Author: Courtney Hampson
How lucky am I? Two months ago, I celebrated my tenth anniversary working at Palmetto Bluff. I’ve been making that four-mile drive from the gate to the May River (well, just short of the river, for obvious reasons) for over a decade now. And yet, it is impossible to take it for granted.
The beauty of this place is everywhere—in the way the limbs of the live oaks dip, the way the Spanish moss drifts in the breeze, in the unmistakable smell of salt and sea warmed by the sun. Once you are here, you understand it. The South Carolina Lowcountry and Palmetto Bluff speak to you in a way no other place can.
Palmetto Bluff has always been envisioned to be a series of villages. When our development team first starting thinking about Moreland Village (and I am a saver so I went back and looked on my desktop and the first Moreland vision book I have was dated August 21, 2008), it was planned to be the perfect place to promote the kind of lifestyle the Lowcountry is known for, blurring the lines between indoors and out.
At Moreland, we want to bring life to the landscape by creating and celebrating our crossroads—whether waterways, wooded trails, driveways, or a hidden oyster shell path that snakes along the marsh and ends at a hidden fire pit. We also want to create opportunity for self-discovery, where you might explore on your own, your attention caught by a trail that you can’t help but follow.
To create place is difficult. For years, we’ve studied other great places to find the best, and, in some cases, the worst examples. For Moreland Village, we intentionally curated a collection of designers, land planners and architects (rather than working with a single group, which would have been easier; but easy rarely makes it better or special). We brought together Lake Flato, 4240, and Hart Howerton and balanced that with a strong nod to incredible local and regional talent like Historical Concepts, Pearce Scott, Witmer Jones Keefer, and Court Atkins, just to name a few. We jumped through these self-made hoops, all in an effort to create the best spaces and places to celebrate the Lowcountry.
I believe Don Killoren, Palmetto Bluff’s general manager, said it best: “This combination of spectacular and exotic natural setting with much of the land set aside in conservation, paired with exceptional design and well-rounded lifestyle activities, makes this a destination like an Aspen or Telluride, Carmel, or Nantucket. Moreland Village is a response to what we have seen from our residents and in the market—[the desire] to have an escape that makes accessing all of that easy, but in a very thoughtfully developed and extraordinarily designed way.”
Moreland has been designed to create the happy collisions that surprise and delight. From creating formal lifestyle hubs where programming and amenities share space, to finding and creating compelling “destinations” among Palmetto Bluff’s preserves and parks, to designing true gathering places where trails and tracks intersect with each other –Moreland is a communal experience.
The history of this place
Palmetto Bluff archaeologist, Dr. Mary Socci, tells us that Native Americans visited the area where Moreland Village sits today for over four thousand years. Socci and her team have recovered thousands of fragments of pottery, stone tools, oyster shells and animal bones left by these early visitors. The remains include a pit that dates back over 2000 years, and we can only assume that may have been used for steaming oysters.
After all, the iconic Moreland Landing at Palmetto Bluff has played host to thousands of traditional oyster roasts in the dozen years since Crescent Communities purchased the 20,000 acres. Long before that, however, Moreland was part of a 12,000-acre barony purchased in 1730 by Robert Wright, Chief Justice of South Carolina, and George Lord Anson, a British naval captain. The barony was divided and sold into tracts that would become the plantations of Palmetto Bluff.
In 1774, Richard Proctor purchased 1184 acres that would become known as Moreland Plantation. The main house at Moreland was located where the Moreland Landing pavilion is today, no doubt capitalizing on the swift, cool breezes of the river. After Richard Proctor died, Robert Corley purchased Moreland Plantation, where he raised corn, cotton, peas, sweet potatoes, rice, cattle, pigs and sheep. His daughter Esther Caroline married John James Cole in 1841 and took over running the plantation. They spent their summers in Bluffton at the “Heyward House,” a historic property now open to the public in Old Town Bluffton.
Courtney Hampson, Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka, Governor Nikki Haley, and Palmetto Bluff General Manager Don Killoren at the Moreland Village launch events. Haley remarked that Palmetto Bluff was her favorite place in the state of South Carolina.
Photography by Anne
Moreland was one of at least 15 separate plantations that once occupied the land that is now Palmetto Bluff. Today, the physical remnants of Moreland are few. Two cemeteries located near Old Moreland Road tell of a working plantation and give a glimpse into the life of the place. Pine trees now replace ground once scattered with cotton, and new marsh exists in historic rice paddies. Live Oaks grace the banks of the creek and marsh that, to this day, provide strong protection from incoming storms.
Moreland became part of Palmetto Bluff in 1915 when it was purchased by R. T. Wilson, a wealthy banker from New York. Wilson named his property, which would eventually total 20,000 acres, “Palmetto Bluff,” and he built the spectacular mansion whose ruins lie in the Village.
Paying homage to the history of the place through traditional architecture and planning, Moreland Village is envisioned as a settlement that evolved from a plantation to a small riverside town to a bustling neighborhood.
