A BRIEF HISTORY OF WEST ASHLEY
By Warren Cobb
The region of greater Charleston known as West Ashley traces its roots to the founding of Charles Towne and the founding of South Carolina in 1670. After seven months at sea, 93 passengers aboard the three-masted, 200-ton frigate "Carolina" sailed through Charleston Harbor and into the Ashley River. They landed at the site of modern-day Charles Towne Landing, and began building their colony. Within 10 years, however, the colony was moved to the more easily defensible peninsula.
Monied parties from England and the Caribbean rushed to get a toe-hold in the new colony. Magnolia Plantation was established by 1679. Within 10 years, settlers found rice to be the ideal crop for the climate, and with the help of African slaves, dozens of rice plantations sprung up along the Ashley River. Old Charleston families like the Middletons and Draytons acquired thousands of acres along the Ashley River to devote to the crop. Today, what remains of three of these plantations -Middleton Place, Drayton Hall, and Magnolia Plantation, along with Charles Towne Landing- are listed as West Ashley's and Charleston's top tourism destinations.
Over the next 300 years, the region moved through the triumphs and tragedies of the American experience. West Ashley has been host to a major slave uprising, Revolutionary and Civil War battles, and a few dozen hurricanes.
For years, West Ashley (known until the 1880s as St. Andrews Parish) sat mostly devoid of dense settlement, save a few large and small farms, and was until relatively recently considered to be "out in the country." The area served as Charleston's breadbasket for much of that time. By the early 1900s, a few small businesses and homes had been built. The largest industry in the area was the Coburg Dairy, founded in the early 1920s not far from where West Ashley's most recognizable landmark, the Coburg Cow, still stands.
But it was the war years that ushered West Ashley into the thriving community it is today. As the war was wrapping up, a few real estate speculators began mapping out neighborhoods in the region. The part of Charleston known as West of the Ashley quickly became a bedroom community for the peninsula with the arrival of neighborhoods like Byrnes Downs on the east end and Northbridge Terrace on the west. With a thriving Navy Base nearby, military personnel needed housing, and real estate moguls were eager to provide.
By the 1950s, Avondale Point looked similar to how it does today. The post-war population explosion led to many more small business openings. As with much of the rest of the country, shopping centers and strip malls arrived with the 1970s and West Ashley's center of retail commerce, the Citadel Mall, opened in 1981.
West Ashley in the 21st century is home to more than 60,000 residents, representing all ages, races, and religions. Today, West Ashley hosts scores of small shops offering everything from haircuts to landscaping to pest control to high-end clothing to high-tech gadgets. The people of the region, along with their businesses, schools, clubs, and churches, have coalesced over the past decades to create the beautiful, and thriving community we call West Ashley.