 on the tour.
Another tour highlight is the Elizabeth Arden House, a large three-story Victorian home with double piazzas. The cosmetic firm executive purchased it in 1938 as a winter residence. It remained in her possession until 1954.
To begin the tour, park at the Cuthbert Community Center in Azalea Park on West 5th South Street and South Main Street and follow the directions in the brochure to the first point of interest. It takes approximately an hour to complete the walk of the historic neighborhood.
Of course, you could drive the route, too, but then you'd miss all the beautiful architectural details of these charming homes.
Want more information? Click here or call the Summerville Visitor Center at (843) 873-8535.