History lives at Cainhoy

The reincarnation of Cainhoy Plantation - part 3

When Eric Poplin and his team of archaeologists at Brockington & Associates first set foot on the 9,238-acre property at Cainhoy Plantation in late 2013 in search of its historic treasures, they knew the task would be monumental in scope.

Nestled under a protective canopy of tall, swaying pines, palm trees and live oaks, alongside creeks and marshlands that ebb and flow with the tide, in a place where nature runs its course more than man, an undeniable truth dating back thousands of years began to emerge. As the Brockington researchers would discover, this place has an important story to tell.

The Cainhoy Plantation Planned Unit Development (PUD) is expected to bring some 9,000 new homes to this part of Berkeley County over the next several decades. In order for residential and commercial development to begin, necessary permitting documenting environmental and cultural resources must be obtained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Cainhoy Plantation was passed down to Peter Lawson-Johnston in a lifetime trust by his cousin, the late Harry Frank Guggenheim, in 1971. Lawson-Johnston and his family still hold the tract today. The DI Development Company, the entity managing development of the property, expects to submit the permit application in early January.

Included in the documentation will be the results of Brockington’s recently completed historic/cultural resources study, a comprehensive survey that identified 127 archaeological sites on the property. Approximately 32 of them will be recommended for eligibility on the National Register of Historic Places, said Poplin.

“We have those (items) that exist mainly from the late archaic period 5,000 years ago up through the 20th century,” said Poplin, a senior archaeologist at Brockington, an industry leader in cultural resources management for over 30 years. “We have finds of projectile points that are older than 5,000-years-old, some of them 8,000- to 10,000-years-old.”

Native American artifacts, such as stone tools, are the oldest items found, he continued. Other places or items studied include brick kilns, pottery, a Civil War site, and ancient roadways, as well as the Guggenheim family lodge and associated structures.


In the quiet of the woods on the parcel’s northern side, near the banks of Flagg Creek off the Cooper River, lies one of those sites. Surrounded by pines and palms, topped with a blanket of fallen pine needles, a neatly stacked brick structure juts up from the ground. Red- and terra cotta-colored rectangles connected by thin lines of mortar speak of days gone by in this once bustling spot, where some 250 years ago 5,000 to 10,000 bricks were fired at a time. At the bottom of the moss-dotted edifice are large gaping holes through which fuel was placed inside the kiln.

According to Poplin, this particular site is one of many on the property (approximately 15-20), both on the Wando River side and the Cooper River side, where bricks were made in Colonial times. Commercial manufacturing of bricks “really kicked off” after 1740, he said, and the great fire of Charleston. Following the fire, the city passed an edict that all buildings had to be made from bricks. It is safe to say that Cainhoy Plantation’s brick kilns contributed significantly to Charleston’s reconstruction, added Poplin.

“There is a fairly good record of people who were making bricks and how much they were making and where they were going,” said Poplin.

The large kiln near Flagg Creek is of special interest, he added.

“The reason this site is so big is that this entire area was all mined for clay and sand to make bricks,” said Poplin. “This is probably the best mined landscape for brick-making that I’ve seen.”

Often, there was no real structure created with brick kilns during this time period. After the piles were burned down, the fired bricks were taken away, leaving only a low platform or stains on the ground. But several of the kiln sites on the Cainhoy Plantation property feature structures that still stand today.

“These structures were permanent and I have not seen that kind of evidence before,” noted Poplin. “Usually they’re just dry-stacked foundations or bases without mortar. The mortar can’t withstand the heat. It will burn out when you fire the bricks. So that’s why they are never mortared together. But suddenly, here they were putting the brick clay in, so they intend for those things to be there and to reuse them.”


Another important discovery documented by Poplin and his team at Cainhoy is pottery.

“The pottery is the thing that really is the best indicator of time,” said Poplin. “So…4,000 or 5,000 years ago, people are making pottery (here)…We have references to a number of early settlements, but we don’t have any direct evidence of those. People are probably living out here in the 1680s, 1690s. We haven’t tied down exactly where that might be. There are few artifacts from those periods, but we haven’t done enough work. English pottery. That’s the thing we see the most.”

