About Summerville and the Summerville Dorchester Museum

The years just before the First World War were a time of great cultural change in the sleepy southern village of Summerville. International attention was focused on Summerville as a health resort and the home of American grown tea at the Pinehurst Tea Gardens. Successful, sophisticated people with education, money and many new ideas were building beautiful homes, becoming part of our social fabric and humming the tune of "Alexander's Ragtime Band." 

The Summerville Dorchester Museum is an educational organization dedicated to preserving the historical significance of Summerville and Dorchester County. Its mission is to collect, preserve and exhibit artifacts and to develop educational programs relating to the cultural and natural history of the Summerville and Dorchester County area of South Carolina.

On, May 02, 1991, a group of concerned citizens organized by Robert Pratt, met for the first time to consider the formation of a history museum for the Summerville area.  This group continued to grow and meet and in April, 1992, they signed a lease with the Town of Summerville for the old Police Department building.  Work began on the building almost immediately to renovate it for use as a museum.  In December, 1992, the museum opened its doors to the public.  Renovations and installation of exhibits continued, and in March, 1993, the Summerville Dorchester Museum held its grand opening.

History of 100 East Doty Avenue

The earliest record, a 1913 map of the Town of Summerville, shows Doty Avenue was originally named Railroad Avenue. The street ran parallel to the railroad connecting Charleston to Hamburg (now known as North Augusta, SC) with passenger and freight lines. Lawrence Hayden Doty, Mayor of Summerville 1953 to 1965, was a dedicated and influential public servant. After his death on February 28, 1965, the Town of Summerville changed the name of Railroad Avenue to Doty Avenue to honor him.

The land where the current museum sits was owned by the Eagle Creek Lumber Company.  Between the years of 1923 and 1928, the Town of Summerville built a Water Department on the site.  There was a 100 foot tall steel water tower and a 300,000-gallon water cistern adjacent to the building.  The brick facade of the original one-story building can be seen in the museum lobby.

Over the years, the building was enlarged and became the Summerville Police Department in 1976.  A holding cell, offices and courtroom for the Town Judge were on the second floor.  Cells, a day room for police officers, a radio room and office were built downstairs.  The Summerville Police Department moved to a new municipal complex on West Second North Street in June 1990.

Catherine “Kitty” Springs

She was a milliner, a wife, a business owner, a land owner, and a mystery today, if not in her own time. A free person of color, she married a white man nineteen years her elder. They lived openly in Summerville in the mid-1800s, surely an unusual occurrence according to Dr. Ed West in his presentation on entrepreneurs at Third Thursday at the Summerville Dorchester Museum.


Her name was Catherine Smith until she married Richard Springs, but everyone called her Kitty. Born in 1834 in the St. Stephen area, she was one-half full-blooded Indian on her mother’s side.  

An ambitious young woman, Kitty moved to Charleston and opened a clothing and millinery shop. 

She was very good at what she did, so good that she moved to Summerville to create another successful clothing business there. According to West, researchers believe Kitty and Richard worked and lived in the area of Second North and Cedar Streets.


Over time Kitty bought a considerable amount of land around where the current county offices and Hutchinson Square are located — also unusual for a woman of color in the 1800s. 


She became a philanthropist in 1880, when she donated property for a school and chapel to serve disadvantaged children, particularly American Indian or bi-racial.


But her most famous and visible contribution to Summerville is the little white church with the red door, the Church of the Epiphany on Central Avenue, across from the Timrod Library.


They are still together, buried side by side in the Old White Meeting House and Cemetery on Dorchester Road. Her story continues to fascinate and inspire people today just as much as it did then. Perhaps one of the new schools could be named for this outstanding woman.

Dr. Ed West

Dr. West is a well-spoken historian for Dorchester County as well as the town of Summerville. He is a frequent speaker as part of the museum’s series on local people and historical events.