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Summerville Trolley Tours: How it began

Updated on September 25, 2014

A Behind the Scenes Look at How the Trolley Tour Was Created

In the early part of 2013, the mayor of Summerville, South Carolina called me and asked me to serve on a task force. Mayor Collins, who is a longtime family friend, had only been in office for less than two years at the time, but he had already introduced some great new ideas to our beautiful town. He has a lot of energy and has channeled it into his excitement about my hometown.

The purpose of the task force was to see if it would be feasible to start a trolley tour in our historic town. I was up for the job, and ready to get started. It was a good thing, too, because we were hard at work by the end of March, 2013. Were we successful in starting a trolley? Youâll have to keep reading to find out!

(All photos mine, unless otherwise indicated. You may not copy or use.)

Short Central in downtown Summerville
Short Central in downtown Summerville

Flashback to the Summer of 2011

Mayor Collins was elected in the summer 2011. As I mentioned before, my family has known him for a long time – forty years or more. Having knowledge of our travel agency experience (because he and his family used our services many times), he wanted to pick our brains about getting shore excursion traffic from the Port of Charleston up to Summerville, about thirty minutes away. It’s not a long drive, at all, especially when you consider that some folks take bus trips from port cities in Mexico that are hours long to get to Mayan ruins.

Long story short, I met with him on his back porch the day after he was elected. I told him it wasn’t enough to tell folks they should come to Summerville because it’s a charming place to see and shop and dine, not to mention the great history . . . we had to have some event or attraction to get them up here.

The trolley is just what we needed! So, here we are, a couple of years later, up and running with something to offer the discerning cruise passenger who has already seen Charleston.

Summerville History

Partake of some of our local tea, and enjoy reading up on Summerville's history.

Porch Rocker Recollections of Summerville, South Carolina
Porch Rocker Recollections of Summerville, South Carolina

Classic Summerville. Beautiful photos, and wonderful background.

 
Barbara Hill, tour guide and delightful lady.
Barbara Hill, tour guide and delightful lady.

Trying it out . . .

We started out by taking a couple of test runs with two different trolley companies. I missed the first one, because I had a scheduling conflict, but I heard great reviews of it. I was able to take the trial tour with the second trolley company, whose trolley holds almost twice as many passengers. Ultimately, we decided the second trolley company with the larger trolley would be better for the tour. The name of the company is Lowcountry Loop, and they have other itineraries in the Charleston area, on their other trolleys. The owners, Derek and Terry, are friendly and positive people. I had a great feeling about them from the first time I met them.

One of the earlier town halls
One of the earlier town halls

A Delightful Tour

I was sold on the idea before I had even gone on the trolley. But after the experience, I can honestly say that this trolley experience is fantastic. The trolley is very comfortable, and the owner who drives it is highly skilled in navigating some narrow, strange spots with this 40-passenger vehicle, since he already drives it in downtown Charleston.

As a tourist in my own town, I learned facts and charming anecdotes that I had never heard before. I have lived in Summerville for the great majority of the last 33 years, but I didn’t know that our current town hall is actually the fifth building that was a town hall. One of the earlier buildings had a fourth story bell tower, and during WWII, all the teenage girls very patriotically volunteered to keep a lookout for enemy planes in said tower. They had an ulterior motive, but I’m not going to tell you what it was. You’ll have to come to Summerville and take the trolley tour! Also during the war, there was rationing of certain grocery items. One well-to-do lady walked into the small grocery called the Teapot, however, and just took as many of an item as she needed. Part of the fun on the tour is guessing what the item was!

There are different types of tours . . . - What's your favorite?

What's your favorite kind of trolley tour?

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Linwood
Linwood

Linwood

These historic gardens have been part of some of our tours.

