11 Most Endangered Historic Places
Year Listed: 2004
Location: St. Helena Island, South Carolina
Extending for hundreds of miles between Cape Fear and the St. Johns River, this stretch of coastline is home to one of America's most distinctive cultures: the Gullah or Geechee people, descendants of slaves who have stoutly maintained lifeways, crafts, traditions - even a language - whose origins can be traced back over the centuries to their homelands in West Africa. Until fairly recently, the coastal region of islands, marshes, placid rivers and oak-shaded roads had seen relatively little change - but now change is widespread, often overwhelming and sometimes devastating. Unless something is done to halt the destruction, Gullah/Geechee culture will be relegated to museums and history books, and our nation's unique cultural mosaic will lose one of its richest and most colorful pieces.
There are hundreds of significant sites and structures within the proposed endangered area. The great variety of sites includes natural areas, cemeteries, Penn Center NHL, crossroad communities: all associated with the development of a unique African American culture. Even the best managed private and government areas lack the funds to properly protect the lands and structures within their purview. Community activists throughout the area are working to preserve small sites within their communities, but they are unable to raise enough funds to make a significant difference. Although county governments and real estate developers are becoming more sensitive to the need for preservation, they may not understand the historical significance of what is being lost. Equally threatened are the folkways and cultural practices, including language, that represent the Gullah culture.