Historic Colonial Common Commission Backs Colonial Lake Project

For more than two centuries, Charlestonians have been enjoying a “common area” that today is widely recognized as Colonial Lake and Moultrie Playground. This area was set aside as a public spot for local residents in 1768 and the first commissioners were appointed to oversee the public space.

Fast forward to 2014 and you’ll find the Colonial Common Commission still committed to Colonial Lake and the neighboring playground. In fact, the commissioners have been extremely supportive of the $5 million renovations to Colonial Lake slated to begin this summer. Commissioners have donated $10,000 to the project so far.

“We knew the project was on its way and we saw this as an opportunity to provide leadership to the project,” says Michael Master, chairman of the 11-member commission.

Master has been connected to the Charleston Parks Conservancy for more than three years, volunteering as a Lead Park Angel at events and doing plenty of planting, pruning and watering in Charleston’s parks.

Other members of the commission are standing ready to volunteer with the Charleston Parks Conservancy as it oversees the Colonial Lake renovation. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see nine or 10 (members) out there with tools or providing encouragement,” Master says.

Current members include chairman Michael Master, Walter Duane, Chip Emge, Yvonne Evans, Harlan Greene, Keith Kirkland, Ben Moise, Debra Stokes and Reid Patrick.

Colonial Common Comission History

In April 1768, Gov. Charles Greville Montagu set aside the area that is now Colonial Lake as an undeveloped area “for the use of a common for Charleston.” The governor established the Colonial Common Commission to oversee the area and the first commissioners were appointed.

Decades later the established common area still wasn’t developed so a group of local residents sued the city. The suit was eventually settled and work began on what is now Colonial Lake and Moultrie Playground.

A few years later in July 1881, there was an ordinance to create the “Colonial Common,” establishing a board of commissioners consisting of the mayor of Charleston and 10 citizens. The board was empowered to carry out the decree of the court and administer the Common, required to keep minutes, and empowered to make bylaws.

The commission was particularly busy in the early 1900s with meetings each quarter and an annual report presented to Charleston City Council. In 1934, the commission recommended licensing the lake’s rowboats, which had dotted the lake for decades. That same year, reports of a monster in Colonial Lake surfaced; locals surmised it was a way to lure tourists.

Sources: Nic Butler, Ph.D., special collections manager at Charleston County Public Library; and “Local Government Has Watched Over Colonial Lake” by David Hill, The News and Courier, July 11, 1983

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