So You Want to Live in ... McClellanville, SC

J. Savage Gibson
This hardworking Lowcountry village welcomes newcomers who appreciate simplicity.

Life moves slowly in McClellanville, South Carolina. "Folks either love or hate it," says Bud Hill, director of The Village Museum. "Most of us have roots here. But if you're what I'd call a character, then you'd fit in just fine."

Less than an hour's drive separates this marshfront community from Charleston to the south and Georgetown to the north. "We don't have a maintenance or police department. There aren't even any traffic lights," Bud says. "That's why we all pitch in and wear two or three hats." When Bud isn't busy at the museum, he helps at town cleanups, volunteers with local organizations, and serves as deputy town marshal.

McClellanville began as a coastal retreat for rice and indigo planters in the mid-1800s and later evolved into a fishing town. Fishing still anchors the local economy. Working residents who don't make a living from the sea commute to out-of-town jobs. Hurricane Hugo's devastation brought national attention in 1989, and locals have fought to maintain small-town charm ever since.

A few specialty shops, eateries, and churches dot Pinckney Street, the main thoroughfare. The road ends at Town Hall, opening to an expansive view of Jeremy Creek and weather-beaten shrimp boats idling through the marsh.

Mary Duke, town clerk and treasurer, moved here in 1973 with her husband. "He grew up here and wanted to come back," Mary says. "This sort of family atmosphere is hard to find." She points out, though, that with each benefit comes a drawback. "In three words, it's peaceful, beautiful, and buggy."

McClellanville attracts numerous artists and writers. The late Archibald Rutledge, South Carolina's first poet laureate, found inspiration in its scenery. Creative people like it because "there's room to think here," says Bernadette Humphrey, director of McClellanville Arts Council. "It's soulful and easy to call home. Although sometimes it isn't easy to live here―the earthiness is not for everybody."

Villagers embrace full-time newcomers, but warn against expectations of change. "It's one of the few remaining old working coastal villages," says Bernadette. "You have to pick and choose what's important to you. Don't try to bring your conveniences here." Most residents agree with Bernadette―and love McClellanville just the way it is.

(published October 2006)

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