Day Trip to Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville, SC

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
February 13th, 2019
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Here are a few things to do with a day trip to this South Carolina state historic site in Summerville.

From inside the ruins of the tabby fort at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site I could see the remains of an enormous bell tower in the distance. The fort and bell tower were built in the 1700s so the fact they remain today makes this one of the most remarkably preserved sites in the South Carolina State Park system.

I spent an hour visiting the park one day. Here are a few things you could do with a day trip to Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site.

Take the Self-Guided Walking Tour

Anyone who follows my adventures knows I am crazy about self-guided walking tours. The one at Colonial Dorchester was pretty good and easy to walk.

It began at the information kiosk beside the paved parking lot. This is where I found the South Carolina Ultimate Outsider stamp. There was also a rather amazing 3D map of the town of Dorchester showing what it looked like at its pinnacle before the Revolutionary War.

A box on the side of the kiosk had the self-guided walking tour brochure. With 9 stops along a primitive path it only took about 30 minutes to walk the complete circuit. Well, it would have only taken 30 minutes. But I had to read all the informational panels and snap pretty pictures so it took me closer to an hour.

The tour began with a walk down to the Ashley River where I found a rather ominous sign about alligators. Yes, there are gators in the Ashley River. This is not a swimming hole. Keep your pets on a short leash.

From there the walking tour continued through Fort Dorchester, past the reconstructed foundation of a double house, around the bell tower of St. George Anglican Church, and back to the field beside the parking lot.

A tall oak tree leaning over the Ashley River at the end of a hiking trail at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville, South Carolina
A tall oak tree leaning over the Ashley River at the end of a hiking trail at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville, South Carolina

The self-guided walking tour led to the Ashley River and this large tree leaning over the river.

Explore the Ruins of Fort Dorchester

A couple of years ago when I toured the Powder Magazine in Charleston, I learned something that I wouldn’t connect until I visited Colonial Dorchester. In the 1700s the only powder magazine in the region was located in Charlestown. Facing a threat from France the colonial government decided not to put all their eggs in one basket and opted to establish another powder magazine.

That location was in the town of Dorchester. Located on the Ashley River it would be easy to resupply Charlestown as needed. A small building for storing powder was built near the river and a tabby wall, a type of wall that used a mixture of oyster shells and concrete, was built around it.

The self-guided walking tour passed through a narrow entrance into the ruins of Fort Dorchester. The familiar pitted tabby walls surrounded the ruins of the powder magazine in the center. I walked to one corner of the fort to see a commanding view of the Ashley River.

There wasn’t much to see but the fact these walls remained was pretty remarkable. With just a small stretch of the imagination I could imagine what it looked like at the pinnacle of use before falling into disrepair.

A concrete walls zigzags back and forth at the ruins of Fort Dorchester at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville, South Carolina
A concrete walls zigzags back and forth at the ruins of Fort Dorchester at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville, South Carolina

The tabby wall zigzags around the ruins of Fort Dorchester.

Admire the Ruins of St. George Anglican Church

As if one set of magnificent ruins weren’t enough there was more at the old church. The enormous bell tower was all that remained of St. George Anglican Church which had been built in the center of Dorchester.

The primitive path from Fort Dorchester led around the church but I decided to cut straight across. I couldn’t believe this tower, built in 1751, had withstood the test of time. Nestled in a small grove of trees it was easy to see the entire tower in the middle of winter with barren trees.

I walked inside the base of the bell tower and looked up. And up. And up. I could just imagine the four bronze bells that once hung near the top to alert the town to an upcoming service or special event. Today all I could see was hollow window openings and dead vines.

The bell tower of St. George Anglican Church at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville, South Carolina
The bell tower of St. George Anglican Church at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville, South Carolina

The bell tower, the only remains of St. George Anglican Church.

Have a Family Picnic

In the cooler months, when the mosquitoes are not an absolute annoyance, this park would actually be a really great place for a family picnic. Between the parking lot and restrooms was a large picnic area with nice tables beneath the shade of large pine trees. The restrooms were surprisingly nice for a small state park.

The large field beside the parking lot looked like the perfect place to toss a frisbee back and forth. At least that’s what I would like. I suppose it would also be suitable for a football, baseball, soccer ball, or maybe even bocce.

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Visit Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site

A good continuation of this day trip would be to visit nearby Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site. The park is located on the site of the original colony, later known as Old Town, before it was moved to the Charleston peninsula.

The most scenic route to get to the park would be to drive along Highway 61, locally known as Ashley River Road. The road parallels the Ashley River through the Plantation District of Charleston. This is where you would find Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, and Drayton Hall.

A paved path beneath a massive oak tree at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in Charleston, South Carolina
A pelican at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in Charleston, South Carolina
The Adventure sailing ship at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in Charleston, South Carolina

Gorgeous hiking trails, a brown pelican at The Animal Forest, and the sailing vessel Adventure at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site.

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