Wednesday, October 17, 2012
How Mount Pleasant came to get the nickname 'Hungry Neck' is one of the gnawing history mysteries I've yet to see fully solved.
Some have proposed that the name is fairly recent, coming about during the 20th century because the people on this side of the Cooper River were not as wealthy as others.
Some surmise this happened after the Civil War; others say during the Great Depression.
The suggestion certainly makes sense except that the term 'Hungry Neck' shows up in writing as a place name for Mount Pleasant as early as the 1850s..
Charleston historian Samuel Gaillard Stoney said that the name 'Hungry Neck' was given to the lands east of the Cooper River because the soil was too sandy to grow good crops.
The late Milby Burton, who was director of the Charleston Museum for years, thinks the name came from a 19th century plantation called Starvegut Hall on the Wando River (now part of the Dunes West subdivisions).
I recently did a rather remarkable computer search through a link that allows me to search early newspapers by subject.
Putting in the name 'Hungry Neck' brought some interesting (and entertaining) results.
First off, I discovered that Mount Pleasant is not the only historic Hungry Neck on the planet.
There is a Hungry Neck, Ga., and a Hungry Neck in Somerset County, Md. (which apparently is not too far from Potato Neck).
In Boyle county Kentucky, a Hungry Neck Bridge is not too far from a place called Hungry Neck Hill. In the British Isles, someone is actually selling hand-made silk ties under the brand name of 'Hungryneck Ties.'
As to our own Hungry Neck? It pops up regularly as a name denoting Mount Pleasant.
On June 11, 1907 the Evening Post referred to the 'fast and commodious' steamer Lawrence 'crossing the billows' to Hungry Neck.
The explanation they give for the name is confusing at best.
The article said Hungry Neck was a region 'placed on the local maps as the growing village of Mount Pleasant - so named because no strife mars family life on that strip of marsh.'
A nice description but it makes no sense.
The early 1900s was when the trolley line began at the ferry landing just below Alhambra Hall (at the end of aptly named Ferry Street) and the Lawrence was one of the ferry boats. The trolley ran down Pitt Street to the Cove Inlet bridge (now the Old Bridge) to Sullivan's Island, and then traversed the island to the new resort called Isle of Palms.
It is for these early trolley stops that Sullivan's Island's cross streets are called stations.
At this time the main mode of transportation was still horse and buggy and Mount Pleasant was a tiny town concentrated in what is now the Old Village.
On Aug. 24, 1903, the Evening Post wrote a funny story about an accidental run-in between the trolley and a runaway horse under the headline, 'Hungry Neck Steed Stood Down the Track at a Clip that Defied '
'The passengers on one section of the trolley cars from the 6:30 o'clock boat to the Island yesterday afternoon were entertained with a lively exhibition of speeding by a steed of the Hungry Neck section,' wrote the Post.
'The horse was drawing an old-fashioned buggy, whether occupied or not… was not ascertained.
At any rate, the passengers got the first view of him in action about the post office [on Pitt Street just below McCants Drive] when he made a dash down one of the side streets of Mount Pleasant, going west.
At the next block he was back on the high road [Pitt Street] and barely missed colliding with the train at which he had first taken fright.
Coming up under the bow of the trolley car, he straightened out on the track and sped for the distant mark of the cove bridge [the Old Bridge] like Reliance when she has her spinnaker set.
The train came behind at a good clip, but it was a stern chase far away. In the distance the valiant steed was dashing to victory or death, for it was clear that if he struck the trestle he would carry away his lower spars. The passengers on the cars began to lay wagers on the prospects of overtaking of the flying animal and the platform of the front car was as crowded as the bridge of the Erin in the America's cup contest with eager spectators.
As the horse drew near to the mark, still following the track… a man rushed out and headed him off and brought him up in the wind. A few more rods and he would have been stranded on the trestle and doubtless would have been wrecked completely.
As it was, he only trembled a bit as his beaten rival hove in sight. His tow was not seemingly damaged at all.'
The earliest newspaper clipping I found with Hungry Neck as a place name was the Sept. 15, 1858 Courier in an article on the new village of Hilliardville (just east of Alhambra Hall), named for Oliver Hilliard who developed the land with Charles Jugnot in 1847.
Wrote the Courier: 'To the east of Mount Pleasant, within a few minutes' walk of the Ferry landing, amidst a grove of venerable and majestic oaks, which cover a considerable area, and form a most luxuriant shade, there is springing up gradually, in silent and innocent growth, as picturesque a hamlet, as ever met the gaze of an admirer of nature!
''Tis true, its name has not a very poetical sound, but yet, when we consider, that it was given in compliment to one of the principal inhabits of Christ Church Paris who had contributed much to the improvement of, and had been indefatigable in his endeavors to raise the said Parish to its present position, and to efface forever from the memory of the ‘oldest inhabitant' its former incongruous, and therefore, very objectionable appellation of ‘Hungry Neck,' we must acknowledge that no honor could have been conferred more justly, and no name more appropriate and suitable for this charming little village than Hilliardville.'
From this fine piece of prose we glean that even in 1858 the name Hungry Neck had been around for some time and had long been used by the 'oldest inhabitants' of Mount Pleasant.
So how did Hungry Neck get its name? I still don't know.
The quest continues.
(Suzannah Smith Miles is a writer and Lowcountry and Civil War historian.)