Preserving the history of a changing community

College of Charleston (CofC) graduate Riley Conover doubted whether she had the skills to conduct oral histories of longtime residents of the Cainhoy Peninsula and Daniel Island where ongoing residential and commercial development is rapidly changing the communities.

The Daniel Island Historical Society (DIHS) picked Conover, then a CofC senior, as its first intern for the Cainhoy Collective Oral History Project. Conover sat with senior community residents in 2022 and listened to their stories about their lives and development in the community that began about a decade before she was born in Wenonah, New Jersey, just south of Philadelphia.

For that reason, Conover was nervous. “I hadn’t done this before, and I was afraid I would not connect with the people,” she said. “But what we have [now] is some amazing stories that generations to come will be able to listen to these people’s life histories.” She spoke to nine residents and compiled more than nine hours of recorded interviews.

A gleeful Conover called her parents in New Jersey last month when it was announced that the DIHS’s oral history project received an Award of Merit from the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies (CSCLHS). It was one of two awards the DIHS received. The society also won an Award of Merit for its Historic Cemetery Preservation Project.

“The Daniel Island Historical Society’s efforts to preserve their historic cemeteries ensure that these sacred burial grounds will not be forgotten,” said the CSCLHS awards committee chair J.R. Fennell of the Lexington County Museum.

“The DIHS Cainhoy Oral History Project is a great example of an organization documenting and preserving the history of a changing community. This oral history project will help preserve the memories and stories of a diverse group with very differing experiences.”

When the Mark Clark Expressway opened in 1992 to connect North Charleston with Mount Pleasant, residential and commercial development accelerated in the Daniel Island/Cainhoy peninsula area. It is estimated that the population in the once mostly rural community is now more than 15,000 people. The community has a family history with ties to the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Many Black residents in the community are the descendants of people who were enslaved in the area’s plantations.

“I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to sit down with residents and capture their life stories,” Conover said in a DIHS press release. “I think stories are one of the most important catalysts for human connection, and through these oral histories we are able to better understand the shared experiences, culture, and history of the Cainhoy residents. After hearing these stories, I think it’d be difficult for anyone not to empathize with the Cainhoy community and desire the preservation of their culture and land.”

Fred Lincoln, a longtime member of the Jack Primus community near Cainhoy, was Conover’s first interview. “We would like to use [the] Keith School in conjunction with Philip Simmons and Cainhoy schools to bring kids in occasionally and go over this history,” said Lincoln, who serves on the board for the Keith School Museum. “We have kids who know nothing about the history of this community, and they are descendants of this community, and I think that [this project] would be a valuable asset.”

Conover also interviewed MaeRe Chandler Skinner and Cain Simmons of Wando, Alice Washington of St. Thomas Island, Dora Howard of Cainhoy, Henry Carson of Huger, Mimi Howe of Daniel Island and Joey Murray of the old village of Cainhoy, and North Charleston resident Keitt Hane, who grew up across the Cooper River from the Cainhoy peninsula.

The interviews are in the process of being transcribed. The transcription and audio will be placed in the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library and possibly other sites.

The Cainhoy Collective oral history project is seeking to interview elders who grew up in the community. To participate, email Lee Ann Bain, DIHS project coordinator, at Participants will receive a CD containing the recording and transcript. College of Charleston students Blake Gillian and Lily Porter will conduct the interviews.

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