The South Carolina Lowcountry, especially from Charleston to Hilton Head, is a beautiful landscape of large undeveloped expanses. Northern Money, Southern Land relates the history and stories of the large landholdings that comprise this unique area and have left it basically untouched. This seems unbelievable in an era of rapid coastal development that has been taking place for at least 50 years. Along most of the South Carolina coast, real estate developments and resorts are everywhere as this area has become one of America’s favorite playgrounds.
In 1930, William Watts Ball, editor of the Charleston News and Courier, employed Chlotilde Martin to write “a series of illustrated stories about the estates in coastal South Carolina purchased and improved by wealthy men, from the Savannah River to Georgetown.” She attacked her assignment with gusto and immediately began to visit the plantations and interview their owners. The series began in November of that year with one article appearing almost every week for six months. These profiles of Northerners and their South Carolina estates described a set of circumstances that had been going on for decades. Northerners began buying land a few years after the Civil War but rapidly increased these purchases after 1900. Most of these men were from New York, but others came from Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. The primary reason they came was for sport, especially quail hunting, but a few also attempted to derive income off their properties to offset costs.
As you might imagine, Northern Money, Southern Land is replete with interesting characters and their stories. One was Arthur Barnwell, who changed the name of his property from Cuthbert’s Point to Pleasant Point because of the wild parties with New York “showgirls.” Another was Kate Gleason, a self-made woman who built and managed eight factories in Rochester, New York, was the first woman president of a national bank, and a major developer in California, France, and Dataw Island, South Carolina. Harry Cram, scion of a wealthy New York family, moved to Foot Point close to Beaufort while still a young man in his 20s and lived there until the age of 90. In 1976, two Marines from Parris Island swam over to Cram’s estate and held his son at knifepoint. While the Marines held his son, Cram shot both between the eyes with his .38 pistol.
Many of the names associated with these plantations are still with us today, such as DuPont, Doubleday, Hutton, Kress, and Vanderbilt. A few of these properties have stayed in the hands of the Northern families that purchased them, but most have changed hands many times. Fortunately for land preservation, the changing of ownership has not resulted in rampant development. In the past couple of decades, conservation easements have played a large role in keeping this landscape intact. Of course, many would like to see these areas developed to increase jobs, economic development, and the tax base for these counties. Martin’s series covered more than 300,000 acres of unimproved land that is and has been taxed at a very low rate compared to improved land. Also, very few of these estates have been converted to public lands such as parks or wildlife management areas.
Robert B. Cuthbert and Stephen G. Hoffius, with assistance from the South Carolina Historical Society, compiled these stories into a book with helpful updated information following each profile. Published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2009, Northern Money, Southern Land is an interesting read about an era that is long gone but yet still with us and relevant today.