SUMMERVILLE, S.C. — In one of the more unusual final exams taken in college this semester, students from the American College of the Building Arts laid bricks Friday at the Colonial Dorchester State Historic site to help tell the story of one of South Carolina’s earliest colonial settlements.
The students have worked to lay bricks outlining the foundation of a house that was one of about 50 in the trading town of Dorchester dating to the 1600s.
On Friday they were laying six courses of brick at the corners of the outlined foundation to make it more visible. Until the foundation work, all that could be seen at the site were the remains of a church tower and a stockade. But the foundations of as many as 200 buildings are underground, even though only about 1 percent of the site has been excavated.
“A lot of times you may do a project that will disappear. But this is a live project and they have to get it right,” said Simeon Warren, the dean of the college. “If they get it wrong, I get it into trouble. If they get it wrong, they get in into trouble. This is their final exam.”
The Charleston school is the only four-year college in the nation teaching traditional building arts.
“I’m impressed. I’ve really enjoyed working out here,” said Carson Whitmore, a freshman from Lookout Mountain, Ga.
Colonial Dorchester is on the site of a town that flourished from the late 1600s through the beginning of Revolutionary War when trading patterns changed and the town withered away. The work on the site is being done with a $7,200 grant from MeadeWestvaco Corp., the company that donated the site to the state in 1969.
“It’s very unique and one of the richest archeological places in the United States to see what went on in the colonial period,” said Duane Parrish, the director of the state Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism.
“This is an amazing site and is sometimes overshadowed by Charleston Landing,” said Kenneth Seeger, the director of community development and land management for MeadeWestvaco. “But it’s a very significant community that had over 200 structures and was a center of trade for almost 100 years.”
Charlestown Landing, in Charleston, is where the first English settlers landed in South Carolina.
“Essentially what we have here is a colonial town beneath our feet,” said Ashley Chapman, the manager for the historic site. “Standing here 250 years ago, you would have been surrounded by shops, warehouses, buildings, a school and two taverns – a complete town site.”
Showing the foundations will help in understanding the site, he said.
“One issue is that once we do the archaeology we have to cover it back up. Projects like this are allowing us to bring the archaeology to the town and give visitors a better idea of where all these buildings were,” he said.