Just across the Ashley River bridge from Historic downtown Charleston are the areas of West Ashley, James Island and John's Island.
Like most of Charleston county, times are evolving and these districts are being transformed as well. Meandering through these areas are low country vistas, marshes, and creeks, capturing the essence of the incomparable Lowcountry. James Island, with its small town atmosphere, West Ashley with its vibrant charm and John's Island with a remaining rural impression, are, in part, what makes Charleston so alluring and gracious.
West Ashley, more formerly known as West of the Ashley, is one of the distinct areas of the city proper of Charleston. The land is west of the Ashley River, from which it gets its name. It is not a self-governed city or town but the majority of West Ashley is within the city limits of Charleston. The area is noted as the birthplace of Charleston, as colonists from England established the first permanent settlement in the Carolina colony at Albemarle Point in 1670.
The original neighborhoods in West Ashley were built in the area nearest the Charleston peninsula. The main artery, U.S. Route 17 (Savannah Highway) flanks the location of the earliest retail district, developed in the 1950s, which has been revived and has become a hub for art and design-oriented businesses. The 1970s and 80s brought about the greatest residential and business development following the construction of suburban highways.
Originally the area had two public high schools, Middleton and St. Andrews, but was merged into West Ashley High School. Additionally West Ashley is home to seven public elementary schools (Drayton Hall, Springfield, St. Andrews School of Math and Science, Oakland, Stono Park, Orange Grove, and Ashley River Creative Arts), and four public middle schools (C.E. Williams, Orange Grove, Montessori Community School, and West Ashley). The most notable private school in the area, Porter Gaud, was founded in 1867.
Historic sites include Charles Towne Landing, Middleton Place, Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation & Gardens line the riverbanks.
The charming district of West Ashley is a premier location with beautiful homes set among moss draped Oak trees. With close proximity to the historic Holy City, and easy access to major interstate arteries and the Charleston International Airport, it's a lovely place to call home.
Nestled among the blue waters of the Charleston Harbor and the meandering Stono and Folly Rivers sits historic James Island (zip code 29412). The area has probably one of the most colorful modern histories in the Lowcountry, marked by an almost continuous struggle since 1993 to break away from the city of Charleston to become its own independent town. James Island is situated within Charleston County, and parts of the 42-square-mile sea island have been annexed by the city of Charleston.
After the end of the plantation era, James Island had about 20 documented plantations that failed to flourish after the close of the War Between the States. Small farms defined the economy of the island and it was not until around World War II that the population of the community and development in the area began to boom.
Today, the mainly residential James Island is situated five miles off Interstate 26 and convenient to the Charleston peninsula, West Ashley, Johns Island and Folly Beach. James Island’s first neighborhood evolved in the 1940s and surrounds the municipal golf course on Maybank Highway. Other neighborhoods were developed through the 1990s, and there is some new construction mixed in with the older homes.
Most of the James Island jobs providers are related to servicing the residential population, such as medical and healthcare offices, restaurants, schools, grocery stores and other similar businesses.
James Island has numerous parks and recreational facilities as well as notable historic sites, including Fort Lamar and McLeod Plantation. The James Island County Park hosts the wildly popular Holiday Festival of Lights, the Lowcountry Cajun Festival and the Reggae Nights Summer Concert Series.
Elementary schools include James Island Elementary, Stiles Point, Murray Lasaine, and Harbor View. Middle School is Camp Road, and High School is James Island Charter.
James Island, one of the sea islands that dot the coast and surround the peninsula of historic Charleston is great for its close proximity to beaches, downtown Charleston and all the unique southern tradition sought after by the discerning newcomer to the Charleston area.
Johns Island (zip code 29455) is located across the Stono River from James Island and West Ashley. The 83.72-square-mile island is the largest in South Carolina and the fourth largest island on the US east coast. Although the entire island is part of Charleston County, only about one third of it has been annexed by the city. Johns Island can be reached from downtown Charleston in about half an hour.
Johns Island has seen unprecedented change in the last 40 years. The area was not assigned its 29455 zip code until 1963, and as late as the 1970s, the island was completely rural. The development of the resort islands of Seabrook (1973) and Kiawah (1976) set in motion a slow cycle of change on Johns Island. These resort islands are located just beyond Johns Island and provided jobs to the otherwise rural community.
Today, many areas of John’s Island are still rural, and the island has a thriving farming community; much of the produce grown on Johns Island still makes its way to the downtown Charleston farmer’s market and to many of the restaurants that have helped Charleston make its name as a widely recognized food town. However, the character of the island is changing. The Paul Gelegotis Bridge, more commonly known as the Stono Bridge, opened in 2003 to replace the old bridge linking James Island to John’s Island, and the John F. Limehouse Memorial Bridge, also completed in 2003, connects the island to West Ashley, Ravenel and Highway 17. New planned subdivisions have cropped up since the opening of these bridges.
Johns Island is home to the famous Angel Oak, which is believed to be the oldest tree east of the Mississippi. Cultural events are held on the grounds of the Angel Oak throughout the year. There are also plenty of opportunities for golfing, boating and fishing on and around the island.
The island is part of the Charleston County school district and includes a mix of public and private schools serving preschoolers through high school–age students.
Housing options include mostly newer homes built in the 2000s, with some older homes built in the 1970s through 1990s that are mixed in along some late-19th- and early-20th-century farmhouses. The newer planned communities offer homes and townhomes with gorgeous old-growth oak trees and marsh and Intracoastal Waterway views. The island also features some gorgeous waterfront and golf-course-community mansions on multi-acre lots.