In the mid-20th century, like most southern cities, Charleston was separated. The beaches in the area were “white” and left few outdoor recreational opportunities for African Americans.
Across the swamp from Folly Beach in Sol Legare parish on James Island, local African Americans built a swamp recreational oasis on the site of a former oyster factory where many of them used to work. Despite the closure of “The Factory,” as it was called, residents continued to gather on the premises and visit Joe Chavis’ restaurant, which was set up nearby to cater for the former factory workers. The area came to be known as Mosquito Beach, aptly named for the year-round insects that roam the marshes’ edge.
Chavis’ shop grew in popularity, as did Mosquito Beach. It became an important haven where African American people could enjoy seafood, fish, boating, socializing, and swimming to attract ever more visitors and additional businesses. Residents remember that it was the place to “see and be seen” and that every shop on the beach was “packed with people of all ages every weekend”.
Susan Chavis, a native of Sol Legare, wrote in 2015 about the role of Mosquito Beach in the early 1960s: “It was intended to provide African Americans with a place to enjoy themselves by strutting up and down the area, catching a breeze and listen to a variety of music, shake a leg, buy some of the best soul and southern food and just enjoy each other without the pressure of the dividing lines. “
Mosquito Beach was one of only five “black beaches” in the Charleston area. While most of the visitors were local, the beach attracted people from out of town, and in 1961 the Pine Tree Hotel was built. With 14 rooms, a shared kitchen and bathrooms, the hotel flourished until segregation stopped and local residents and tourists visited other beaches. Although not architecturally significant, the hotel is a reminder of the cultural history of this community that survived Hurricanes Hugo, Matthew, Irma and Florence.
Mosquito Beach is a rare example of an African American recreation area from the time of Jim Crow, as most other beaches have lost buildings due to natural disasters, development, or neglect. Because of its cultural significance, the Historic Charleston Foundation worked with residents of the community to protect this important historical resource by securing a place for Mosquito Beach on the National Register of Historic Places.
A National Parks Service civil rights grant, awarded to the Historic Charleston Foundation in 2019, ensures that the Pine Tree Hotel will be redeveloped. “With funding from the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights Grant program, the Pine Tree Hotel can be converted into an educational and entrepreneurial hub for the local African American community, shedding light on the past and offering economic opportunities for the future.” said William “Cubby” Wilder, owner of the Pine Tree Hotel. Wilder’s late uncle Andrew Jackson “Apple” Wilder built the original structure.
Learn more at https://www.historicmosquitobeach.com/