By Barney Blakeney
Advocates for the preservation and restoration of Mosquito Beach on James Island are confident the waterfront property that was an entertainment center for Blacks during the Jim Crow era soon will be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Three other iconic entities in local Black History already have received recognition as grant recipients from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
As part of initiatives to preserve the historic James Island community of Sol Legare, its residents, the Historic Charleston Foundation and other preservationists are taking steps that include the effort to preserve locally famous Mosquito Beach. Sol Legare is a close-knit community founded by former slaves. After the Civil War, the 850- acre Solomon Legare plantation was divided and sold to freed slaves. Mosquito Beach Historic District is an approximately .13-mile strip of high ground that serves as the southern border of Sol Legare Island.
Mosquito Beach was first improved in the 1920s through the establishment of an oyster factory. After the factory’s closure in the 1930s, development began to expand along Mosquito Beach Road with the construction of a store and restaurant. By the 1960s, Mosquito Beach served as a community recreational gathering place with beach pavilions, music venues and restaurants in both the marshes and along Mosquito Beach Road.
Preservationists feel the Mosquito Beach Historic District is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A at the state level as a significant and well-preserved cultural, commercial and recreational epicenter for the coastal black community in South Carolina during the Jim Crow era. The survival of the structures, sites and overall ambiance of the strip embody the empowerment and entrepreneurship as well as the sustainment of culture and tradition displayed by African Americans during a time of deep oppression. It exists as tangible evidence of the vast recreational segregation of South Carolina in the decades leading up to and during the Civil Rights era.
They attest in applying for listing that not only does the beach’s establishment along an infamously mosquito-infested tidal marsh, hidden from major roadways and white-only gathering places in an historically black farming community, convey the story of racial discrimination in the built environment and inequality of recreational access to natural resources, but the overall ambiance of Mosquito Beach supported by the extant structures and retained landscape make it one of the best preserved “black beaches” that existed in South Carolina during the mid-20th century.
In Charleston County, the property was one of six “Black beaches” accessible to African-Americans in 1960. Of the five Black beaches which included Seaside Beach on Edisto Island, Frasier Beach on Seabrook Island, Peter Miller’s Pavilion along Wallace Creek, Riverside Beach along the Cooper River in Mount Pleasant and Mosquito Beach, Mosquito Beach survives as the best representative example.
The State Review Board 10:30 a.m. July 26 will hear a nomination for Mosquito Beach to be listed at the S.C. Dept. of Archives & History, 8301 Parklane Rd. in Columbia. The public is welcome and invited to speak.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation already has awarded significant grants to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Edisto Island Open Land Trust for Edisto’s Hutchinson House and the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation. Emanuel AME Church deceived $150,000, Edisto Island Open Land Trust received $85,000 and the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation received $50,000.
The Hutchinson House, a rare intact freedman’s home now in a state of deterioration, was built by Henry Hutchinson, son of the formerly enslaved Union soldier James Hutchinson, as a wedding gift for his wife, Rosa Swinton. The home is part of a collection of 14 properties on Edisto Island that tell the stories of African Americans and Gullah Geechee culture between the 17th and 19th centuries, including during the Reconstruction period.
The grants were awarded through the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. The Action Fund is a $25 million multi-year national initiative aimed at uplifting the largely overlooked contributions of African Americans by protecting and restoring African American historic sites and uncovering hidden stories of African Americans connected to historic sites across the nation.