The Most Popular North Charleston Parks

From waterfront views to gathering places for festivals and concerts, North Charleston parks and recreation spaces offer something for every interest.  North Charleston lies above the City of Charleston on the Neck of the Charleston peninsula, situated between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers.  At the heart of historic Old North Charleston is a large, lovely park that forms the center of aptly named Park Circle neighborhood, and nearby are several other green spaces: Quarterman Park, Mixson Dog Park, Whipper Barony, Riverfront Park, and the newest North Charleston park, the Bend.

Henry Augustus Middleton’s 1910s map showing the original plantations in future North Charleston.
Riverfront Park

Originally part of Retreat Plantation, North Charleston parks’ Riverfront Park lies next to the historic Charleston Naval Base and its officer’s quarters overlooking the beautiful Cooper River and its marshes.  James Wright and the Middleton family owned Retreat in the eighteenth century, followed by Andrew Turnbull in the 1850s.  The Chisolm family sold to the City of Charleston in 1895, who hired the famous Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm to develop it as Chicora Park, which would be linked by trolleys to downtown Charleston. The city then transferred it, along with neighboring Marshlands Plantation, to the United States government to create a Navy yard in 1901.

The plantation house at Chicora Park (Marshlands and Retreat). Library of Congress
President Roosevelt strolling through Chicora Park in 1902. Library of Congress.

The base closed in 1996, and it and the surrounding area languished as an ambitious redevelopment plan called Noisette stalled. Fortunately, the Riverfront Park, which was begun in 2001 and intended to be the jewel of the Noisette vision, was eventually completed in 2007.  It features an 800-foot boardwalk, fishing pier, playground, and outdoor amphitheater.  The park hosts an annual Outdoor Sculpture Competition as part of the North Charleston Arts Festival.  It is also home to several important permanent pieces: The Greater Charleston Naval Base Memorial, a beautiful and moving tribute to the thousands of men and women who worked at the base and helped the United States war effort and supplied the Navy from 1901 to 1996.  Nearby is “The Lone Sailor,” a bronze copy of a famous statue in Washington, D.C, and “The Homecoming”, another D.C. original which commemorates a sailor returning home to his family safely after World War Two.

The oak lined entrance to Riverside Park.
The Bend

So named because of its location on a turn in the Ashley River, the Bend is North Charleston’s newest outdoor amenity.  The Bend is bounded by Riverview Memorial Park Cemetery and the Jenkins Children’s Institute (formerly Jenkins Orphanage, which was located in downtown Charleston in the 1920s and was known for its wildly popular children’s’ jazz marching band.). The site was part of Accabee Plantation.  The Beach Company developed it as Ashley Shores subdivision, which was demolished in the mid 2000s and slated for pricy redevelopment when entrepreneur and philanthropist Susan Pearlstine rescued it in 2015 to revitalize the land as a conserved marsh and outdoor venue/park space.

According to the Bend’s website, it is a “twenty-acre community project . . . and a new vision for the way we live and build connections. It’s a safe place to come together, celebrate, learn, and experience.”  The Bend an elevated stage area that can be used for drive in movies, concerts, and festivals.  It overlooks the Ashley River, and its pavilion offers breathtaking views of Charleston and the Ashley River bridges in the distance.

A beautiful aerial view of The Bend, courtesy of https://www.thebendcharleston.com
Whipper Barony Park

Whipper Barony Park lies on the high land between the two waterfront parks.  Whipper Barony gets its name from the fact that it was a proprietary (early colonial) era barony land grant, or a parcel granted by the Lords Proprietors containing 12,000 acres of more.  Christopher Hottinger bought part of the tract in 1880 and farmed it.  His descendants Adela Hottinger and her son C.F. “Fritz Hottinger” subdivided it as Whipper Barony neighborhood in 1940.  Whipper was part of the subdivision plan, making it one of North Charleston’s oldest parks.

The 1940 plat to create Whipper Barony, with the centrally located park. Charleston County Register of Deeds.

