Last week’s program about the history of Charleston’s Colonial Common was so popular that I’ve decided to repeat this lecture at the Charleston County Public Library on Wednesday, August 19th at 6 p.m.
This is a fascinating story of a dwindling public resource that stretches over 343 years, from the laying out of this town in the summer of 1672 to the present controversy over the use of the site now occupied by the infamous Sergeant Jasper Apartments. If you’re interested in learning more about the tangled legal history of the land at the west end of Broad Street, please mark your calendars and tell your friends and neighbors.
The property in question, which once comprised approximately forty acres of marshland at the west end of Broad Street, was set aside “forever hereafter” as a public “common for Charlestown” by a 1768 act of the South Carolina General Assembly. Over the course of successive generations, however, the City Council of Charleston sold the majority of the common lands. An 1881 court ruling compelled the city to preserve the remaining acreage, and the city dutifully created Colonial Lake, the adjacent William Moultrie Playground (1931), and the nearby “Horse Lot” (Murray Park) between Chisolm Street and Ashley Avenue (1937).
In the summer of 1949, in the face of significant opposition from the community, the city sold a tract of 7.4 acres to a development firm headed by J. C. Long, who at that moment was also a member of City Council, representing Ward 12 at the northern limits of the city. Mr. Long’s development, the Sergeant Jasper Apartments, is now slated for demolition and the neighborhood is again concerned about the future development of this once-public land.
In the above map, the original boundaries of the Colonial Common (so-named by the city in July 1881) are outlined in red. The area shaded in blue represents land sold at various times in the nineteenth century to various individuals for commercial purposes (principally the milling of timber and rice). The triangular area shaded in yellow represents the 7.4 acres sold to “Sergeant Jasper Inc.” in July 1949. To the right of that property is William Moultrie Playground, which was the original object of Alderman Long’s 1949 property development scheme.