Bluffton – a Town with Neighborhoods
By Charlie Wetmore
hen my family and I first moved to Bluffton in the early 1990s, we found a love for the small one square mile town that she was. The area that we all know as Old Town was the whole town. There was one grocery store, one bank and one four-way stop. I remember our family walking to the old library on Boundary Street, driving through Drayson Circle at Christmas time (still one of the best areas around to see the Christmas displays) and coaching soccer at MC Riley Park. It was a neighborhood that we loved from the moment we moved here. There were the trips to the river and the town dock, the lazy spring strolls down Calhoun Street and more. Many people also fell in love with Bluffton. To borrow a phrase often said around here, they discovered that “Bluffton is a State of Mind”.
Now let us fast forward to 2006. The one square mile town is now over 54 square miles with many neighborhoods. The neighborhood I remember still exists, although the library is bigger and newer traffic is heavier. It still has its charm and desirability. Old Town is our past; our history. It was the catalyst to make so many want to be a part of this town. We can’t lose that. That’s why things like the Old Town Master Plan (controlling and defining growth in Old Town) and the Streetscape Project (landscaping, adding sidewalks and streetlights to SC 46 and Bruin Street through Old Town) are so important. They will help us to keep the character of the Old Town neighborhood as we move forward in time.
But now we have other neighborhoods in “New Town.” We have Palmetto Bluff, Buckwalter, Bluffton Park, the SC 170 Corridor and New Riverside, to name a few. We also have the newest addition to our town, which happens to have some of the residents who’ve lived here the longest – Simmonsville/Buck Island Roads. Let’s look at them and some of the neighborhoods in New Town.
Simmonsville/Buck Island is an area filled with people who have been involved in the town of Bluffton for a long time. They have gone to church here, shopped here, and have lived here loving the May River. Now they have been recently welcomed as an official part of the town. The Simmonsville/Buck Island neighborhood is full of history and tradition – a parallel to Old Town.
All of the following neighborhoods have much being built in them. What is similar about the following neighborhoods? Just seven short years ago, they were all woods. Nothing existed there except for trees that were harvested every 15 years or so for the local paper mills.
Bluffton Park is a neighborhood that brought us Oscar J Frazier Park; different housing and commercial areas. Buckwalter is a neighborhood that brought us a new schools campus, including the return of a High School to the Bluffton area; a new regional park (just getting under way); many different housing and commercial areas. Palmetto Bluff is a rapidly growing neighborhood and is already filled with pathways winding through the woods and a nice village with a second town dock. Palmetto Bluff is a sensitive area that includes the headwaters of the May River. The development agreement that the Town of Bluffton and the developer came to included putting no more than 2,000 houses on almost 20,000 acres. This is significantly less than what the county would have allowed and has helped to keep critical watershed areas safer. The SC 170 corridor and New Riverside will be our westernmost areas of development. They will include residential and commercial properties as well.
Just as we need to work to keep the character and feel of Old Town and Simmonsville/Buck Island, we need to work to discover what the character and feel of these new neighborhoods will be. While the two neighborhoods just mentioned consist mainly of people who have been in the area for generations, the newer neighborhoods consist mainly of people who are new to the area and to South Carolina. I was one of these people 15 years ago. Who saw something that they liked and desired to be here. Maybe it was the beauty of the river, the friendliness of the people or the pace of life. Whatever the reason, they are here now.
What can we do as a town? We need to help the new neighborhoods to become just that - a place where neighbors gather and get to know each other. I’m encouraged by some of the things I’m already seeing. The 3rd Friday Block Party on Calhoun Street in Old Town draws many from Old Town as well as the various other neighborhoods. Tuesday nights at Berkeley Place with The Headliners draws many from the Buckwalter neighborhood, along with others from town. Friday night home football games draw thousands upon thousands for a community event. Traditionally, everything happened in Old Town – because that’s all there was. Now we have activities and gatherings in the Buckwalter area as well. Soon we will see them in other areas.
Only time will tell what the various neighborhoods end up being like. Will they be areas where we all stay in our houses and do not get to know each other, or will they be more like traditional Bluffton, where we get out, meet each other and forge lifelong friendships – within the neighborhoods and with others throughout the town? I’m working toward the latter. Here’s hoping you will too.
For ideas or comments please feel free to email.
Email address: Blufftontalkofthetown@gmail.com