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The definition of "James Island" can be a bit confusing as it defined as the physical island known as James Island, and it is also a town known as James Island, which represents a portion of the physical island itself. Long settled as a semi-rural area, this island has been affected by increasing urbanization and the expansion of the city of Charleston. Residents first incorporated the Town of James Island in 1993, in what was to become a prolonged back-and-forth legal tug-of-war with the City of Charleston regarding annexation.
At that time, a lawsuit was filed by the City of Charleston claiming that the parts of the new Town were not contiguous, being separated by salt marsh that it (The City of Charleston) had already incorporated. The City of Charleston prevailed at Circuit Court and the Town appealed. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled against the Town in 1997. The South Carolina legislature changed incorporation law to allow incorporation over already annexed salt marsh. The Town of James Island was incorporated a second time in 2002.
The town limits have never incorporated the entire island of James Island, as the City of Charleston has annexed land on James Island before the original incorporation of the town and between subsequent re-incorporations. The physical island currently has an estimated population of over 40,000. The Town constitutes approximately 11,500 citizens, while roughly 6,000 residents remain in unincorporated Charleston county, and 20,000 in the City of Charleston.
Long a semi-rural area, James Island has seen its population boom since the early 1990's and the opening of the James Island Connector, a bridge that links the island directly to the Charleston peninsula.
James Island is bounded by Wappoo Creek, Charleston AHrbor and the Stono and Folly Rivers. Its network of marshes, inlets, sounds and creeks gives it one of the most scenic natural environments in the region. It was a strategic key to Charleston during the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The Confederate attacks on Fort Sumter began in in 1861 with a shot from the island's Fort Johnson, modern-day home of a state-of-the-art government marine science research facility.
McLeod Plantation, with its alley of slave cabins visible from Folly Road near the foot of the Wappoo Bridge, stands near the entrance to the private Country Club of Charleston. McLeod Plantation, which is a former Sea Island cotton plantation, was recently sold by Historic Charleston Foundation to the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission.
Riverland Terrace is located between Maybank Highway and Wappoo Creek. It features enormous live oaks and deeply shaded lanes. It was developed in the 1940's and is one of James Islands oldest neighborhoods . As originally designed, it was to include a large resort hotel. Leading into the neighborhood is the Avenue of Oaks, consisting of 73 live oak trees believed to be over 100 years old. They once led to Wappoo Hall Plantation on the Stono River. A Civil War fortification known as Fort Pemberton, built in 1862, remains today. Riverland Terrace has long been one of the hottest real estate markets on the Island. A nearby commercial district offers fine restaurants, antiques and the Terrace Theater, the area's only art-house cinema. More upscale neighborhoods on James Island include Stiles Point, Eastwood, Harborwoods, and Parrot Creek.
Recreational options on James Island include the Charleston Municipal Golf Course and James Island County park, a 643 acre facility with trails, fishing docks, a 5-foot climbing wall, kayak rentals, picnnic areas and a campground. The park's Splash Zone water park is extremely popular with families during summer months, and the county park's annual Holiday Festival of Lights attracts motorists on winter nights.
James Island ends where Folly Road enters a marsh marked by the landmark "Folly Boat," an abandoned hull that was deposited on the roadside by Hurricane Hugo. Locals have been painting messages on it ever since. Another treasured local landmark, Bowen's Island Restaurant, sits on a tidal creek in a hammock of trees in the vast marsh between James Island and Folly Beach.