If you have been to Charleston, you may have visited Magnolia Plantation. It’s about 12 miles from Summerville, and was owned by the same family who built this lovely Summerville home called Linwood. The beautiful gardens were a regular part of the trolley tour at the very beginning, but less frequently now. Step off and enjoy being guided by Proprietor Linda Shelbourne as she takes you back in time. Hear about the activities that went on around the property, what happened to the house during the great earthquake of 1886, and more fun historical facts about Summerville.

Elizabeth Arden House
Elizabeth Arden House

Other Sites on the Tour

Downtown Summerville is filled with beautiful historic homes. Also known as Flowertown in the Pines, the town does not disappoint when it comes to foliage. Grand oak trees and pine trees shade much of the town, while fragrant, colorful blossoms of various kinds will greet you at almost any time of year. You will ride through the Tea Farm, which is now residential, but was once the host to the tea plants now grown at the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island. You will hear many times that Summerville is the Birthplace of Sweet Tea, and this farm is where it all began!

Sculpture in the Garden at Linwood

Sculpture in the Garden at Linwood
Sculpture in the Garden at Linwood
Before one of our test runs
Before one of our test runs

Meetings and Decisions

Behind the Scenes

Our task force met at least once per month from March through July. Each of us on the team had been appointed by the mayor for different purposes. A local restaurant owner was appointed because of his knowledge of the hospitality industry. The town's Parks and Recreation Manager researched whether there would be interest in the trolley coming from families who are in town for soccer, baseball, and other kids' sports tournaments. The director of Summerville DREAM - a downtown revitalization project- was appointed to represent the interest of the retail businesses and shopping/dining traffic in the downtown area. The tour guide is a delightful lady who has been writing for the local newspaper for decades. Her knowledge and personality make her a treasure. Also on the task team was the ranger from a local park, Colonial Dorchester. I was there as a former travel agent, charged with figuring out how to make the trolley into a shore excursion for the cruise ship passengers docking in nearby Charleston. Our team's fearless leader was the Director of Tourism here in Summerville.

Each time we met, we would report to each other about our findings and discuss the numbers. Would it be possible to make this thing pay for itself? There were a couple of us who were determined to forge ahead and make it work, no matter what. The enthusiasts! There were one or two who were very cautious and thought we had a long way to go before we could begin. The realists. Our team was actually a very good balance of personalities. I think the result of the enthusiasts' and the realists' work was both conservative and optimistic. A great combination!

How It All Worked Out

The rest of the story.

We needed funding, and we needed help with promotion. We had a trolley offered to us for our exclusive use for six days per week, with one day per week being designated for maintenance. This would have been wonderful. The only problem was the monthly cost. But we finally came to an agreement with our trolley provider that we would start with one day of tours per month, plus special charters for groups. Shore excursions for cruise passengers won't be added until later, because it takes some time to get on the schedule.

The trolley was chosen as the pet project of another team called Leadership Dorchester. They are a community leadership development program that is part of the local Chamber of Commerce, and they open up a new class each year. They supported us immensely in many ways including but not limited to volunteer manpower, ideas, obtaining a grant to support the trolley for the first six months, and marketing. Their team has merged with our trolley task force, and we are awfully glad! Thanks to their support, we launched the trolley on Friday, July 5, 2013.

Now, as of 2014, we offer a tour called Good Eats on the Sweet Tea Trail four times per month, on certain Fridays. Passengers get to ride around Summerville hearing about some of its culture and history while they taste goodies from restaurants and gourmet shops! It nearly always sells out. It is guided by either Barbara Hill, local historian, or by nationally known and award winning Storyteller Tim Lowry. On one Saturday each month, we offer two history tours and one pub tour called #DrinkTheVille, which visits three bars or pubs for drinks and appetizers.

This is a picture from the ribbon cutting ceremony in 2013. Mayor Collins is cutting the ribbon. I am the one in black, standing next to the mayor. Photo: Summerville Visitor Center

I'm a Summerville author.

If you like southern fiction, give my collection of short stories a try. They are available in both paperback and e-book versions through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Do you like trolley tours?

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