The story of Rosamond Lawson's family connection with Sullivan's Island is the story of houses. Her great-great grandfather, German immigrant Charles Otto Witte, bought the first house at Station 18 in the late 1860's. That house ultimately burned, but a second house at Station 11, built in 1868, was bought in 1910 and remained in the family until 2018. Having moved from Charleston to Virginia when she was six, many of Rosamond's early memories are of summer visits. However, in 1994 she moved back to this area and spent many more years in the house with her own growing family. Summertime memories in the early years included crabbing, fishing, playing kickball, and entertaining Charleston friends. She learned to drive on the dirt road that ran along the back of the island. Rosamond recalls all the front beach homes being summer residences. Few people lived on Sullivan's Island year round, and those were not on front beach. Most houses, including her own, had neither heating nor air conditioning. On the rare visit to the island in the winter, the place was nearly deserted. There was a vegetable man who would come over every few days to deliver fresh produce. Rosamond recounts the few businesses that existed in those days. Playing hide and seek in the old batteries and Fort Moultrie before it became a National Park are all fond memories. Rosamond describes the typical summer thunderstorm and experiencing that in the old house. She also shows the damage done by Hurricane Hugo. Rosamond is also part of the Waring family. That includes Judge Waties Waring whose controversial decision became part of the famous Brown vs. Board of Education case leading to his ostracization and eventual move from Charleston to New York. Finally, Rosamond discusses her favorite memories as well as all the changes she has seen in the area over the past twenty-five years.
At one time there were so many Schirmers living on Sullivan's Island that the area around Station 19 and the Coast Guard Station earned the nickname, 'Schirmerville.' Ruth DeHaven is a member of that family that can trace its connection with the island back to the marriage of John Elias Schirmer to Helena Sass around 1800. Ruth's father as a young man would canoe to the island with his friends to spend time at a house called the 'Helluvajoint.' As a child, Ruth and her family would pack as many as eight or nine people into their car and as soon as school was out in the spring, drive to Sullivan's Island where they would stay until school started in the fall. Ruth goes on to detail many of the summertime activities she and her family engaged in, including fishing and crabbing on the rocks (jetties), shrimping in the creek, and swimming. After supper the adults usually turned to card games, often joined by 'Vincie' Coste, head of the Coast Guard Station. Other memories revolved around the Coast Guard including the bells that marked the hours, rescues of those in distress, and watching practices with breeches buoys. When the red hurricane flags went up, everyone plus dogs, chickens and goats loaded up the car and headed for Charleston. Ruth also covers relations with Ft. Moultrie, tensions during World War II, internment of German-Americans, disputes over which chickens laid which eggs, and lemon meringue pies. Her family was also close by when a runaway ship hit the Grace Memorial Bridge sending a car with five passengers to their death in 1946. The interview closes with Ruth's impression of the changes that have occurred on the island.
Carl Smith and his wife, Stephanie, moved to Sullivan's Island in 1972 and immediately fell in love with it. Though an architect by profession, Carl soon became involved in island politics. His first involvement was on the Board of Adjustment, now known as the Board of Zoning Appeals. In those days there were basically no ordinances protecting historic structures on the island. However, there was the long established requirement for a minimum half acre lot size, something that Carl considers one of the most important aspects in protecting the island's character. In 1987 Carl was elected to Sullivan's Island Town Council. He was a council member during the destruction of Hurricane Hugo. He describes the devastation of the storm and the residents' return to the island. Hugo led to many changes, including the establishment of the island's first disaster plan. In the mid 90's Carl made his first run for mayor, but was defeated then and in 2001. His first successful bid for mayor came in 2005, and he ran unopposed in 2009. Carl feels that there were three issues that defined his time as Mayor of Sullivan's Island, in addition to his strong advocacy for preservation of the island's character. The first was that of the fate of the Ben Sawyer Bridge and the island's connection to the mainland. The second was the way in which water and sewer were handled on the island rather than being shipped to Mt. Pleasant. The third was the new Sullivan's Island Elementary School, a facility that Carl felt was ill-conceived and over-built. A referendum on the school was never allowed by Town Council, but the write-in vote on Carl's behalf in the mayoral election of 2013 was considered by many a referendum on the school. There are other accomplishments that Carl remembers with pride during his time as mayor including initiating an architectural survey of the island, designing the town sign at the entrance to the island, recovering and rehabilitating the old bandstand from Ft. Moultrie, erecting the monument in the historic town cemetery, and preserving the historic character of the Devereaux mansion gatehouse. Finally, Smith details his reasons for leaving the island.
In this interview, Rovena Owens relates the story of her family on Sullivan’s Island beginning with Vincent Peter, whose father was a slave trader. According to Owen’s family tradition, one of the captured African women became both Vincent’s slave and his wife. They arrived on Sullivan’s Island around 1812-13. Owens then traces her family history through succeeding generations, many of whom were free people of color, including Louis Peters, her second great-grandfather, her great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Pezant, and grandmother, Margaret Etta Pezant, who married Alan Perry Jones. Their daughter, Rovena Agnes Jones, married Walter Hazel, a member of the prominent Manigault family of Charleston. Walter was “kicked out” of his family for marrying a woman of color. Rovena Agnes Jones and Walter Hazel were then the parents of Rovena Owens. While discussing her roots on Sullivan’s Island, Owens discusses the topic of racially mixed families and their general acceptance on the island. Owens contrasted this sentiment with the attitudes of those who came from other parts of the country, such as the Fort Moultrie soldiers. Owens recalls island life as “paradise” where black and white children enjoyed playing, boating, and crabbing. Sundays were always popular times for the family on the island. Her grandmother had a pot of okra soup ready for whoever appeared. Some of Owens’ fondest memories were those Sundays with the ladies in the kitchen and the men out working on some kind of “project.” Owens also discusses the efforts made on the island to preserve its historic cemeteries. She also relates her family’s struggles with major storms such Hurricane Hugo. Through all of the storms, the Owens family homestead at Station 23 and Myrtle Avenue on the marsh side of the island, locally known as the “back beach”, remains intact. To Owens, Sullivan’s Island is “home,” where she’s comfortable.
