Retiring to Charleston

By William Schemmel

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Charleston is an American original. Founded in 1670, the South Carolina seaport has survived the Revolutionary War, General William T. Sherman’s Civil War revenge, fires, hurricanes and earthquakes. Non-Charlestonians are surprised to “learn” that the Atlantic Ocean is formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, which flank Charleston’s peninsula. Such wishful thinking underlies the pride Charlestonians have in their venerable 336-year-old city.

More about Charleston:
Location: On the South Carolina Atlantic coast, at the junction of I-26 and 526 and US 17 and 78, midway between Myrtle Beach, SC, and Savannah, GA.
Elevation: 118 feet above sea level.
County: Charleston
Land area: 97 square miles
City population: 100,125
County population: 330,455; metro population, including Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, 600,000
Nearby cities: Charlotte, NC; Columbia, SC; Savannah, GA
Nearby small towns: Summerville, North Charleston, Folly Beach and Goose Creek, SC
Climate: January temperature average, 49.2; July, 82.4.  Average annual rainfall, 50.6 inches.
Median home value in 2000: $139,700
Area parks and recreation: More than 50 public parks, many private clubs
Airport: Charleston International
Hospitals: Bon Secours-St. Francis Xavier; Charleston Memorial; Medical University; Roper.
Colleges and universities: The College of Charleston, Citadel Military College; Charleston Southern University; Medical University of South Carolina.

Retirees can see right away why the city’s 100,000 residents (more than 600,000 in the metro area) feel so passionately about their city. They needn’t take residents’ word for it. Conde Nast Traveler magazine rates Charleston third among its Top 10 domestic destinations and in the Top 20 for international travel. For more than a dozen years, etiquette arbiter Marjabelle Young Stewart has named Charleston, “America’s Most Mannerly City.”
Thanks to an ongoing preservation movement, the peninsular city’s downtown historic district is a treasure trove of architectural riches, which attract leisure travelers and a growing number of active retirees.

The city’s seafood restaurants annually capture national and international awards. Cultural life is highlighted by the Spoleto Festival, an international multi-arts celebration, now in its 30th season and always held in late May and early June. The Distinctively Charleston Food + Wine Festival, held in March, pairs indigenous cuisine with fine wines from around the world and features nationally known chefs, authors and lectures. Year-round, the city’s arts calendar is filled by a professional symphony orchestra, dance and theater troupes, touring shows and scores of artist studios and galleries.
The most prestigious residential area is on the peninsula, south of Broad Street, where homes dating from the mid-18th to mid-19th centuries usually sell for $1-million and more. Daniel Island is a 4,000-acre all-inclusive island town within the city limits of Charleston featuring a broad mix of home styles and prices, schools, medical centers, shops and restaurants, offices, a church, and a supermarket, plus world-class golf, tennis and soccer. Golf Magazine Living has named Daniel Island one of America’s “50 Best Golf Communities.” Neighborhoods east of the Cooper River, including Mount Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms, are among the Carolinas’ fastest growing. Mount Pleasant is a rapidly-developing bedroom community, with a variety of old and new homes, starting at around $225,000.

With more than two dozen golf courses, numerous tennis facilities, boating and fishing, miles of Atlantic beaches, and a moderate sub-tropical climate, the Charleston area is a recreational mecca year-round.

Many newcomers choose to live close to the outdoors on nearby Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island. About a half-hour from downtown, the Atlantic barrier islands offer retirees a wide choice of residential options, including villas and condo townhouses in the $250,000-$350,000 range and single family homes in the $1-million plus range.
William Schemmel writes from Atlanta, GA.