The Ashley River Road is one of the oldest roads in South Carolina. It began as a Native American trading path, paralleling the Ashley River, and later served the colonists of the original Charleston settlement. The Lords Proprietors authorized the road in 1690. The modern road consists of an approximately fifteen-mile portion of S.C. Highway 61 up to Bacon’s Bridge Road (S.C. Highway 165). During the colonial era, numerous plantations lined the route, as did St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (1706). In 1721 a law was passed to protect the shade trees along its route, a forerunner of modern ordinances that protect trees and require buffers.
In the years after the Civil War, Ashley River Road communities, especially those of newly emancipated African Americans, established numerous churches along its routes, including Springfield Baptist, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, St. Philip’s African Methodist Episcopal, and Ashley River Road Missionary Baptist. Since World War II, suburban development has increasingly moved from Charleston up the Ashley River Road. Of major significance was the prevention by preservationists of an exit off Interstate 526 onto the Ashley River Road. Instead traffic was shifted to a new four-lane highway paralleling the road to the west.
Scenic sections of the eleven-mile segment from Church Creek almost to S.C. Highway 165 are still canopied by forests festooned with Spanish moss. In 1983 the road was placed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was designated a State Scenic Byway in 1998 and a National Scenic Byway in 2000. Historic sites along its route, such as Drayton Hall, Magnolia Gardens, and Middleton Place, attract hundreds of thousands of people each year, making the road one of the most popular historic routes in the state. Increasing suburban sprawl and the pressures of traffic, however, render the future of this unique road uncertain.