In this interview, Father Lawrence McInerny relates his family tree, starting with Michael McInerny from County Clare, Ireland, the first family member to come to Sullivan’s Island in 1840. Married to Julia Lillis, Michael McInerny bought property but had trouble retaining it. He owned a bakery that was destroyed by arson. In 1884, he died in a horse and buggy accident. His son, John Francis McInerny, was born on the island in 1842. John Francis became a brick mason and later operated a lumber business. John Francis briefly served as marshal of Moultrieville. His brother, James, died in Confederate service during the American Civil War. The hard times of Reconstruction forced John Francis to move to Brooklyn, New York, where he married. He moved back to the island in about 1875. In 1876, during the last great yellow fever epidemic, two of his children died. In 1889, he bought Centennial Hall which he renovated but sold soon after renovations were completed. John Francis died in 1914. His son, Joseph P. McInerny, was a merchant on the island and was instrumental in starting the local elementary school. Joseph’s son, Edward Reynolds McInerny, was born in 1910 and ran a successful laundry business. Reynolds, as he was called, was the Father Lawrence McInerny’s father. Father McInerny reflects on his and his family’s recollections of many aspects of island life including the presence of many more children, a significantly larger African American population, an easy-going lifestyle focused on boats and bicycles, the storms that have hit the island, prohibition, the ferries once needed to bring people to the area, and the businesses that used to dot the island. Closing on a personal note, Father McInerny talks about his summer work with the National Park Service and his call into the priesthood.
Doris Dayhoff was born in a house on Sullivan’s Island on March 5th, 1928. During this interview, she recounts her early childhood growing up on the island. Her father worked as a tugboat captain and an oysterman. Her mother was postmistress at the Atlanticville Post Office. The family home was at Station 26 ½ and Myrtle Avenue on the marsh side of the island, locally referred to as “the back beach.” Property research indicates the land was originally part of a “King’s grant” in the Colonial era. Dayhoff helped her father with his oyster business, selling pints of fresh oysters for only 25 or 50 cents each. Dayhoff attended elementary school on Sullivan’s island. For high school, Dayhoff first attended Memminger on the Charleston peninsula, though she attended and graduated from the newly opened Moultrie School. Much of her time was spent on the beach with friends, and in this interview Dayhoff recounts an instance when one of her friends nearly drowned. Dayhoff also recalled how, despite there being only a few stores on the island, one store operated a delivery service for the residents of the island, including going to the house of customers to take their order. Dayhoff was in high school when World War II started. She described the island’s initial reaction to Pearl Harbor. Like most all the other girls on the island, Dayhoff was recruited during the war to go to the local USO clubs as a volunteer to dance with the servicemen. Dayhoff recounted how some of the airmen would later fly over the beach and dip their wings to say good-bye to the girls as they flew off to war. Dayhoff described the stresses of living on the island during World War II, including blackouts, rationing, and evidence of U-Boat activity. A GI from Ft. Moultrie eventually asked Dayhoff to marry him, which she did. Doris describes in detail the origins of Sullivan’s Island Baptist Church, which she has attended for 68 years. Dayhoff discusses the changes the island has undergone in her lifetime, including the island demographics shift, the accretion of land and increased traffic on the island.
Roy Williams’ family association with Sullivan’s Island goes back to about 1815. This interview focuses on Williams’ recollections of life on the island during World War II. He describes the leisurely pace of life on the island before the war. Williams was in first grade when World War II started. He was aware of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but it seemed very far away to him. The family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina when Williams was in the second grade. Life there was a contrast with life on Sullivan’s Island. There was much more awareness of the war. Williams describes scrap metal and paper drives that took place in Charlotte. By the summer following second grade, Williams’ father had left to become an engineer on a hospital ship making runs from New York to Liverpool, England. His mother took the family to the North Carolina beach for the summer where Williams collected debris from the frequent U-Boat attacks. His mother brought the children back to Sullivan’s Island by the time Williams entered third grade. The island was now in full military mode and populated by many people from other parts of the country. Williams describes the rationing that took place for everything from shoes to beef. The war economy provided his family with money, but there was nothing to buy. Williams talks about the fear of being bombed by the Germans. He recalls that relationship between the islanders and the military Fort Moultrie was good. For Williams, the fort felt like a protective umbrella that provided services such as fighting fires and providing hurricane shelter. Still, Williams could tell the nation was at war. Soldiers marched down Middle Street. There were practice amphibious landings around Station 9. At the northeast end of the island was Battery Marshall, which was fenced off. Williams described how there were stories of prisoners of war being held at that facility. Williams relates how the war became personal to the Williams family on a couple of occasions. He recalls the joy at the end of the war, especially VJ Day, a jubilant time because friends and family were coming home.