After racially tinged dispute, tug of war over Mount Pleasant park site resolved

Post and Courier
MOUNT PLEASANT — More than a year after Town Council inadvertently started a racially tinged dispute between two nonprofit groups, the fate of a small property the town bought for $193,500, and then gave away, has been resolved.

The overgrown and undeveloped half-acre sits on Mathis Ferry Road at 5th Avenue, and all parties involved agree it should become a small park. But it won’t be a park honoring a white businessman who died in 2016, as the Town Council and East Cooper Land Trust had intended last year.

Instead, the land will be used to honor John Scanlon, a freedman who bought the former Remley Plantation in the 19th century and sold subdivided properties to freed slaves, creating Scanlonville.

“We hope that the property will be a tribute to Mr. Scanlon,” said Ed Lee, president of the East Cooper Civic Club, the community association.

The small triangle of land is already home to an historic marker explaining the community’s founding in 1868. Many residents today are descended from the formerly enslaved people who bought land there.

“This is very important to us,” Lee said Friday, as the East Cooper Land Trust signed over the deed for the property to the civic club.

Members of both nonprofit groups gathered in a small cinderblock building at Remley’s Point Community Playground for the transferring of the deed, and both groups appeared glad to put an end to the acrimony.

“I’m just so pleased today to be able to give the property over to the East Cooper Civic Club,” said land trust Executive Director Catherine Main.

The saga began in March 2017, when Town Council agreed to donate the taxpayer-owned land to the East Cooper Land Trust for a park that would be named after the late Kenny Seamon, a well-known architect who co-founded the architecture and engineering firm SeamonWhiteside and was a member of the land trust’s board.

When Main and others with the land trust presented the plan for a public park to Scanlonville residents and the East Cooper Civic Club last year, they were surprised by the hostile reception.

“At first, they yelled at us for two hours,” Main said in a June interview.

When plans for the land became a source of controversy, the idea of creating “Kenny Park” there was quickly scrapped. Plans to honor Seamon were shifted to focus on a multi-use bike and pedestrian path near Oakland Shopping Center on U.S. Highway 17, called “The Kenny Mile.”

The land trust considered just giving the Scanlonville property back to Mount Pleasant, but the town wasn’t interested, Main has said.

The solution reached after 17 months was this: The East Cooper Land Trust gave the property to the East Cooper Civic Club with deed restrictions to prevent any commercial or residential use of the land, and a requirement that it remain a public park. There was no cost to the civic club — that had been a sticking point — because donors to the land trust covered the annual cost of monitoring the deed restrictions.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

Scanlonville Park to be Conserved this Friday

Moultrie News
This Friday, East Cooper Land Trust will transfer ownership of a .57-acre parcel to the East Cooper Civic Club. Both organizations are excited that this piece of land will forever be a passive park for the enjoyment of this settlement community and surrounding Mount Pleasant residents. The community of Scanlonville, many of whom are the descendants of the founders of Scanlonville, view this day as a continuation of the quest for dignity, respect and collective responsibility that the founders sought in 1868.

“Our mission is to conserve land with environmental, cultural or historical value. This property has all three attributes” says Catherine Main, Executive Director of East Cooper Land Trust. “This small parcel will serve as a reminder of the past, while being enjoyed into the future.”

Nearby properties, including the once-popular Riverside Beach, have been developed into gated communities, causing the price of the land to rise from the several thousand dollars Scanlon once paid for the entire Plantation to half a million dollars each for many of the individual lots. This property may be only .57 acres, but in an area of town that has felt the effects of encroaching development, land carries a value beyond its size.

The East Cooper Land Trust is pleased to work with the East Cooper Civic Club in the endeavor to protect this piece of land and looks forward to the value the parcel will provide in its permanent preservation as a park. A presentation and signing of the deed transfer will be held at 1:00 PM at the East Cooper Civic Club Community Center, located at 363 Sixth Avenue. Following the brief presentation, there will be gathering of members from both organizations to celebrate this long-awaited moment and an opportunity to walk to the property.

Mount Pleasant developer to buy one of Shem Creek’s last shrimping docks

Moultrie News
By Sully Witte

Brett Elrod of Mount Pleasant has signed a contract with the owners of the Wando Seafood Dock on Shem Creek to purchase it and refurbish it for the benefit of the community. He is currently in the 90-day due diligence process conducting environmental assessments.

His background is in the construction field as an environmental geologist. He has participated in commercial projects that included marina developments, industrial and superfund site developments and cleanup, all of which drew him to the property. He is the owner of CB Elrod Co., LLC. which also specializes in historical site investigations and estimations of viable cleanup construction costs for land valuation.

