The History of Shem Creek; The Beauty of a Shrimpers Paradise
Many of our tours and expositions happen right in the heart of Shem Creek. It is one of our most beloved areas in Charleston and one of the most beautiful places in Charleston itself. It also has an incredible history that you may or may not be aware of!
Welcome back to the blog friends, nature lovers, and adventurers of all ages! Today we are going to take a break from our outdoor adventures and talk about some local history. We were inspired to talk about this topic after our last blog, which focused on how we, as individuals, can help save our local ecosystems. One of the most popular and powerful ecosystems exists right off of Coleman Boulevard, nestled between a small fleet of shrimp boats and some of the most popular restaurants in Charleston; our beautiful and powerful Shem Creek.
If you’ve taken a moment to look into our many tours and excursions, you’ll notice that many of them start or take place in the Shem Creek area. There is a reason for that. It is a huge ecological home to many of our local birds, fish, plant life, and crustaceans. It is also one of the largest mouths that feed right into the coast of the Atlantic ocean, dumping into Charleston Harbour. While we enjoy it every day with our guests, and millions enjoy it every year, its unique history might be something of a mystery. You might have enjoyed the best meal of your life sitting right next to it, but how much do you know about the stunning creek that has captured the hearts of Charlestonians and vacationers alike?
Shem Creek itself starts where modern-day Bowman Road begins. A bunch of small tributaries collides to form its head and it winds through Mount Pleasant’s Old Village before making its final stop emptying into Charleston Harbor. The original inhabitants of the creek, according to the SC Picture Project were the Sewee Indians. The creek is said to have gotten its name from the Native American word “Shemee”. The very first industry that settlers and the first colonists started on the Creek was Shipbuilding in the 1700s. These ships were crewed by everyday farmers all the way up to confederate naval officers during the Civil War. After the war, yachts and other boats were begin made here in the continued booming industry. According to Charleston Magazine, one of the oldest and most prolific of these companies was Darby’s Mount Pleasant Boat Building. The heritage of the original industry carried through this company for three generations up until it closed in 1990.
The Lime industry and other industries that used the power of the creek to power their factories followed in the steps of the shipbuilding industry. According to Charleston Magazine, Peter Villepontoux brought his Lime Kiln to the creek in the 1740s and was followed by Jonathan Lucas in 1795, who created and built the very first water-powered rice and sawmill to Shem Creek. Following in their footsteps was John Hamlin, who also used the power of Shem Creek to run his wooden bucket and broom factory, the Mount Pleasant Bucket Factory.
During this time, the creek was also a popular spot for land for plantations and farmers to build next to and grow their crops. Not only was it perfect farmland for some of the most popular produce items of the time, but they could also all use the creek as easy transportation of their goods to get them to market. Items like cotton, rice, indigo, asparagus, tomatoes, and more were all transported down Shem Creek. According to Charleston Magazine, in 1907 alone, nine farmers transported what today would be worth 6.6 million dollars in commerce from their farms to town. Not too shabby, Shem Creek!
In 1905, electric light was added to Shem Creek. The Shem Creek Beacon was erected and lit on August 12th, 1905 giving it a whole new life. Nights on the Creek would never be the same again. The next big industry to take over the Creek didn’t come along until the 1930s, but when it did, it changed the face of the Creek and local industry beyond anything that had come before. Thanks to Captain C. Magwood, shrimping came to Shem Creek in 1930. He was the very first to bring Ocean Shrimp into Mount Pleasant. According to the City of Mount Pleasant, a bridge was built over the creek in 1937, giving even more access to the area and a shrimp dock was also constructed during this bustling time. In just twenty years following Captain Magwood’s introduction of Shrimp to the Creek, the industry of shrimping had exploded. It became one of the most important industries in Mount Pleasant and several seafood companies set up shop to supply this new demand, including Mount Pleasant Seafood Company. Over the next sixty years, shrimping dominated the Creek. According to SC Picture Project, it was not uncommon to see the harbor virtually packed with boats and trawlers of all sizes, sometimes there were so many that they would be docked three abreast. Captain Magwood and his first trawler, Skipper, brought more than just the dominating industry of Shrimping to Shem Creek. He also brought in the booming industry of tourism. This hot spot for the industry was now providing jobs for hundreds of people and was a point of interest to visitors. They all needed a place to stay, eat, relax, and enjoy themselves. Restaurants started to appear filled with fresh seafood from the creek and seated next to the incredible views the creek provided daily.
However, the face of prosperity continues to change for the Creek. Tourism has taken the front seat while shrimping has continued to grow smaller and smaller in the last twenty years. Up until the early 2000s, it wasn’t uncommon to see fleets of shrimp boats lining the creek. According to Charleston Magazine, this fleet has been whittled down to around a dozen boats. Much of this is due to recent shrimping regulations, environmental changes, cheap Asian shrimp and seafood being shipped into Charleston restaurants trying to save a buck, and illegal shrimping according to SC Picture Project. That doesn’t mean that shrimpers are leaving Shem Creek. They are still fighting to save their industry and their heritage that the Magwood family began. Seeing any number of Shrimp Trawlers of Shem Creek is a good sign that shrimping and this incredible history is still surviving and thriving.
Today, Shem Creek is still a stunning gem nestled in Mount Pleasant. It is full of amazing history and some of the best restaurants, bars, and historic hotels in the Charleston area. You can walk the marches in Shem Creek Park, and even catch a glimpse of dolphins, the rare manatee, and incredible Great Egrets or Pelicans. It’s a place we hold near and dear to our hearts and we hope you treasure it as much as we do. We hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane and enjoyed learning more about this beautiful location. if you want to learn more about Shem Creek, schedule one of our many tours that focus in and around the area. We guarantee you’ll learn even more than you did today, and you will fall even deeper in love with the Creek than you already are!