The fact that Daniel Island has a historical society may seem odd to those who drive along the paved roads and brand new, picture perfect Truman Show homes with manicured lawns. But what this island town lacks in historical buildings, it makes up for in artifacts, like the 5,000-year-old Native American pottery shards and arrowheads that have been discovered on the island, or the fact that Henry Frank Guggenheim once used it as his hunting grounds.
The island is named for Robert Daniell, a wealthy maritime trader, landowner, and military commander who lived on a plantation there in the 1700s. Home to the Family Circle Cup, Blackbaud, and the Charleston Battery soccer team, Daniel Island also houses the Simmons Cemetery, where the graves of African-American Civil War soldiers can be found. Facts like these inspired Elizabeth Bush and Michael K. Dahlman, authors of Daniel Island, to create the Daniel Island Historical Society one year ago. On June 7, the society will honor the 100th birthday of renowned blacksmith Philip Simmons (1912-2009), who crafted more than 500 decorative pieces of ornamental wrought iron gates, fences, balconies, and window grills that can be seen throughout the Holy City.
Born on Daniel Island, Simmons is an important part of the island’s history. “You cannot drive through the island without experiencing Philip Simmons’ legacy,” Bush says. From the Philip Simmons Park with its iron gate to the ironwork design logo that is visible on all of the island’s public buildings, his presence is felt.
Artist and Daniel Island resident Jonathan Green wanted to be a part of the celebration, and limited editions of his 2006 painting “Memory Dreams” will be sold at the event. (The event is sold out.) “‘Memory Dreams’ seemed like the perfect painting for us because we are celebrating the memory of Philip Simmons with the dreams of creating this organization for Daniel Island,” Bush says. In the painting, a woman stands with her back to the viewer while hanging white sheets on the line. She is dressed in a billowing white dress as a yellow butterfly floats above the flat plane of her straw hat. Impressionistic in style, the painting is celebratory and full of movement.
Green considers Simmons a major influence. “I strive to support my elders, and Philip Simmons is just one of the people I support in the African-American community,” he says. “I want to help the world understand the significance of the ironworks. I’m careful about the terminology of ‘celebrity,’ but I know that my presence as an artist helps keep their memories and contributions alive.”
As a Daniel Island resident, Green is interested in supporting a cultural center for the island. “Philip Simmons was born here and his artwork embraces the island,” he says. “I want the next generation to have a visual image of the man and his work and his ties to Africa.”
History reminds us of where we’ve been, and with the help of people like Jonathan Green, where we can go. Whether it’s the settlements of Charles Towne Landing, the historic houses on the Battery, or Philip Simmons’ ironwork logo on the buildings of Daniel Island, the lessons of history are all around.