Elrod intends to work with the community to include the Town of Mount Pleasant, Save Shem Creek, and any other interested parties to develop a long-term plan for the property that can help the Shem Creek fleet thrive in providing local seafood to the Charleston area, he said.

Catherine Main, executive director of the East Cooper Land Trust said she is skeptically optimistic about Elrod’s contract on Wando Dock.

She said that two weeks ago the pair met to discuss Elrod’s intent for buying the property. “I was also impressed by the passion and commitment of Mr. Elrod, however, in order to make his plan work, he was going to use private investors whose desires are to have private access to the creek while minimizing the space available for the seafood industry.” At that point he discussed a plan that would use about 1/2 of the one-acre property for use by the seafood industry.

Elrod contends that their two hour meetings was nothing more than brainstorming and that no plans have been made.

“We talked about what concessions we would have to make in order to pull this off. Eventually someone has to pay the bills,” he told the Moultrie News.

“We believe anything less than the full acre being permanently conserved for the seafood industry, including all existing 350 feet of dock space and the income their rental generates, will handicap the already existing local fleet and eventually contribute to its demise,” said Main.

“It is possible there will be a split to be able to pay to save the rest of it. How do we pay for it? The land is so expensive and whatever we do down there has to pay for itself. The goal will never change – which is to save the Wando Dock – no matter what we do down there.” h said. “It is a puzzle to make it all work.”

He also added that there are no immediate plans or changes to the property.

Elrod and his extended family have deep roots in Mount Pleasant, including ties to the commercial seafood industry on Shem Creek. “I saw this purchase as an opportunity to make the property sustainable for the fleet. It was an obvious thing for me considering how well I know the property and the fleet,” he said.

Elrod lived on Haddrell Street as a child and his first job was working at the original Red’s Ice House for a $1 an hour shoveling ice for the shrimp boats. “I look forward to working with the community and local interests to try and come up with the best plan to create a sustainable and unique site for Shem Creek seafood.”

Elrod explained that the owners accepted his offer because they wanted to see the property stay the way it is but also wanted to expedite the closing on the contract.

Jimmy Bagwell, spokesman and officer for Save Shem Creek Corp. told the Moultrie News last week that they would not fundraise in advance of an offer being accepted and signed. Specifically that statement was in regards to the efforts being made by the East Cooper Land Trust. But, he added, that held true for anyone seeking the non-profits help in this purchase. He said that now that a contract has been signed, SSCC can now get involved.

Elrod said he has already approached town officials, SSCC and the Land Trust and welcomes any help or input in the project plans.

“This is the starting line, not the finish line,” he said. “The common goal for anyone who gets involved must be for the fleet to thrive.”

The Wando Dock is the largest of the remaining commercial seafood properties on Shem Creek, and has the most potential to serve as a key hub for the fleet in the future.

Bagwell said it will take the community to make this work. “With the right resources and the right team that is passionate about preserving this seafood dock we can execute a plan that not only preserves the property and docks for the fleet for the long term but that also works toward helping the fleet thrive.”

To learn more about Elord visit

Mount Pleasant developer to buy one of Shem Creek’s last shrimping docks

Post and Courier
By Bo Peterson

MOUNT PLEASANT — One of the last shrimp boat docks on Shem Creek might be saved. Or it might be developed out from underneath the boats, as some fear.

Builder and Mount Pleasant resident Brett Elrod has stepped in to buy the Wando dock at the mouth of Shem Creek.

Elrod said he plans to work with the community developing the property while maintaining a dock and facilities for shrimp boats.

The Wando dock is one of the site’s last three privately owned shrimp boat docks. It’s now leased to Tarvin Seafood and is the mooring for five boats — about half the remaining Shem Creek fleet.

Losing it could mean those boats would have nowhere else to tie off, much less sell their shrimp. It also could put more development pressure on the owners of the other two.

Elrod has a contract to buy the property, he and two other prospective buyers said. The owners earlier declined to comment on the unpublicized sale, and the price has not been disclosed.

“I’ve always appreciated Shem Creek and its working seafood industry. In fact, when I lived on Haddrell Street as a kid, my first job was working at the original Red’s Ice House for $1 per hour shoveling ice for the shrimp boats,” Elrod said.

“I look forward to working with the community and local interests to try and come up with the best plan to create a sustainable and unique site for Shem Creek seafood,” he said.

But the East Cooper Land Trust, which had been trying to raise money to buy the property, is not convinced and is not partnering with Elrod in the effort. Director Catherine Main said the trust is skeptically optimistic.

“I was also impressed by the passion and commitment of Mr. Elrod,” Main said. “However, in order to make his plan work, he was going to use private investors whose desires are to have private access to the creek while minimizing the space available for the seafood industry.”

