Willtown to preserve | Walterboro Live
By VICKI BROWN
Colleton County’s first settlement called Willtown, and once located on the Edisto River near Jacksonboro, is now under permanent protection and is part of the ACE Basin.
On May 7, 2021, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced the permanent protection of Charleston County’s third largest undeveloped property through a conservation easement. The 2,101-acre Willtown Tract shares over a mile of its border with the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge and contributes to a contiguous 29-mile corridor of natural habitat for wildlife.
According to Jennifer Howard, spokesperson for TNC, “A conservation easement like the one that currently protects Willtown retains private property, promoting conservation values, limiting its future development. In this case, the easement owned by TNC limits the number of times the property can be divided into house lots and supports agricultural, forestry and recreational uses, ”Howard said.
“Willtown is a very large property, but the impact of protecting it is even greater,” says Dale Threatt-Taylor, executive director of TNC, South Carolina. “The woodlands will help filter and clean the water that flows from Willtown into the Edisto River and eventually into the ecologically rich St Helena Strait. And keeping this forest in good condition, as the conservation easement allows, will support local jobs and South Carolina’s lumber industry.
Willtown is located near the Ashepoo / Combahee / Edisto River Basin and is one of the largest undeveloped wetland ecosystems on the Atlantic coast. It sits between the Federal Refuge and Private Land and adds to the 300,000 acres of land protection on the South Edisto River, about 30 miles from Charleston and a few miles from Jacksonboro. The site is accessible by road from Highway 17 south, then by the tarmac road at Parker’s Ferry; this paved road ends with a dirt road which is a remnant of the old Willtown Road.
In 1682 Willtown, or Willton, was first named New London by the Lords Proprietors and renamed Willtown in 1708. At that time there were boat docks, small shops, two churches and 80 families.
Willtown was a fort during the Yemassee War in 1715 and protected settlers which consisted mainly of religious dissidents. It supported Indian commerce and was a popular stop for traders between Savannah, St. Helena, Beaufort, and Charleston. In the 1720s, a church, courtyard, school, and shops were in operation.
In the Civil War, Col. Thomas Higginson of the First Colored Infantry and Col. HK Aikin, Sixth Cavalry Commander of the Second Military District Headquarters, Adams Run, ascended the Edisto River with 250 men on the Dean of Enoch and Union forces took possession of Willtown bluff.
Later, the city was destroyed, abandoned, and the land was parceled out and bought. But remains still exist on the Willtown Plantation and Willtown Bluff, namely a flour mill chimney and a church column.
The ACE Basin Working Group has worked hard to protect land and manage historic areas and critical habitats. For example, red cockade woodpeckers did not exist in the ACE basin when the working group was established, but have since been successfully reintroduced. The basin is home to many rare plants and animals, migratory birds and wading birds.
Willtown Tract has been identified as a high priority by and has received funding from the South Carolina Conservation Bank and the Charleston Greenbelt Grant Program. Additional funding was provided by TNC and the ACE Basin working group. The residual value of the easement was given by the landowner.
“Willtown is an incredible achievement, not only because of the unique nature of the property, but also because of the breadth of partnerships – a private landowner and a non-profit conservation organization ensuring the ongoing protection of critical habitats by leveraging local and state funding, ”noted Raleigh West, executive director of the South Carolina Conservation Bank. “Ultimately, the future of our privileged places is in the hands of those who wish to work together.”