Byrnes Downs: West Ashley’s Most Popular Residential Borough

Byrnes Downs: West Ashley’s Most Popular Residential Borough

By Christina R. Butler/Butler Preservation for
Charleston Empire Properties
 – 18 March 2020

Byrnes Downs is a quintessential mid-century suburban neighborhood located West of the Ashley River near the City of Charleston.  It is a triangular shaped residential borough adjacent to Savannah Highway/U.S. 17 and is bordered by Old Windermere and South Windermere.  The neighborhood is just a short drive from Charleston and in easy walking distance to shopping and the bustling Avondale restaurant district, but as soon as residents enter the tree lined residential streets, the city seems miles away.  The subdivision is named for James F. Byrnes, a local, state, and federal politician from Charleston, who served as Secretary of State under President Truman in 1945.  The other streets are named for early South Carolina leaders: Colleton and Craven (Lords Proprietors), and Nicholson and Sothel (early governors.)

The land that became Byrnes Downs was historically part of St. Andrews Parish (which was established in 1703) and was primarily an agricultural area of small plantations.  Early planters grew cotton, and after the Civil War, larger plantations were subdivided into smaller tracts for “truck farming”, or crop farms.   

Mills Atlas, Charleston District, 1825. The arrow points to the rural crossroads west of the Ashley River that is now Byrnes Downs.

Dairy and cattle were also raised in the area; the main vestige of this is the famous Coburg Cow sign marking the previous location of the entrance to the Coburg Dairy Farm (founded by Francis Hanckel Jr. and I.D. Auld in 1921).   The landmark cow was erected in 1959 and she rests on a rotating turn table, so passersby can admire her changing colors and seasonal outfits. 

The Coburg Cow dressed for the Fourth of July.

The rural lands in West Ashley began to grow in 1926 when the first Ashley River Bridge was constructed to link the area with downtown Charleston.  The bridge and auto transportation advances sparked several suburban developments, including the Crescent (1926), Windermere (1926), Stono Park (1928) and slightly later, Byrnes Downs (1943).

Recognizing the need for war working housing for the Charleston Navy Base during World War Two, Vincent Chicco (an Italian businessmen, city council member, and notorious speak-easy operator during the Prohibition years) and Leonard L. Long purchased a cabbage farm owned by the Harrison family as the location for their planned Byrnes Down subdivision. They created the Victory Housing Corporation to finance the development, and Long Construction Company erected the houses.  The first house was completed in 1945, and the development plan shifted quickly from rental houses for shipyard workers to houses for sale for the veterans returning home after the war to start families.

The original plat for Byrnes Downs, February 1944 (plat F-178, Charleston Register of Deeds.

Byrnes Downs features 347 single family houses on curving streets, with their own yards and driveways, which were novelties for city residents.  Lots average 55 feet wide by 135 feet deep. The neighborhood was touted as, “one of the most complete developments in the county- with paved sidewalks and streets, storm drains, sewers, and city water.”

Advertisements for new houses and a furnished Haverty Furniture model home in Byrnes Downs, June and July 1945.

The neighborhood is short biking downtown Charleston, but residents will rarely want to leave because of the quiet ambiance of the residential core, a choice of restaurants along Rutledge Avenue, and several recreational amenities on the doorstep.  Besides nearby Hampton Park, residents can walk to Longborough Park near the Ashley River, or to Corrine Jones Park and Playground, which lies in the center of Wagener Terrace.  The neighborhood is in the midst of a wave of renovations, so buyers can choose from turn key beauties that have been completely updated, to historic houses that they can customize to suit their own tastes. If you are interested in Byrnes Down real estate, our team of realtors can provide you with all the information you need. 

Two representative Byrnes Downs houses, on Nicholson and Colleton Streets.

The neighborhood attracted middle class buyers in the 1940s and 1950s, including young professionals and tradespeople, with their young families.   Byrnes Downs and surrounding areas of West Ashley were annexed to the City of Charleston in 1959, prompting even better public services.

“Bookmobile stopped in Byrnes Downs, West Ashley.” Charleston Archive, Charleston County Public Library.

Byrnes Downs real estate has always had a sense of community, civic involvement, and neighborliness.  With prices in the mid 300’s, this character-filled neighborhood remains one of the most popular and affordable near downtown Charleston, and because Byrnes Downs is outside the historic district, residents have a bit more flexibility should they decide to add an addition.  Potential buyers with young children have several school options close by, including St. Andrews School of Math and Science (a well performing charter school). Byrnes Downs is in walking distance to St. Andrews Center (a modern shopping facility with grocery and pet supply stores) and historic Avondale Point, with its mid-century shop fronts filled today with popular pubs and restaurants.  One of the most popular businesses is Gene’s Haufbrau, open since 1952 (originally called Byrnes Downs Grill)  and possibly one Charleston’s oldest continuously open pubs. Residents can also enjoy the West Ashley Greenway, which runs through the neighborhood.   Byrnes Downs retains its unique post World War Two suburban character, just miles from the city of Charleston but with small town amenities like tree lined streets and wide sidewalks.

To learn more about Byrnes Down real estate, visit our West Ashley page or give us a call today! Our team of Charleston realtors know everything about the area and are committed to helping you find the perfect home. Download our mobile app to see what real estate is currently available in Byrnes Down or reach out to us to get started.

Gene's Haufbrau in the 1950's and today.

Sources:

Butler, Christina
Rae. Lowcountry at High Tide. Columbia:
University of South Carolina Press, 2020.

Hanson, Taylor
Inc. Ashley Bridge District: Emergence of a Traditional Village. 1997

Jacobs, Donna F. Images of America: Byrnes Downs. Charleston:
Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

News and Courier.
“Byrnes Downs 10 Years Old.”  22 October
1955.

News and Courier.
“Do You Know Your Charleston: Byrnes Downs” 1 March 1948.

Robert and
Company. Area Character Appraisal: Byrnes
Downs.
City of Charleston, 2009.

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