At one point in a recent meeting, Elrod discussed a plan to save half the 1-acre property for the seafood industry and give the boats a spot to unload but not to dock there, she said.

“We believe anything less than the full acre being permanently conserved for the seafood industry, including all existing 350 feet of dock space and the income their rental generates, will handicap the already existing local fleet and eventually contribute to its demise,” Main said.

Elrod would not comment specifically on plans discussed with the trust but said he had made no decisions, wanting to work the town of Mount Pleasant and other groups for the best plan.

Whether the Wando dock is saved might be a deciding factor in the fate of the hard-pressed shrimp boat fleet on the creek where its hanging nets have become a hallmark.

Commercial fishing docks are disappearing across the state because of development pressures on the lucrative waterfront properties. Today, Shem Creek has become a mix of upscale residences, waterfront restaurants and water sports businesses, one by one edging out the shrimp boats.

In previous years, it was common to see shrimp boats tied off three or more abreast up and down the creek, with the crews selling their catch from the docks.

Save Shem Creek, a grassroots group promoting the seafood industry there, is supporting Elrod.

“As he put it to me, his grandmother wouldn’t let him in the house anymore if he did anything that hurt the fleet,” said board member Will Bagwell. “We’re very excited that he got the property under contract before development interests had a chance to possibly buy it and force the fleet to find a new home.”

Elrod stepping in means there’s no immediate need for fundraising to make the buy, Bagwell said. But it’s likely money will be needed to permanently protect, repair and enhance the docks as the plan develops.

Bagwell said people interested in the effort should contact the group at

As Charleston land is lost to development, a family finds a way to farm. It isn’t easy.

Post and Courier
By Hannah Alani
MCLELLANVILLE—The pigs who lived for months in Jackson Johnson’s backyard were smart, playful and stubborn.

They were essentially pets, but Jackson, 11, already knows a grisly truth about farm life: every hog has her day.

He greeted his father, Scott Johnson, who wore knee-high rubber boots, jeans and a Superman T-shirt.

The pair used plastic boards to patiently shuffle each of the three massive animals toward a narrow gate that led to a trailer. One by one they led the pigs inside. Before leaving the farm that morning, Scott Johnson took a few minutes to blast the pigs with cold water from a hose.

It was going to be a windy, chilly 90-minute drive to the Kingstree Processing Plant. He wanted his girls to be comfortable.

“I do have respect for the animals,” he said.

In Kingstree, the pigs would be gassed, dehaired, bled and butchered. Three weeks later, they would be high-quality andouille sausage.

People have cried out for Johnson Family Farms celery root powder-cured bacon and beautifully marbled pork chops. Some prefer the Angus hamburger. Tina Johnson, Scott’s wife, is personally a fan of the ground chicken.

Boone Hall Farms is a regular customer and the pork chops fly out of the coolers at the farmers markets, which now include the McClellanville Land and Sea market, the Mount Pleasant market and the city of North Charleston’s market at Park Circle.

“We’re quietly exploding,” Johnson said.

But the family of four, recent transplants from Indiana, have learned that being a successful small-scale livestock farm in South Carolina is a costly enterprise.

Feed prices are much higher here than in the Midwest. Thunderstorms dampen farmers market sales. Heavy rains flood the chicken coop. Predators now include alligators.

And, to add to the mayhem, their butcher is 90 minutes away.

“People drive by cornfields and that is their connection to agriculture,” he said. “They eat bacon, but nobody sees that. A lot of people don’t want to see that. They just want bacon.”

Jackson Johnson, 11, and his dad Scott Johnson collect chicken eggs and feed the hens on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 at at Johnson Family Farm in Mclellanville. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

Filling a need

Johnson Family Farms in McClellanville is one of few small-scale livestock farms in the Palmetto State. Last March, the Johnson family — husband and wife Scott and Tina, Jackson and Lucy, 8 — made the trip from the Heartland to the Deep South. They brought with them 26 pigs, 27 cows and more than 200 chickens.

The family received strange looks when they announced plans to pick up and leave for marshier pastures.

“We were doing well in Indiana,” Scott said. “But we always had this in our sights.”

Costs were rising in Indiana, and Johnson knew how quickly the Charleston region was growing. They rented what they thought was the perfect piece of land from the East Cooper Land Trust, the non-profit that purchased 94-acres formerly known as Thornhill Farm to lease to farmers and others who want to practice or teach sustainable agriculture.

The fast-paced demand for housing in the Charleston region has put small farmers in a bind, said Land Trust Director Catherine Main.