It is surrounded by 1940s cottages and bungalows constructed during the World War Two building boom near the Navy Base. A News and Courier article from May 1940 proudly announced, “the opening of ‘Charleston’s most ideal suburb: Whipper Barony . . . valuable because of its playground and park for the children [and] streets and sidewalks to be paved.”  Barony Park has a spacious playground under a shady tree canopy, a field that doubles as a dog park and sports pitch, and a community center building for hosting barbeques and outdoor family and community events.

Quarterman Park

Traveling north on the way to Park Circle, visitors will find Quarterman Park tucked between Buist Road, Old Park Road, and South Boulevard. Locals call it “the Duck Pond” because of its popularity with migratory fowl and local seabirds, but the official Quarterman name is a nod to the earlier plantation name associated with the site.  It is short walking distance to the Old North Charleston business district which contains many restaurants, pubs and shops.  Quarterman used to host a “fishing rodeo” event in the 1960s and remains popular with fisherman and joggers, for its nearby paved paths and sidewalks.

A view of the lake at picnic area at Quarterman Park.
Mixson Dog Park

Mixson sits a few blocks to the west of Quarterman and is an ever-popular amenity for the residents of the recently developed Mixson new urbanist enclave, which also has a weekly farmers market and art shop and the members-only Mixson Racquet Club with special club house, gym, and pool facilities.

A 1938 plat of the Mixson section of North Charleston showing early plans for a park space there. Chrleston County Register of Deeds
Park Circle

The oldest North Charleston Park and one of the city’s largest greens spaces lies at the center of Old North Charleston at Park Circle. When Samuel Prioleau owned the land in the 1770s, he called it Oak Grove plantation, which was bounded by Noisette Creek.  It had a host of owners who farmed it until the turn of the twentieth century. Christina Butler notes that, “Park Circle is the only Garden City in South Carolina, based on Ebenezer Howard’s innovative 1898 town planning model designed to incorporate residential, industrial, and agricultural use within one community (reducing travel distances).   A model garden city, Park Circle has a central green space, radiating streets, and could grow outward in concentric rings.  It is bounded on the south by Bexley Drive and Noisette Creek (formerly Woosaw Creek), by the Cooper River and Virginia Avenue on the east, Braddock Avenue and Filbin Creek on the north, and Mixson Avenue on the west.”  The circular park is framed by four half-diamond shaped green spaces as well.

The original plan for Park Circle, with the 300 foot diameter park in the middle. Charleston County Register of Deeds.

The “Pineland Park” lots ringing the central park itself were offered for sale in 1915. The circle in the midst was intended as and still remains an undeveloped recreational amenity, the jewel on the community and surrounded by houses ranging from the 1910s to the 1950s along the radiating streets.  In 1940, the newspaper reported, “Park Circle near the entrance to North Charleston from the boulevard is rapidly becoming one of the most beautiful spots in the community. It is being beautified by clearing out undergrowth, planting trees and shrubs, and with the background of many lovely new homes it now presents an attractive approach to the business section.”

Today, tree lined, 300 foot-diameter Park Circle is more popular than ever and has picnic tables, a gazebo, playground, baseball fields, and Felix C. Davis Community Center.   Visitnorthcharleston.com notes, “If you find yourself in Park Circle on an afternoon, disc golf is an option. Enjoy the free course that meanders around the Park Circle traffic circle.  The course boasts 18 tee boxes and 18 baskets, making 324 possible course combinations. It’s fun!”  Park Circle hosts food truck rodeos, the North Charleston Pride Festival, Harvest Festival and a regular farmers market, a Christmas Festival, the St. Patrick’s Day Fest, art walks, and numerous other community events throughout the year.

It comes as no surprise that North Charleston is experiencing a revitalization of its historic neighborhoods and a surge of new growth and redevelopment, in part because of the well paved sidewalks connecting the suburban neighborhoods to the numerous historic and lovely new park spaces.   Take some time this weekend to explore a North Charleston park!

A view of Waterfront Park, courtesy of the City of North Charleston’s website.

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Author: Christina Butler

Owner of Butler Preservation L.C., Professor of Historic Preservation at American College of the Building Arts, author of Lowcountry At High Tide (USC Press, 2020).