I’ve said it before, but Edisto Island, South Carolina, is remote: there’s only one bridge in and out! Before there was even a bridge, though, travelers from nearby Charleston had to sail to the island. One route was via the Atlantic Ocean, a sixty-mile trip that, while direct, could be very dangerous1. Another way was through an “inner passage” that followed coastal rivers upstream between several islands. Sailing the inner passage took longer, but it was the safest way to get to Edisto2. Today, the island’s Steamboat Landing still provides access to Steamboat Creek, a branch of the Edisto River, for a modern variety of watercraft.
I spent the week after Christmas on vacation in Edisto Island with my parents and my six-year-old niece. It was my first time back to the island in nearly a decade. I took some pictures of what I found interesting on the trip and I’ll write about them periodically. This is part six of the loose series, which will be coming to an end soon. Read the other parts here, here, here, here, and here.
William Seabrook, a wealthy planter who started a ferry service around 1810 and operated a steamboat he named after himself3 probably named Steamboat Creek and Steamboat Landing. Seabrook’s plantation home, an over-the-top, Federal-style mansion, sat about two-fifths of a mile east of the landing as the crow flies. It’s hard to see much of the property from the landing, but the plantation’s octagonal tea house is visible- barely.
William Seabrook died in 1836, but his second wife, Emma Edings, lived at Seabrook Plantation until the 1850s4. After her death, the plantation was sold to a parade of successive owners. In 1860, 119 slaves harvested sea island cotton at Seabrbrook5, which was eventually purchased and restored to become a hunting preserve. It still is today.
Steamboat Landing was used by Union soldiers to reach their headquarters at Point of Pines Plantation6 during the Civil War. Aside from troops, generations of islanders traveled from Steamboat Landing, along with Steamboat Landing Road, which connects the landing to Edisto Beach7. In 1855, a steamboat called Etiwan took trips from Charleston to Edisto Island and Rockville8.
The steamboats that plied South Carolina’s coastal waterways didn’t just provide a means for islanders to travel. They also enabled plantation owners to export Edisto’s sea island cotton, a crop that was incredibly in-demand and bestowed phenomenal wealth upon its planters. In 1860, a steamer named Fannie, captained by a man named Adair, made trips from Charleston to Edisto Island, Chisolm’s Landing, Beaufort, and Hilton Head every Wednesday morning on the inland route between the sea islands9. That same year, P.C. Lewis captained the steamboat Emilie from Charleston to Edisto on Thursdays10. A year later, Starlight took routes from Savannah to Beaufort, Pacific Landing, Edisto Island, and Enterprise11.
Trips aboard side-wheel steamers like Etiwan, Fannie, Emilie, Starlight, and others served as a microcosm of southern culture that forced people of different races, social standings, and economics to travel together, and Steamboat Landing served as the only way to access Edisto Island up past the dawn of the twentieth century. Regular service began to dwindle around the time the boll weevil hit the island, and ended altogether by the 1920s13 when the first permanent bridge to the island was constructed. The modern iteration of that structure, the massive McKinley Washington Jr. Bridge, can be seen off in the distance from Steamboat Landing nearly four miles northwest.
Although the primary mode of travel it served hasn’t been viable for more than a century, Steamboat Landing is still busy. Today, fishing boats, canoes, and kayaks dock there, not to mention anglers who set up shop on its pier to catch largemouth, stripers, and black crappie. The modern pier at Steamboat Landing was built in 2013 to replace a wooden one that had fallen into disrepair and features sustainable aluminum decking and concrete pilings. I didn’t believe it when I ambled towards the creek, but the pier stretches into water twenty-two feet deep14!
I first went to Steamboat Landing about a decade ago, but I wasn’t surprised that the place was still a popular. After all, there are fish to catch and islands to see! Although canoes, kayaks, and bass boats mostly ply the nearby waters now, Steamboat Landing is a rare piece of historic infrastructure that’s continued to be used up through the present day. The old landing continues to serve as a recreational outlet for islanders and provides striking views of the salt marshes and inland waterways. It’s also a great place for carpetbaggers like me to take some photos.
1 Butler, N. (2019, April 5). Steamboating from Edisto to Charleston ca. 1900. Charleston County Public Library. Web. Retrieved March 5, 2023.
2 (See footnote 1).
3 Skidmore, E. (n.d.). Steamboat Landing. SC Picture Project. Web. Retrieved February 4, 2023.
4 Wren, C.H. (2010, October 8). The William Seabrborok House, Edisto Island. Charleston Through an Artist’s eye. Web. Retrieved March 5, 2023.
5 Slaves in the Estate of William Seabrook, Edisto Island, SC, 1860 (2010, July 4). Fold3. Web. Retrieved March 5, 2023.
6 (See footnote 3).
7 Johnson, D. (1994, April 19). Edisto threat. The Walterboro Press and Standard. p. 4.
8 Extra Trip For Edisto Island (1855, July 9). The Charleston Daily Courier. p. 3.
9 Inland Route (1869, April 20). The Charleston Daily Courier
10 For Edisto (1869, April 20). The Charleston Daily Courier. p. 1.
11 Marine News (1870, August 11). The Charleston Daily News. p. 4.
12 Murray, C.S. (1930, September 28). Steamboating in South Carolina. A Trip Up From Edisto. p. 9.
13 (See footnote 1).
14 14 Boat Landing on Edisto Island Opens New Fishing Pier (n.d.). Charleston County Parks Archive Center. Web. Retrieved March 5, 2023.
2 thoughts on “Edisto Island’s old Steamboat Landing still brings in the boats”
Edisto was mentioned many times in the trial of Alec Murdaugh — his wife and family loved going there.. Thanks again, for another very informative and interesting article about places I didn’t know about.
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Yes! I’d been paying attention to the trial too. I had no idea it was going to take place so soon after I was there, but I also wrote up the courthouse in Walterboro, where the trial took place. I was there a few weeks before it commenced.