MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- Five years of planning, meetings, and budgeting, the loud roars of heavy equipment machines and the tune of the Marine Corps Hymn played by the Parris Island Marine Band filled the air during the Capehart Housing Project Ground Breaking Ceremony Jan. 27, 1958.
The $15.9 million contract for constructing the homes was the largest single contract in South Carolina history at the time. The two year project cost approximately $77 million to build the community of 1,100 homes made to accommodate 5,000 military personnel and dependents on the 1,060 acre site. Seven different home designs were chosen to give variety to the development.
Currently the military community has almost doubled in the number of homes and hosts approximately 6,000 military personnel, dependents and retirees.
At the beginning of the ceremony, Col. Herbert C. Freuler welcomed the ceremonies' guest speakers Lt. Gen. Vern J. McCaul, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Congressman L. Mendel Rivers, the main speaker for the event, and Albert Gersten, the contractor for the project.
In his speech, McCaul expressed excitement for the project and that he believed in Gertsen's ability to accomplish the project well and on schedule.
Rivers mentioned that the project would bring Beaufort into a period of prosperity and that the housing development would be the showplace of the Marine Corps and would not be matched.
Gertsen stated that he was honored to be the builder of not only a city, but one that would harvest a strong military family community.
To conclude the ceremony, the ground was broken by Freuler and the other guest speakers.
Four months after the ground breaking ceremony, the government housing location officially became known as Laurel Bay. The housing development was named Laurel Bay after the cotton plantation that occupied the area during the early 19th century. The Laurel Bay Plantation was well known for its long avenue of oak trees leading into the plantation, some of which are still standing today as the original contractors made every effort to conserve them.
The grounds of Laurel Bay have more history that extend beyond its life as a plantation.
In 1816, Laurel Bay became the final resting place of South Carolina Governor Paul Hamilton. Hamilton served as the third Secretary of the Navy under President James Madison during the War of 1812.
Throughout Laurel Bay, some of the streets, areas, and buildings within the community are named in honor of the Native American tribes that once inhabited the land. To honor those inhabitants that live there and in the surrounding areas, many of these places were named after their tribes. For example the Edisto Woods Community Center is named after the Edisto Tribe.
The Lowcountry was one of the first visited and earliest settled areas in North America, and the grounds of Laurel Bay tell a part of that story. Read streets signs, walk through Laurel Bay and look at the oak trees and know that history surrounds the community. Laurel Bay is more than just a plot of land, it's a historic area whose story is being written everyday by the men and women that live and serve there.