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Foundation Matters

Position on Highway 41 Road Widening Project

Posted: September 3, 2020

September 2, 2020

Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) is in opposition to the preferred route, known as Alternative 1, for widening SC Highway 41 through the Phillips Community, an historic African-American settlement community dating back to the 1870s. As Mount Pleasant and neighboring Berkeley County have experienced unprecedented growth in the last two decades placing pressure on this stretch of highway, HCF recognizes the need to relieve traffic congestion and improve road capacity. However, Alternative 1 will do irreparable harm to the Phillips Community, and we urge you to reject it and select Alternative 7a.

The Phillips Community is one of only a small handful of surviving historic African-American communities East of the Cooper. Phillips was established by freedmen in the 1870s who were able to purchase former plantation lands and settle an independent community. These formerly enslaved people built homes on tracts of land between two and twelve acres as landowners and became successful farmers, tradesmen and businessmen. The residents of Phillips, as in other Gullah Communities in Charleston County, until recently were largely self-sustaining and self-reliant, growing their own food and fishing, shrimping and crabbing in nearby creeks and rivers. The Phillips Community is rooted in Gullah traditions and values, and is rich in culture and history. Consequently, through a survey effort led by the Charleston County Planning Department in 2016, the Phillips Community became eligible to be included in the National Register of Historic Places, meaning it is a community worthy of preservation for its historical significance.

The Gullah culture also is manifested in traditional crafts using local natural materials, and the sweetgrass basket has become one of its most recognized symbols. The Phillips Community is located adjacent to the Sweetgrass Basket Traditional Cultural Property (TCP), located in this corridor of US 17 in north Mt. Pleasant. TCPs are properties eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places based on associations with the cultural practices, traditions, beliefs, lifeways, arts, crafts or social institutions of a living community. During the cultural resources survey conducted in 2009 for a road widening project for US 17 that resulted in this area of 17 being designated as a TCP, the Phillips Community was one of the settlement communities who participated in and contributed to the survey work.

Today, many of the people living in the Phillips Community are descendants of these original freedmen and live according to the same settlement patterns that their ancestors did. The updated survey of Charleston County Historic Resources in 2016 focused on documenting and recognizing the importance of African-American settlement communities throughout the County. The report cites, “the significance of these communities lies within their social organization and settlement pattern, in addition to the stories they have to tell.” The report cautioned against unprecedented growth and “as more people move to Charleston County, the need for new development threatens existing cultural resources.” Consequently, the report concludes with a series of recommendations to ensure that the County’s significant cultural and historic resources, like the Phillips Community, are not lost to future growth and development.

Indeed, it is ironic that the posture of the County in 2016 was to preserve and celebrate this community; and in 2020 the County is recommending destruction of the community, its social organization and settlement patterns. This is tragically reminiscent of the Crosstown project (now the Septima Clark Parkway) that was done in the 1960s, where little regard was given to the predominantly African-American residents, the hundreds of displaced families, and the destroyed homes and businesses.

Alternative 1 would irreparably disrupt and divide the Phillips Community, displace neighbors whose families have inhabited this community for generations, and encroach upon property that has been passed down through families over generations. The Phillips Community residents have thrived in this place for the last 150 years, and the traffic congestion in Mt. Pleasant along Highway 41 is not their fault. This community should not have to bear the burden for the strain to transportation resources caused by development that has occurred over the last 20 years. To widen Highway 41 through the Phillips Community is disrespectful at best and unconscionable at worst. This is a tremendous environmental justice issue that cannot be ignored.

The Phillips Community is vastly important to the Lowcountry and our rich and complex history. We urge you to reject Alternative 1 in favor of Alternative 7a so that the Phillips Community will be preserved and remain intact for the generations to come.

8 responses to “Position on Highway 41 Road Widening Project”

  1. Patricia Broghamer says:

    I live in Park West and I recognize the issue to the Phillips community. We are all torn on this decision. Progress for further development along Hwy 41 Is inevitable and the Phillips community residents know it as we do. We love our Phillips neighbors and other black communities in Mount Pleasant. I hope their homes can be moved back from the road construction widening. It’s economic sense now. Park West is right now dealing with adding 2 additional lanes to our Boulevard. 100’s of homes are affected that back up to the new road that is now less the 50 feet from their bedroom windows. The growth in this and nearby communities requires the widening of the Boulevard too. Please be patient, this will all work out fine for all. Please take care of Downtown Charleston before it is destroyed by rioters. Thank you.