“The summer homes established along the May River were characterized by certain design traits that had been adapted to meet the demands of the Lowcountry and were often raised above the ground on piers to provide adequate ventilation. In most cases, these clapboard-sided residences had large porches for casual living. Several well-preserved examples of this vernacular form of Lowcountry architectural design can still be viewed in some of Bluffton’s remaining antebellum homes. The Cole-Heyward House is a splendid illustration. In the early 1840s, John J. Cole built this summer dwelling for his family on Boundary Street. Like many builders of the day, Cole chose plans for his house based on the early Carolina Farmhouse style of architecture, which was heavily influenced from the West Indies. John and his wife Caroline Corley owned nearby Moreland Plantation located at May River Neck, or present-day Palmetto Bluff.”—Excerpt from The Bluffton Expedition: The Burning of Bluffton, South Carolina, During the Civil War, by Jeff Fulgham, 2012
The Lowcountry vernacular and architectural traditions
“Palmetto Bluff draws upon the architectural and landscape traditions that shaped the Lowcountry region,” said architect Stephanie Gentemann, Palmetto Bluff’s design review administrator. At Moreland Village, the intent is to continue to build on this tradition to develop contemporary interpretations and details that incorporate sustainable concepts. Lowcountry architecture is the result of a variety of cultural influences (English, French and German) that are well suited to the area with regard to climate and the use of local materials.
Jay Walea, Director of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy tells guests the history of Moreland Village at the launch events.
Photography by Anne
The earliest Lowcountry settlers were mainly English and French, and they brought with them an architectural language that was more rectangular and formal, which was assimilated with designs that considered the coastal climate of the Carolinas. The use of columns and symmetrical layouts were relaxed with deep porches for shade and raised foundations to capture coastal breezes.
As families grew, technology advanced and cultural influences changed, these factors impacted the architectural design aesthetic of the Lowcountry. A primary house was constructed first and, as the family’s needs changed, secondary wings and/or structures, such as cottages, garages, dormers, and outbuildings were added. This evolution created a collection of informal buildings that were broken up, rather than one main dominant structure. This evolution preserved the more rural character of the Lowcountry and established a comfortable and “human” scale to the buildings.
“With history and tradition in mind, Moreland has a spirit that emphasizes a simpler Lowcountry vernacular compared to the more refined architecture and landscape of Wilson Village,” Gentemann said.
“While each building will be influenced by the past, the architecture of Moreland will feature design elements that are updated and modern. Homes will be typified by simple masses and details, but high quality building materials. Larger masses will be broken down to be more sympathetic to the vernacular context.”
In Moreland Village, a wide variety of lot types and sizes will reflect small town informality and coastal lifestyle. Buildings will be subordinate to the landscape, highlighting Moreland’s natural character, with the predominant Lowcountry design creating a casual, relaxed, and simple way of life. The mixture of lot types and amenities will provide for a rich diversity in the community.
Homes will feature expansive porches with an eye towards engaging the street. Buildings will be unbundled so that they appear as a collection of simple, related forms rather than one single “box.”
The porch has evolved as one of the most distinguishing features of the Lowcountry vernacular and will be a prevalent characteristic of Moreland. Porches will be used in building designs to respond to sun orientation, establish a neighborhood atmosphere and reinforce the informal quality of Moreland Village.
With idyllic views and over 17,000 linear feet of marsh edge, we’re fortunate that the raw materials at Moreland were simply stunning. In the core of the Village, our team really focused on the details. The roads and paths are “paved” with a custom-crushed oyster shell blend, which creates an unexpected arrival experience in itself as you’ll feel a change beneath your feet (or tires) as you entire the Village.
The crunch of the oyster shells not only makes a great sound, it makes you slow down and take in the scenery. The lanterns that line the street are custom Bevolo lights, designed by our team to reflect a nautical theme. “We have 56 of them in the first phase, and the only place you will see them is in Moreland Village,” said Dallas Wood, Palmetto Bluff’s director of development.
The history here is so rich that it really helped us to tell a story of what life here would be like in the present and the future. Like Wilson Village, Moreland Village will be anchored by a green, but it will feel very different, with the edges undulating and playing connector to the all of the public spaces we will create. The Crossroads, as the green has been dubbed, is the place where people will intersect naturally, and probably even stop and sit and maybe just stare out over the marsh.
The Outfitters will serve as the perfect jumping off point for outdoor opportunities and be a place of learning and environmental education as it will be home to the Conservancy—the non-profit organization started a dozen years ago to manage Palmetto Bluff’s 20,000 acres of land and its wildlife.
Adjacent to the Crossroads will be “The Boundary,” which will be the social hall, named to pay homage to the Cole family, the last owners of Moreland Plantation whose summer home in downtown Bluffton was on Boundary Street. When naming it, we really just liked the way the word “boundary” felt—a defined place or space—as the social hall will be the place to gather.
Moreland is a place where history, people, culture and tradition will all come together to create community. I can’t wait to watch it grow.