“We’re losing farms in our community at a really rapid rate,” she said. “Property values are going up and up and up in the coastal areas. Farmers can’t afford to maintain them as farms.”

The Trust purchased Thornhill Farm for $1.5 million in McClellanville and is leasing it to the Johnsons, who could not have afforded to pay fair market value for the land on their own.

If not a farm, Main added, the land would have eventually become more residential development.

“We’re trying to turn the farm back into a farm,” Tina Johnson said. “Give it love.”

The family has run into several challenges since moving to South Carolina. Coyotes, gators and hawks have eaten at least 100 of their chickens.

The subtropical climate introduced the pigs to new parasites. The cost of cracked corn, which the family uses to supplement a grass fed diet for their animals, is more than double what it cost in Indiana. The chickens cannot swim, so when the coop floods, the family goes into emergency rescue mode.

One of the biggest hurdles, they said, was finding a butcher.

Sep Harvin III, left, president and CFO of Williamsburg Packing Co. prints out labels for processed meat while Scott Johnson, right, waits behind him on at Tuesday, July 17, 2018 in Kingstree. Scott Johnson, a livestock farmer at Johnson Family Farms, dropped off three pigs to be butchered at the processing plant. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

An ugly task 

American farmers feed 400 million people, Scott Johnson said, so it’s not economically feasible for all meat to be sustainably grown and processed. As a result there are many commercial processors that are too expensive or otherwise out of reach for small livestock farmers.

The Williamsburg Packing Co. in Kingstree, about 90 minutes away from McClellanville, seemed appealing. The owner, Sep Harvin, was so popular among small livestock farmers that he had customers driving in from North Carolina and Tennessee.

Livestock03.JPGScott Johnson a livestock farmer at Johnson Family Farm in Mclellanville drives around to feed the cows Wednesday, July 25, 2018. Scott recently moved to South Carolina from Indiana in March. “The winters in Indiana were harder than here, the cows would eat to stay warm if there was a snow storm.” Scott said although the weather is better here the cost of living is more expensive. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff
In a single day, Harvin will process up to 100 pigs. After two to three weeks of natural curing and careful carving, the bacon, sausage, pork shoulder and the rest is wrapped and labeled as what it is: 100 percent pork. The bacon is naturally cured in celery root powder, for which it has gained notoriety.

John Nelson raises about 20 to 30 grass-fed cows on a small farm in Calhoun County. He, too, chooses to drive about 90 minutes to Kingstree for butchering. Getting a good butcher that you can trust and verify is one of the biggest challenges for livestock farmers, he said.

“They’re not like grocery stores,” Nelson said.

Livestock15.JPGLucy Johnson, 8, and her mother Tina Johnson load up the cooler with a variety of meat that they will sell at the farmers market in Mount Pleasant Tuesday, July 17, 2018 at Johnson Family Farm in Mclellanville. The family rotates markets while going to Mclellanville on Saturdays, Celadon’s Flea and Farmers Market on Sundays, Mount Pleasant on Tuesdays and North Charleston on Thursdays. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

A destination farm

Back at the farm, there is one pig that will never visit Kingstree. That’s the 450-pound Otsie.

“Otsie!” Jackson yelled. She wagged her brown snout back and forth and oinked loudly in response.

“Yep,” Jackson said. “That’s her.”

Tina is proud to bring her work ethic and knowledge of agriculture to South Carolina, and enjoys promoting her favorite Johnson Family Farms product (chicken sausage). But like her husband, she struggles with the concept.

She never visits Kingstree.

“I cry every time,” she said.

Inside the farm store, a framed watercolor image of Otsie hangs on the wall, along with several other colorful images of the family and their life on the farm.

An Awendaw woman’s handmade soy candles are for sale. Cartons filled with eggs laid by the farm’s chickens are stacked in the fridge, as is cheese from a popular dairy farm in northern Indiana. An Indiana-made apple butter, “Smiths Country Fresh,” is stocked, too.

The centerpiece of the farm store, of course, are the freezers. There are 12 flavors of bratwurst, including chorizo, cheese and jalapeno and cheese. The “breakfast cooler” has the bacon and sausage.

Tina and her daughter, Lucy, prepared for that afternoon’s farmers market in Mount Pleasant. They wore matching fitted grey T-shirts that said, “Johnson Family Farms” and packed a market cooler with bacon and pork chops.

Despite the challenges associated with farming, there’s nothing else Scott Johnson can see himself doing. His children already have a work ethic and a knowledge of animals.

“I view it as a very proud lifestyle,” he said. “We all have certain roles in society. Going back, there were hunters and gatherers. There are providers. There are givers and takers. I’ve always seen myself as a provider.”

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