In the 1760s, a gentleman by the name of William Bartlam came to the Cainhoy area and began making pottery called “Carolina Creamware,” noted Poplin.

“He was actually working for Wedgewood,” he added. “And he disappeared and apparently there was a bounty on his head because he carried away recipes and they were trying to find him!”

Although they have found evidence of Bartlam’s handiwork at Cainhoy, Poplin and his team have yet to discover the kiln where he may have produced his pieces.

“In one of those sites we have kiln furniture, which are the pieces that are made to support the pottery in the kiln,” said Poplin. “But we haven’t found a kiln that would fire the pottery. But they have to be close. Either that or somebody is carrying these things around because they think they’re interesting, but they’re not sure what they are…At some of these sites, we need to do more.”


Another area of interest documented in the Brockington report is a site on the southern portion of the plantation property that contained hundreds of Civil War-era bullets.

“There are just a lot of bullets,” said Poplin. “Unfired bullets. At first, we thought maybe it was a camp, or someone dropped a knapsack because we had about enough bullets that one soldier would be carrying, and we had knapsack parts – like the buckles, straps and tighteners that go with it.”

Most of the bullets are federal, added Poplin, although they did find some Confederate buttons in the area.

“For whatever reason, there may have been a Confederate camp there,” continued Poplin. “And then federal occupation troops come in and stopped there as well, and spent some time there.”

Also on the property are two significant cemeteries – one on the north side known as Venning Cemetery, which is believed to contain the graves of those who were once enslaved on the Venning Plantation (located on the site prior to Cainhoy Plantation), as well as other members of the nearby Jack Primus community. The burial ground is still used by the community today. The other, dubbed Nelliefield Cemetery, is on the south side. Markers there date back to the 1920s, but there may be much older graves there as well, said Poplin.

“I would suspect there are tens to hundreds of people buried there,” he added.

The Venning Cemetery property is now owned and managed by members of the Jack Primus community. The DI Development Company has stated that both of the cemeteries will be preserved and incorporated into an open space network that interacts with the property’s history.


Dirt roads and sandy paths traversed hundreds of years ago also are part of the intricate layout of Cainhoy Plantation. One path, formerly known as the “Road to Calais” and later Clements Ferry Road (not present day Clements Ferry Road) cuts across the northern portion of the plantation connecting Cainhoy Road with Jack Primus Road. Some of the markers on the property denoting the trail have been preserved.

“There are pieces of roads, especially in the northwest corner from the lodge to the creek that fit into plats from the 1750s on, although they move,” said Poplin. “Some roads are used and some are not, but the roads you see there now are in place in 1920…The two main roads, Cainhoy Road and the old Clements Ferry Road, are the single things that sort of continue through it all in terms of the landscape for tying things together.”


The former Guggenheim lodge, once used by Harry Frank Guggenheim and his guests as a winter retreat for both recreation and hunting, is another prominent feature of the property with historic ties. Today it is a gathering place for the Lawson-Johnston family, who visit every Thanksgiving, as well as at other times during the year. In addition to the 127 archaeological sites listed in the Brockington report, another 23 sites are considered “historic architectural resources” (cemeteries and buildings), including 14 in the Guggenheim complex. The main house and surrounding buildings will be recommended for eligibility in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), said Poplin.

A 1937 article in the then News & Courier describes Guggenheim’s classic, single level home as a “well-appointed dwelling.” It reportedly cost $250,000 to build and features four main bedrooms with walls paneled in Cypress and painted white. English bricks make up the front entrance to the home, as well as the courtyard in the back, which faces the marsh and Cooper River. Guggenheim, described in the article as a “copper millionaire, aviator and former American diplomat,” utilized items reminiscent of his mining business days in the décor.

A kennel building, still present on the property today, once housed more than 60 of Guggenheim’s prized setters and hounds, according to the News & Courier story, which hangs framed in the front hallway of the home.

Two additional structures, both on the south side, are also of interest, said Poplin. One is known as the Sanders House, which Poplin suspects dates back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The other – the River House – is situated close to the Wando River and is believed to date back to the late 19th century, post-Civil War.

