Gracious Summerville, South Carolina Charms Retirees with its Leisurely Pace, Elegant Homes and Abundant Flowers
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Summerville, South Carolina, nestled on a ridge in the woods just 22 miles northwest of Charleston, has had a history of ups and downs. In the late 1700s, wealthy Charleston plantation owners arrived and began building homes to escape the Lowcountry's mosquitoes and summer heat. In 1847, the collection of residences became an official village. The Civil War and a subsequent earthquake took their toll. Fortunes changed in 1899 when the International Congress of Physicians declared that Summerville, with its dry location and tall pine trees, was one of the best places for the treatment of lung disorders. Soon, visitors from across the world were coming to this quiet retreat, and many decided to put down roots.
Today, Summerville is known as "The Flower Town in the Pines," and 50,000 people call it home. Of these, 35% are age 45 or better, and most residents lean to the right politically. Thirty percent of residents are college educated. The city is racially diverse, and it has grown by 20% in the last decade. The crime rate meets the national average, and the cost of living is 7% above the national average.
The imprint of Charleston's early plantation owners is still visible in Summerville today, as many of their elegant homes remain standing in all of their antebellum grandeur. Nearly 700 of Summerville's structures, including private homes, various businesses and B&Bs, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and exemplify Colonial, Queen Anne and Georgian architectural styles.
The median home price is $225,000. Established neighborhoods mingle with new ones, some of which are gated. Well-kept, single-family homes in comfortable neighborhoods start in the high-$100,000s, although properties can be found for less. Around $225,000 will purchase 2,100 or more square feet, three to four bedrooms, two and two and a half baths, an upgraded kitchen, a screened-in porch, hardwood floors, an attached garage and a large, forested lot in a desirable neighborhood. Million dollar homes are for sale, too.
South Carolina is tax friendly when it comes to retirement. Social Security is not taxed, and although qualified retirement income is taxed, up to $15,000 (single) and up to $30,000 (married) may be exempt at age 65 and beyond. Up to $27,000 in military pensions is exempt for people age 65 or better. Property tax is calculated at just 4% of a residence's fair market value, and for homeowners age 65 and above, $50,000 is exempt from local property taxes. The annual taxes on a $225,000 Summerville residence are approximately $997 with the homestead exemption and $1,282 without the homestead exemption. The state sales tax rate is 6%, and the income tax ranges from 3% to 7%.
An authentic small town hospitality permeates Summerville. Although newcomers, many of them from up north, have spurred growth in what was once just a sleepy stop on the way to Charleston (population 135,000), old fashioned ways, a country ambiance and a leisurely pace still dominate local life. This is a conservative place, where manners matter and youngsters utter phrases such as "Thank you, sir," and "My pleasure, ma'am." The city's mission statement, which will be "modified with guidance from God," as needed, is "the establishment of a quality of life for the Town of Summerville that provides a safe, healthy, beautiful and harmonious place to live and work." And, indeed, it seems to be true.
The downtown is small and simple, but there are enough stores to meet most needs. An original corner pharmacy with a working soda fountain and an old time barber shop, as well as a Target, a Publix, a Best Buy, two Wal-Marts are some of the retailers. Good seafood restuarants are plentiful. Many residents make the 30 minute drive into Charleston along Interstate 26 for more dining, entertainment and shopping options (attractive Tanger Outlets with 80 stores is in North Charleston).
For many people, the nickname "Flower Town in the Pines" explains why they love Summerville, as each spring millions of azaleas in public and private gardens explode with color. The annual three day Flowertown Festival each April is one of the Southeast's top attractions and celebrates this bounty of beauty in an event that draws artists, craftspeople and 200,000 tourists from all across the region.
Everyday life is fairly typical of a small southern city. There is a farmers' market every Saturday from April to October. The YMCA offers affordable memberships and is open to all. The Summerville Orchestra brings music to the community. Flowertown Players is the community theater, and there are two county libraries. Christmas glitters with holiday lights along Main Street. Churches abound.
A number of historic homes are open for tours. These include Drayton Hall (circa 1738), a fine example of Georgian-Palladian architecture and a survivor of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a seventeenth-century estate featuring year-round blooms from America's oldest gardens, showcase a pre-revolutionary war plantation house and an antebellum cabin.
At least four golf courses are in town or within a short drive. The Pine Forest Country Club course has been given four stars by Golf Digest. The Miler Country Club course has been challenging players for nearly 80 years. The Coosaw Creek Country Club course is private and was designed by Arthur Hills. And for people who would rather be on the water than on the links, the Atlantic shore is just 45 minutes away.
Dorchester Seniors, Inc. is a private, non-profit organization that provides services for Summerville's residents age 50 and better. Housed in the Faith Sellers Senior Center, services include physical fitness classes, tax assistance, blood pressure screenings, arts and crafts, trips, tours and numerous social events. It also provides transportation to and from the Center, congregate meals, in-home services (light housekeeping and personal care), home delivered meals and referral services.
TriCounty Link provides regional bus service and limited local van service. The cost to ride is $2.25 one way, and discounted weekly and monthly passes are available. Charleston International Airport is the closest airport, and it is servrf by five major airlines.
Summerville Medical Center is a teaching hospital with 94 beds and is part of the TridentUSA Health System. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and is a certified stroke center. Medicare patients are accepted. Further health care is available in Charleston where there are four major medical facilities, as well as the Trident Senior Health Center, which specializes in geriatric medicine. For military retirees, Goose Creek, nine miles away, has an outpatient VA clinic, and Charleston has a VA hospital.
This area receives substantial rainfall throughout the year and experiences hot, humid summers and short, mild winters (snow is rare). Summer high temperatures reach the 90s with lows in the 70s, and winters high temperatures reach into the 50s and 60s with lows in the 40s. On the comfort index, a combination of temperature and humidity, Summerville comes in below the national average. The sun shines 210 days of the year. Hurricanes have reached this far inland, but the city is not prone to flooding.
For all of its low key appeal and hospitality, a Summerville retirement has some drawbacks. With its recent growth has come urban sprawl. Complaints about traffic in town and between Summerville and Charleston have increased. Not all long-time residents are thrilled with the new housing developments and the influx of newcomers. The KapStone Paper Mill is in Charleston, and occasionally, if the wind is blowing just right, the fumes sometimes reach Summerville.
Despite these negatives, Summerville retirees love their city. They note its charm, gentle way of life, elegant homes, and, of course, its beautiful flowers. It is, indeed, an appealing Southern retirement spot.
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