Colonial Lake by Leslie Ryann McKella

For a true Charleston experience, an afternoon stroll through the “neighborhood park” with your children and furry friends in tow is like a walk back through time. Known for its rich history and now an iconic and beloved landmark that has withstood the tests of time, Colonial Lake Park is a favorite spot for wedding proposals and life-changing announcements. And the park has an exciting announcement of its own; it has just completed a restoration.

The lake and its park were part of the Commons established by an Act of the Commons House of Assembly in 1768, setting aside the once undeveloped area we have come to love today for public use. For many years the lake was known as the Rutledge Street Pond. It acquired the name Colonial Lake in 1881, in honor of the “Colonial Commons” established in 1768. The Park around the lake was developed between 1882 and 1887.

Through a public-private partnership, the City of Charleston and the Charleston Parks Conservancy contributed $5.9 million to restore and reinvigorate Colonial Lake Park. In January 2015, the park was closed for demolition and construction. While wanting to maintain its natural, bare bones appearance with its 140-year-old seawall, the restoration focused on building off the historic barriers and walls while improving the water quality of the lake, adding new storm water drainage pipes under Rutledge Avenue, increasing the size of the park by eight feet on Rutledge Avenue and one foot on Ashley Avenue, creating all new walkways in a new configuration, adding more than double the number of park benches and extensive new horticultural additions. But there was one flower that despite the devastation of Hurricane Katrina stood tall and remains in full bloom today to tell you its inexplicable tale.

A new style of landscape design has been introduced to Colonial Lake Park but the Lowcountry love for tradition can never be taken away. Visiting the Lake, you may notice a small bush beneath each palmetto tree lining Rutledge Avenue, and for all our perplexed park-goers, these plants are the iconic Peggy Martin Rose. The story behind this particular rose is bittersweet. Named for its owner, the “Peggy Martin Rose” was one of only two plants to survive in Mrs. Peggy Martin’s Louisiana garden after Hurricane Katrina. This rose miraculously survived the storm, despite being submerged under 20 feet of saltwater for over 2 weeks. The resilience of this rose has earned it the reputation of being a plant of promise.
Proving to be an excellent addition to the renovated Colonial Lake Park, not only are the Peggy Martin Roses emblematic of a positive future, but they are lushly beautiful, bearing clusters of pink flowers and bright green foliage. Strategically planting one rose bush at the base of each palmetto tree, the roses will grow upwards rather than outwards and once the tendrils reach the palmetto’s “bootjacks” (the spiky, crisscrossed leaf bases), the roses will go into full bloom, cascading down each palmetto tree. A sight to behold, each Peggy Martin Rose will be a reminder of the beauty of renewal and growth.

The City of Charleston and the Charleston Parks Conservancy hosted a grand opening and ribbon cutting early this June to celebrate the newly renovated Colonial Lake Park. Don’t miss a visit to the beautiful part of Charleston’s history. For more information, visit www.charlestonparksconservancy.org or call 843-724-5003.

Photo Credit: Leslie Ryann McKellar