Size: 7 x 10
Pages: 288
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos, 15 illustrations, 25 maps

South Carolina History & Culture
Historic Preservation
Environmental Studies
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Lowcountry at High Tide

A History of Flooding, Drainage, and Reclamation in Charleston, South Carolina

Christina Rae Butler

Published: Feb 21 2023


Published: Jun 23 2020


Published: Jun 23 2020

OA Ebook
Published: Jun 23 2020


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

2020 George C. Rogers Jr. Award Finalist, best book of South Carolina history

A study of Charleston's topographic evolution, its history of flooding, and efforts to keep residents dry and safe

The signs are there: our coastal cities are increasingly susceptible to flooding as the climate changes. Charleston, South Carolina, is no exception, and is one of the American cities most vulnerable to rising sea levels. Lowcountry at High Tide is the first book to deal with the topographic evolution of Charleston, its history of flooding from the seventeenth century to the present, and the efforts made to keep its populace high and dry, as well as safe and healthy.

For centuries residents have made many attempts, both public and private, to manipulate the landscape of the low-lying peninsula on which Charleston sits, surrounded by wetlands, to maximize drainage, and thus buildable land and to facilitate sanitation. Christina Butler uses three hundred years of archival records to show not only the alterations to the landscape past and present, but also the impact those efforts have had on the residents at various socio-economic levels throughout its history.

Wide-ranging and thorough, Lowcountry at High Tide goes beyond the documentation of reclamation and filling and offers a look into the life and the history of Charleston and how its people have been affected by its unique environment, as well as examining the responses of the city over time to the needs of the populace. Butler considers interdisciplinary topics from engineering to public health, infrastructure to class struggle, and urban planning to civic responsibility in a study that is not only invaluable to the people of Charleston, but for any coastal city grappling with environmental change.

Illustrated with historical maps, plats, and photographs and organized chronologically and thematically within chapters, Lowcountry at High Tide offers a unique look at how Charleston has kept—and may continue to keep—the ocean at bay.

Listen to Christina Butler on SC Public Radio's South Carolina Lede podcast

Christina R. Butler is a professor at the American College of the Building Arts, an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston, and owner of Butler Preservation L.C., which specializes in historic property research. She is the author of Ansonborough: From Birth to Rebirth and several National Register listings. Butler has a B.A. in historic preservation and an M.A. in history from the College of Charleston/Citadel joint program.

"Using archival specifications and bid documents, Lowcountry at High Tide provides an excellent case study for the material history of construction and humanizes city-building as both personal and bodily practice. Butler interleaves a larger citywide narrative with portraits of hard work in moments of crisis... the reader can appreciate Butler's technical skill in illuminating what the stakes really were."—Arris

"An important reference tool for historians of coastal cities and lovers of Charleston, Lowcountry at High Tide builds on urban infrastructure history... Students and other readers of Butler's case study of Charleston will find lots of intellectual and archival breadcrumbs leading to research opportunities into additional topics relevant to contemporary life in the midst of accelerating climate change and global warming."—The Public Historian

"Butler's work is impeccably researched, drawing from maps, plats, city records, local newspapers, and contract daybooks. This book offers scholars interested in Charleston's built environment a detailed, block-by-block account of the city's history focused on the nitty-gritty of sewers, street fill, and storm drains. . . . More important, Lowcountry at High Tide provides important historical context for understanding Charleston's relationship with land and water. Given the environmental challenges the city faces today, this is perhaps the book's greatest contribution."—The Journal of Southern History

"Lowcountry at High Tide is a much-needed study of landmaking in Charleston that also includes the related topics of drainage and filling existing land. Using public records, Christina Butler has traced Charlestonians's efforts to create raised, dry - and healthy, attractive, economically viable - land from their original low, inlet-laced peninsula."—Nancy Seasholes, author of Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston

"Christina Butler describes a growing but low-lying city where the ground surface was constantly in flux. The filling and draining that characterized Charleston from its earliest days had both short-term and long-range consequences for the livability of the peninsula, and for the archaeological record of these processes. Some may surprise you."—Martha Zierden, The Charleston Museum

"A new and compelling perspective on the history of Charleston. Synthesizing primary documents, maps, and property records, Butler painstakingly chronicles 340 years of Charleston's physical transformation through filling and drainage projects. More broadly, this book offers a much-needed historical framework for understanding the flooding issues currently facing Charleston and other coastal cities."—Jon Bernard Marcoux, Clemson University

"As low-lying coastal cities around the world face more and bigger floods, Lowcountry at High Tide makes valuable contributions in illuminating the uneven legacy of Charleston's land building and drainage works."—Geographical Review

"In Lowcountry at High Tide, Christina Rae Butler examines the seemingly mundane histories of filling, drainage, and land reclamation to understand how and why residents have shaped Charleston's physical geography over time. [. . .] Her account is meticulously researched and highly detailed."—Preservation Education and Research

2020 Finalist, South Carolina Historical Society's George C. Rogers Jr. Award for the best book of South Carolina history

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