    • Holland Williams says:

      That’s why we are advocating for option 7A, as homes in the Phillips community would not have to be moved at all and their community would be preserved.

  2. Jim Rowe says:

    Do not expand Hwy 41 through Phillips Community. CharlestonCounty and the Hwy Dept would not expand through any other community in such a disruptive manner -to the people.
    When Bessemer Rd was developed, it was said that there would never be a need for more than 2 lanes. It was also said that more than two lanes would greatly limit the number of units allowed to be built. There is a wetlands problem in that area.
    This property was also supposed to have been developed commercially under the PUD..
    The Town of MP is responsible for this situation in their approvals of permits. and in not considering the main road/s
    Hwy 41.

  3. Helen Clawson says:

    I am with Historic Charleston and all of the other groups who oppose the present plan for Hwy. 41.
    We the people have to stand and speak in large numbers and let these politicians know
    how we feel and what is right.
    Remember that elections are never far off!

  4. Joan Chardkoff says:

    I agree with the Historic Charleston Foundation and stand against disruption of the Phillips Community. In all honesty, traffic is going to remain a problem, especially since we are faced with a population which will continue to increase. Unfortunately any solution will be expensive and will not please everyone.

  5. Ellie Lipschitz says:

    I agree with the position of the Historic Charleston Foundation and am against the disruption of the Phillips Community.

  6. Dana Ringewald says:

    Responsibility for this problem rests squarely at the feet of the Developer of Dunes West and the Mt Pleasant Town Council. Their combined negligence, lack of planning, vision and insight for an eventual larger thoroughfare to circumvent the Phillips Community is astounding, especially in view of the thousands of undeveloped acres along 41 and Clements Ferry.

    Had this been addressed, a wide thoroughfare should have been planned from Bessemer on 41 connecting to Dunes West Blvd, the obvious solution for circumventing and preserving Phillips.

    The land in the pocket carve out between Bessemer and 41 logically could have been a Buffer or Transition Zone with a mix of commercial and multi-family housing with few children needing to cross a 4-5 lane road to bike to school, pools and ball fields. Instead there are hundreds of older single family homes in developments between existing 41 and Bessemer. In fact townhomes and single family built very recently along Bessemer are within feet of the sidewalk. With 7a dozens of these new homes would be torn down along Bessemer and Dunes West would be split into disconnected pieces.

    From my reading of the latest report on Alternate 1, only one home in Phillips will need to be moved back to provide right of way for the widening of 41. Government will compensate the heir-owners for land taken. There are currently two tracts of heir-property being developed into subdivisions for new homes along the Wando River in two Phillips locations. This will increase values of all heir-property and will likely be the future trend as older generations pass away and younger generations
    leave for education, job opportunities, etc … just as young people are doing everywhere, splitting families far and wide.

    With the greatest respect for the Phillips Community and all that it represents, Alternate 1 is the logical solution to ever increasing
    traffic on 41 and for all the reasons given above.

    • Holland Williams says:

      Thank you for your commentary and for taking the time to educate yourself on this important matter. The Phillips Community is no doubt facing development challenges, regardless of where Highway 41 is widened, that will have an effect on the community’s future survival. We believe strongly that selection of Alternative 1 will exacerbate those challenges and threaten the sheer existence of the community. You’re correct that responsibility for this problem lies squarely with government decision-makers and the developers. None of that is the fault of the Phillips Community, which has existed and thrived in this area for the last 150 years. They should not be made to bear the burden for lack of planning and foresight. As one of only a few surviving African American settlement communities remaining east of the Cooper, we believe that the County should place a priority on protecting and preserving Phillips, as directed by the 2016 update to the Charleston County Survey of Historic Resources. As the County has whittled down the alternatives under consideration to only Alternatives 1 and 7a, we believe Alternative 7a does the least harm. Yet perhaps this project should be restudied and all options put back on the table for discussion.

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