“It’s interesting,” noted Bill McKenzie, vice president of development for the DI Development Company. “It’s four identical rooms, a hallway, and four fireplaces. It’s like there is a missing piece of why it was there.”

“It doesn’t quite work as a house,” added Poplin.

Both buildings would be eligible for the NRHP, he said.


Although Brockington’s initial survey or canvas is now complete, identifying areas of interest on the property, more research will be conducted in the coming years as part of the development process. Poplin believes the information collected thus far is fairly typical of local history.

“It’s a reflection of the development of the Lowcountry in general,” said Poplin. “That’s pretty much what it is. Both from how the Native American sees the land and where they lived, right up through the Colonial plantation-era things going on here.”

“From my perspective, the archaeologists’ findings are what I would expect to have based on my experience with developments on the Wando River,” stated McKenzie. “The sheer size of the property of course dictates that there are a number of findings. However, they seem to be reflective of what is found throughout the Lowcountry during archaeological work.”

Poplin hopes he and his team will have an opportunity to dig a bit deeper into the Native American ties to the property.

“The Indians who were here when the English arrive or when the Spanish arrive – we don’t know a whole lot about them,” he said. “We know much more about the people that lived a thousand years before them than we do about the people who are their descendants…We could learn more about those people and we need to learn more. The opportunity might be there.”

For representatives of the Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF), who spoke publicly when the PUD was going through the approval process in the City of Charleston in 2013 and 2014 about the need for a careful study of the land, the new findings are certainly of interest. Winslow Hastie, HCF’s chief preservation officer, said he has yet to see a copy of the report but “would love to review it.”

“This is an extremely significant piece of land with a deep history in the Lowcountry,” stated Hastie. “Our feeling when the master plan was being developed was that the northern half of the property had much more significance from a cultural and natural resource perspective. We were pushing for the more intensive development to occur on the southern half below Clements Ferry Rd., and for the northern half to be developed only along the road itself…We continue to urge the developer to cluster the development in a way that poses minimal harm to the cultural and natural resources. As our entire region grows, it is of utmost importance to protect our rural edges—and this area is an extremely important part of our urban greenbelt.”

Local writer Herb Frazier, author of “Behind God’s Back: Gullah Memories (of) Cainhoy, Wando, Huger, Daniel Island and St. Thomas Island,” sees the Cainhoy Plantation property as both significant and unique.

“There are areas that look like they have never been touched,” recalled Frazier, when describing the land he toured at Cainhoy while researching his book. “…You had these thick dense forests with pine and hardwoods and palmettos. It was beautiful…And you had an enormous amount of history. Not just the brick church and the Road to Calais, but also Cainhoy and its importance as a place that connected people with the rivers of Charleston.”

When asked how Brockington’s findings will be incorporated into development plans, Carolyn Lancaster, vice president of marketing for the DI Development Company, explained that it is still too early to tell as the information is all new and has not yet been “assimilated into planning.”

“Now that we have some data, the real work begins,” said Lancaster. “…There are resources on this property that were it not for development would remain unstudied. Given our development, they will be studied and made part of a history trail that will be a centerpiece of an extensive open space system. We’re excited about going into exploratory mode on all these places.”

The DI Development Company has maintained that much of the property’s past will help shape development of the parcel. They have stated in previous articles in The Daniel Island News that some of the old roadways will be preserved as nature/recreational trails with educational markers about the site’s history. Additionally, DIDC President Matt Sloan reports there are other projects they are working on that have yet to be announced.

In his book, Frazier writes that Cainhoy was “a place once isolated…described by locals as ‘Behind God’s Back,’” a depiction that served as the inspiration for the title of his story. With pending development on the horizon, its days of isolation will soon come to an end – and new chapters in the story of Cainhoy Plantation will be written. But to the family of the late Harry Frank Guggenheim and those working to create a landmark new community here, one that will ultimately welcome thousands of residents, its past will remain an important part of its future.

“We are really excited to research these sites, preserve, interpret and link via an open space network,” said Sloan. “It’s a huge opportunity and even larger asset to the greater Charleston area. We are very excited about delivering something unique to the Lowcountry public experience. We look forward to opening this property up for public enjoyment and education.”

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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