The roots of Cainhoy
For the third time in just over two decades, a historic, 15-foot, 7-inch live oak tree along the eastern edge of Clements Ferry Road is slated to be removed to accommodate the expansion of area infrastructure.
Dubbed the “Meeting Tree” by longtime area residents, the live oak has for centuries served as a community gathering place.
In recent decades, carpoolers would meet under the shade of the tree while waiting for a ride. Before that, the tree served as the unofficial location for a school bus to stop to pick up area children. And many decades before that, more than a century ago, the black community gathered around the tree to talk about the issues of the day, arriving by horse and buggy.
In fact, the Meeting Tree concept dates back to an old African tradition where groups would meet under the shade of the baobab tree. In antebellum times, slaves, freedmen and the larger black community would use the trees for meetings, as assembling as a group was prohibited.
The Meeting Tree sits on land owned by Cainhoy Peninsula resident Sammy Sanders, who discussed the tree with representatives from Berkeley County and SCDOT at a recent county-sponsored meeting on the second phase of the Clements Ferry Road widening project. Current project plans show the tree as being removed, though it stands in the City of Charleston right-of-way.
This would be the third time the tree has been a discussion point in the history of modern-day Clements Ferry Road. In 1996, a plan to add an extra lane to Clements Ferry Road was nixed to accommodate the preservation of the tree. That project did, however, see Clements Ferry Road moved, and curb, gutter and storm drainage installed.
Nearly a decade later, the tree again was a point of contention when the Charleston Commissioners for Public Works (CPW) attempted to remove the tree to install water and sewer pipes to the, then and again now, burgeoning Huger area.
Back then, Sanders had to go as far as to literally park his truck in the path of the CPW heavy machinery to prevent them from driving over, and damaging, the tree’s vulnerable roots.
“I said ‘I greatly apologize for this. I don’t want to make anything harder on you, but to save my tree you’ve got to bore from the other side of the bridge,’” explained Sanders, referencing the 2005 showdown.
In the end the CPW capitulated, opting to move the lines under Sanders’ property but away from the tree, boring (drilling) from the western side, to again, avoid damaging the tree.
Sanders hopes, as was the case twice before, all involved can find an amicable solution to allow for the road to be widened, with the tree being left alone.
“If I hadn’t beaten the drum and beaten the drum and got the media involved back then, this tree wouldn’t even be here,” said Sanders recently. “Back then it was a group effort to say, ‘why did the few things we have need to be taken away?’”
And while his history regarding his property and the Meeting Tree has been anything but amicable over the years, Sanders was happy with the response he received when he brought the issue up at the April 27 public meeting at Philip Simmons Middle School. That said, Sanders did challenge the way the road was being aligned.
“That was last time, this time they said at the meeting ‘we are so glad you were here. This is why we have these meetings so we can find out about things like this.’”
As was the case in 1996, the issue of the Meeting Tree is directly related to the two-lane bridge just west of the intersection of Clements Ferry Road and Cainhoy Road, where the Meeting Tree stands. Sanders believes how county planners deal with the bridge will directly affect how they handle the issue of the tree.
“All they have to do is move the bridge in that direction (to the north of Clements Ferry), shift everything that way and you’d have less of a curve,” said Sanders. “It’s a 35 mile an hour speed zone, not a 70 mile-an-hour zone. So in my mind, it seems so logical to move the bridge that way, mellow out the turn and make it safer than what they’re doing now.”
The counter argument, then and now, is that to move the bridge north would have a greater impact on wetlands, a creek locals actually call “Meeting Creek.”
“I totally agree that there will be more effect on the wetlands on that side. I just don’t see it as being the determining factor,” said Sanders. “But now, they do have to do something with the road, there is zero doubt about that.”
Both the City of Charleston and the S.C. Department of Transportation would have to vet the design proposal for the roadway once its finalized. Berkeley County Council would also have to give their approval. Additional opportunities for public comment should be available during that process.