National Historic Preservation Month and #ThisPlaceMatters – May 2015

Sarah Alston, Sweetgrass Basket Maker - Mt. Pleasant, SC

Sarah Alston, Sweetgrass Basket Maker – Mt. Pleasant, SC


The month of May is National Historic Preservation month, an event coordinated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Their This Place Matters campaign gives each one of us the opportunity to celebrate and share the places that are important to us – and allowed me to reflect on some of the places along the Highway 17 Corridor that I feel are unique and in danger of disappearing.

What first popped into my head were the sweetgrass basket stands that sit adjacent to Highway 17 in parts of the Lowcountry of South Carolina.  This art – this form of cultural craftsmanship – has contributed to the richness of this stretch of Highway 17, and unfortunately widening of US 17 in areas and development have impacted their presence.  It’s not as simple as building new stands further off the road – it’s keeping them visible, respecting the invisible corridor they have occupied for years.  It’s also understanding that theirs is an art form that is as integral to the region as are the live oaks, marshes and bowls of she-crab soup.  Without them, this stretch of Highway 17 becomes homogenized and without spirit.  The sweetgrass basket stand above belonged to Sarah Alston – unfortunately this stand no longer exists.  It was demolished because of both the widening of Highway 17 and the development of the land behind her – new stands were built, similar to this one nearby – but without easy access and I’ve never seen Sarah again after her stand was  demolished.  Ironically her stand was next to the “Sweetgrass Baskets” Historic Marker erected in 1997.

What other places matter?  Well, I have to say I’m fascinated by the “populuxe” (mid-century modern) motels in Myrtle Beach, SC.  “Fascinated” is probably not accurate – I just love them, and it’s painful to see many of them neglected and unappreciated.  I daydream about a “Populuxe Motel Historic District”, and in my daydream it is a vibrant and eclectic district that folks love to visit.  All I can say is this:  Will someone in Myrtle Beach please step up and make this happen… please?

Other places… every building in Port Royal, VA.  So many places in Tappahannock, VA.  The Penn Center on St. Helena Island, SC.  Dinosaur Land in White Post, VA.  The Middle School and Bethel AME Episcopal Church in McClellanville, SC, all of the slave cabins, and buildings in Port Royal, SC… my list of places that matter is a long one.