Roadtripping Coastal Highway 17
Fans of retro Americana and roadside kitsch will find a treasure trove of down-home sites along the old Coastal Highway, now known as U.S. Highway 17. Before the arrival of the Interstate highway system, Highway 17 was by far the most-traveled route in the region. While now just a shadow of its former self, it is still a vital roadway and contains a lot of interesting, little-known history.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights, beginning just north of Charleston and ending at Brunswick, Georgia.
Sweetgrass Baskets: A stretch of Highway 17 in Mt. Pleasant north of Charleston has been dubbed “Sweetgrass Basket Makers Highway” in honor of the many wooden stalls along its length hosting local African American artisans selling their homemade sweetgrass baskets, a centuries-old tradition with African roots.
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge: The longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western hemisphere joins Mt. Pleasant with Charleston proper. It has a pedestrian/bike lane too.
Coburg Cow: This nearly century-old dairy advertisement — a slowly rotating milk cow — was once near pastureland outside city limits. Find it in West Ashley on the portion of Highway 17 known as the “Savannah Highway,” just west of Charleston.
Old Sheldon Church: A very short drive off Highway 17, the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church — burned by both the British during the Revolution and the Yankees during the Civil War — are huge, stark, and poignant. Going south on Highway 17, take a right onto Old Sheldon Church Road.
Firework Stands: At the intersection of Highway 17 and I-95 at Hardeeville, you’ll find many garish, colorful stores selling enough fireworks to blow you to the moon and back.
Keller’s Flea Market: South of Savannah on Highway 17, at its intersection with Highway 204/Abercorn Extension, find this classic rambling and friendly Southern flea market. Look for the statue of the hat-wearing cow out front.
Midway Church: In the Liberty County town of Midway find this beautiful 1792 church, whose congregation once boasted two of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence. Don’t miss the historic cemetery across the street.
Smallest Church in North America: On the side of the road near South Newport find the miniscule and charming Memory Park Christ Chapel, erected in 1950.
Butler Island Plantation Ruins: Just south of Darien, Georgia, on the west side of Highway 17, find this tall chimney — the only surviving remnant of the Butler plantation. English actress Fanny Kemble, who married a Butler heir, wrote the first influential abolitionist work, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, after witnessing the miserable life of the slaves who worked there. (Strangely, the nearby historical marker makes no mention of this.)
Brunswick Stewpot: Allegedly the container in which the first batch of Brunswick Stew was cooked up, you can find this cast iron pot in Brunswick, Georgia, at the corner of Highway 17 and the Torras Causeway to St. Simons Island.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition