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Foundation Matters

The Ten Mile Community: A Community of Survivors Leads the Fight for Preservation

Posted: August 8, 2023

Image of Ten Mile Community Center, Awendaw, SC

Ten Mile Community Center. Photo Courtesy of Robert Behre, Post and Courier, 2022

It’s easy to get caught up in the front-page projects happening downtown—developments like Union Pier, 295 Calhoun, or the Four Seasons are dramatic and dominate the headlines of local papers and news outlets. While advocacy targeting these projects is critically important, in many ways the tip of the preservation spear has shifted away from the peninsula of Charleston.

Communities throughout Charleston County are facing an ever-growing threat of development pressure and displacement. Many of these are historic African American communities that are leading grassroots preservation efforts to gain the recognition they deserve and using the resources at hand as tools in the fight for survival. The Ten Mile Community, located between Mount Pleasant and Awendaw, has been fighting to stop a development that would forever alter the character and significance of their community.

Ten Mile was recognized in 2022 as the third Charleston County Historic District; it joins Phillips and the Beefield Community on this list of areas that now get the added protection and oversight of the Charleston County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). The HPC provides a similar level of oversight for these historic districts as the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) does in the City of Charleston, ensuring that any proposed developments compliment the typical scale and style of architecture in the districts.

Most importantly, the HPC has additional powers granted by the Charleston County Historic Preservation Ordinance to approve or deny applications that “must demonstrate consistency with the prevailing patterns of existing lots, densities, spacing of homes, lot sizes and shapes, and other characteristics of the Historic District that the Historic Preservation Commission deems applicable.”

This language is critical for historic districts like Ten Mile where the land use patterns, lot sizes, and lot coverage are their primary character defining features and why it retains its significance. These communities are specifically recognized for their rural development patterns that were established by their ancestors in the decades following the American Civil War. Ten Mile, like many other historic African American communities, has a legacy of longstanding ownership where the land has been passed down through the generations to today. This leaves us with an incredible legacy not just of the physical settlement patterns associated with these communities, but with the long established cultural and familial connections that make these places unique survivors in the landscape of Charleston County.

Ten Mile is leading the charge in self-preservation. The community has produced an Area Character Appraisal (ACA) in order to identify patterns of lot sizes, lot coverage, density, architectural styles, environmental impacts, traffic, infrastructure problems, and more. The Ten Mile Community submitted this ACA to the Preservation Commission to help county planning staff and developers in understanding the existing conditions of the community as a means to help guide compatible development proposals in the future. This ACA will be a fantastic model for other communities to follow, as having additional documentation highlighting the character defining features of their community goes a long way in applying the preservation ordinance criteria for their protection.

The production of this Area Character Appraisal was a necessity as Ten Mile has been fighting a development that looks to fill 3 parcels with more than 40 tract homes, smack dab in the center of the district. The development was denied at the July HPC meeting as the architecture of the proposed homes, and the high-density pattern of development were not compatible with existing houses and would drastically diminish the rural character and settlement patterns that are significant to Ten Mile. Thanks to the incredible amount of work the community members put forth, there was a successful outcome at the July meeting.

Unfortunately, there is always a looming legal threat from developers over property rights and entitlements from zoning that we have seen used time and time again to try and skirt compliance with preservation ordinances. We urge Charleston County leadership to defend their preservation ordinance and the decision of the commission. The Ordinance and the HPC are critical in ensuring that these historic African American communities are preserved, and that more of Charleston County’s important African American history, culture, and landscape does not continue to disappear.

Historic Charleston is proud to help support the work of the Ten Mile Community and assist their preservation efforts. We will continue to advocate at the county level for the establishment of more county historic districts like Phillips, Beefield, and Ten Mile, to ensure the protection of these critically endangered cultural resources. We will continue to share the stories of these communities, their preservation efforts, and ways that you can get engaged to help their cause.

-Justin Schwebler, Properties Manager, August 2023

3 responses to “The Ten Mile Community: A Community of Survivors Leads the Fight for Preservation”

  1. Carol Jackson says:

    Very proud to support HCF in your current efforts, especially to preserve ongoing at risk Black Communities. Truthfully your founders would not know this new era for HCF, but hope they too would have evolved to pursue this good purpose. Bravo!

  2. BarbaraZimmerman says:

    I applaud HCF’s work to support the
    Ten Mile Community’s preservation
    efforts … Barbara Zimmerman

  3. Hattie Horry says:

    Highly in support of the ten mile community, there are so much more that’s needed for this community and all the others, about time that the state recognize these original communities, these are where the real histories are we should have a OCF,festival, that reaches
    State wide.

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