(Dorchester County; 2020 pop. 53,301). Summerville, the “Flower Town in the Pines,” was established as a summer refuge for plantation owners of St. George’s Dorchester and St. Paul’s Parishes. The decline of the colonial town of Dorchester on the Ashley River was another source of population for the village. As Dorchester lost population, St. George’s Dorchester Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian White Meeting House congregation relocated to Summerville. Prior to 1831 Summerville had few year-round residents, but the population swelled in the summers as lowcountry planters sought the breezes and pine forests that were deemed healthier than their swampland rice plantations. In 1831 the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company constructed a railway from Charleston to Hamburg. Summerville was one of the first stops along the route. The company laid out town lots in a grid pattern near the tracks, which it called New Summerville to distinguish it from the rambling arrangement of the old village.
Summerville was incorporated in 1847, and one of its first ordinances restricted the cutting of trees in the town limits. From its beginnings it was a resort, and much of its history has been tied to tourism and temporary residence. After the railroad was built, some antebellum residents of Summerville commuted to work in Charleston. The South Carolina writer William Gilmore Simms lived for a few years in Summerville and traveled on the train to his editor’s job in Charleston. This early commuter traffic was a precursor to the bedroom-community character of Summerville in the twentieth century. During the Civil War the town was a refuge for lowcountry planter families, who moved away from the coast to escape Union attacks. The epicenter of the 1886 Charleston earthquake was near Summerville.
Toward the beginning of the twentieth century Summerville was promoted as a health resort and vacation destination. Large inns, the most notable being the Pine Forest Inn, provided accommodations for summer visitors. Sanatoriums were built for persons recuperating from tuberculosis and other pulmonary illnesses. As Charleston became home to an increasing number of United States military bases in the twentieth century, Summerville grew. For the first half of the twentieth century the town’s population was stable. In 1910 the population was 2,355, and it had grown to only 3,028 in 1940. In 1960, just before the Sun Belt population explosion, the population was 3,633, but by 1990 the residents numbered 22,519. Five years later the population within the town limits was about 25,000, with an additional 50,000 residents in nearby areas. Summerville is a key element in the Charleston–North Charleston Metropolitan Statistical Area. Seven buildings and historic sites in and around Summerville are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Summerville is governed by a mayor and an elected city council. The Timrod Library Society, a private subscription library, was founded in 1897 and continues to be active. The Summerville-Dorchester Museum opened its doors in 1992 and exhibits photographs, artifacts, and other historical materials relating to the town and Dorchester County.
Foster, Clarice, and Lang Foster, eds. Beth’s Pineland Village. Columbia, S.C.: Summerville Preservation Society, 1988.
Hill, Barbara Lynch. Summerville: A Sesquicentennial Edition of the History of the Flower Town in the Pines. Summerville, S.C.: Town of Summerville, 1998.
Kwist, Margaret Scott. Porch Rocker Recollections of Summerville, South Carolina. Summerville, S.C.: Linwood, 1980.