The story of how modern day West Ashley came to be is the story of Charleston in the 20th Century.
West Ashley resident Donna Jacobs chronicles that story in her new book "West Ashley," published by Arcadia Publishing as part of the company's Images of America series.
"The book spans the turn of the century to the 50s and 60s," Jacobs said. "That's when this area changed from an agrarian community to a large suburban community."
Jacobs' previous book, "Byrnes Downs," also published as part of Arcadia's Images of America series in 2008, focused on just one neighborhood. During the course of researching and writing that book she realized there was a much bigger story to tell about how St. Andrews Parish came to be known as West Ashley.
Jacobs met dozens of people in the course of researching her "Byrnes Downs" book, which came about when one of Jacobs' neighbors, Margaret Thorne Seidler, approached her with a copy of a Byrnes Downs Garden Club scrapbook originally published in 1949 by May Rossiter. Seidler was connected with Arcadia and when the company told her they wanted to do something with the scrapbook she suggested Jacobs as the author.
"It's an unbelievable capsule of time full of absolutely gorgeous ink drawings," Jacobs said about the garden club book.
She had already been interested in learning about the history of her neighborhood, and had been collecting notes and stories she learned from neighbors since the 1980s. She got active in the Byrnes Downs Neighborhood Association shortly after Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989, but it was 2007 before she began compiling the stories and photos for "Byrnes Downs."
"I didn't know what I didn't know," Jacobs said. "Then doors started opening and I began to have a perspective."
By the time Jacobs finished working on "Byrnes Downs" she realized there were many more interesting stories to tell about the area now called West Ashley. She was thrilled last year when Arcadia asked her to write a follow-up focusing on the whole area.
"There was so much that came out doing the research I knew the journey would need to continue," she said. "I realized it would be a little daunting, but I agreed to do it."
Jacobs went back to all of her "Byrnes Downs" contacts and asked for help finding photos and stories about the rest of West Ashley. West Of printed a front-page story about her research calling for help finding old photos of the area.
"It took off and went viral on me," she said.
Jacobs ended up with more than 1,500 photos to choose from. Like "Byrnes Downs," "West Ashley" has about 200 photos woven throughout the narrative.
Finding an image to represent the whole area on the book cover among all the pictures was one of the biggest challenges she faced, Jacobs said.
"What's iconic about West Ashley," Jacobs asked. "A lot of people say it's the Coburg Cow, but that's really an emblem of the dairy, which has it's own interesting story, but what I found was at one time everyone went to St. Andrews Parish Highschool with the exception of the African American community."
Eventually Jacobs settled on a photo of a gathering of the Future Homemakers of America snapped at St. Andrews Parish Highschool in the 1940s.
During that era, with large numbers of young men leaving to fight in Europe and the Pacific during World War II the roles of women evolved. They were not only acting as homemakers, because they were here and the men were not, they began to also take on the role of place makers, building the community and institutions that endure to today.
"So I thought symbolically it was as close as I could get," she said.
Modern West Ashley was born in the 1920s when the neighborhoods of Wappoo Heights and Windemere were built after the first bridge over the Ashley River to downtown Charleston was completed. But West Ashley's population didn't really boom until the 1940s.
"Neighborhood housing was scarce during the war," Jacobs said.
But with an influx of workers needed to keep the Charleston Navy Yard running the demand for housing surged. Construction supplies were also scarce, but the developers of Byrnes Downs managed to find a way to get the neighborhood built. Other neighborhoods followed in the years after the war at the same time as the Baby Boom Generation was growing.
"The names of the original residents are the ones who built the churches and businesses over here," Jacobs said.
When the North Bridge was built in the 1950s connecting what was then still called St. Andrews Parish to North Charleston the neighborhoods along Old Towne Road began to flourish as well.
"As far as neighborhoods and serious population centers, in the 20s it was Windemere and Wappoo Heights, in the 40s it was Byrnes Downs and Pierpont, and then it just explodes after that," Jacobs said. "It didn't just start at the (Ashley River) bridge and creep out. They built the North Bridge in the 50s and started building neighborhoods over there, and people just wanted to be further and further out."
Of course people lived west of the Ashley River before the suburbs were built. Several plantations sprawled across the landscape, and after the Civil War newly freed African Americans built their own community here.
"I tried to make this a diverse book," she said. "There is a diversity here that a lot of people haven't paid attention to."
From the late 19th Century until 1925 the neighborhood along Ashley River Road known as Maryville was an incorporated town in its own right. It was one of the earliest communities of former slaves to form in the Charleston area.
"The story of Maryville needs to be written," she said. "We're losing a lot of the people who could tell us the story."
Jacobs' biggest hope for her book is that it will inspire others to research and write about the area. Her account stops in the 1960s, so there are at least 50 years worth of stories yet to be written, and Jacobs said not much else has been written about West Ashley about the period between the Civil War and the 1920s.
"You can find a lot on the Civil War era, but try to find anything on how it changed from then to now and there is nothing," she said. "I hope these things will lay a path for more people to come and discover all the interesting things here."
"I say I present this book as a preface to the modern history of this area, and I'm hoping more people will think about it."
Jacobs' book is available at Books A Million, Barnes & Noble, the In & Out Car Wash (which is featured in the book), Avondale Wine & Cheese, The Preservation Society, at Arcadia's website and Amazon.com. Jacobs' earlier book "Byrnes Downs" is now also available on iTunes.