Feature

Greener Pastures

SURROUNDED BY AN EVER-GROWING TOWN, MARYMEADE FARM IS AN UNEXPECTED GIFT OF PEACE AND QUIET FOR PASSERSBY.

It is late afternoon just off the Berlin G. Myers Parkway, and traffic is moving slowly.  Quittin’ time, our grandparents might have called this hour of the day, when those who have toiled since early morning make the journey homeward; tired and more often than not, a tad cranky.  Improbably, there is a bullfight simmering only a few yards away.

The black bull arrogantly approaches the huge bale of hay Billy Walker’s tractor has deposited in the feeding ring only yards away from the idling cars.  Wearing his self-importance on broad horns spanning his brow, the bull lowers his head and charges into the straw, throwing golden strands high into the air, snorting and stomping.  Billy chuckles at the bovine antics.

“Yea, he’s pretty rambunctious,” he says, “and he’s got some pretty good headgear, too.”

The cattle are an endless source of fascination to those who drive the Berlin G. Myers Parkway, as are the silos and outbuildings of what many consider to be Summerville’s own urban farm.  Horses graze under stately oaks and the rustic red roofs of the barns and cottages on the property summon peace and tranquility in the midst of the Town’s ever increasing pace.  The bucolic setting is unexpected in mid-town.  It is lovely in its simplicity, drawing many to pull off the road for a better view of the farm called Marymeade.  Few are aware of its name or history.

On the sixteen acres making up the three pastures on the south side of Marymeade Farm, Billy Walker and his wife, Kim raise their herd of twenty-five Limousin cattle, a breed said to be as old as the European continent, and featured in France’s famous Lascaux cave paintings.  Considered “exotics” in the United States, the blocky, muscular cattle are renowned for their adaptability and hardiness, and colors that range from golden red to black.  In this herd, many have been crossed with the more familiar Angus breed.

Marymeade Farm has long been a fixture of the Summerville landscape.  It was once part of a 1,300-acre dairy farm owned by the H.C. Prettyman family in the 1930s and 40s, and stretched past what is now Interstate 26, and into Sangaree.  The rustic buildings dotting the acreage date back to the days of the Prettyman family’s thriving timber business, and remnants of the dairy operation remain today.

When E.A. “Toby” Marvin bought the property, he turned the farm from a dairy operation toward raising beef cattle, and growing tobacco, cotton and the corn which would provide him with a feed business.  He also operated Rack A Way Stables, which he leased to the Carl DeLonge family.  Many in Summerville boarded horses at the facility.  Marvin’s daughters Dottie and Jean, raised at Marymeade, would become accomplished equestrians at Rack A Way, and Patricia Hayes Maroska remembers Dottie driving a horse-cart into Summerville to pick her up for school.

In 1956, Charleston’s County Council Chairman William Withers “Bill” Walker, Sr. purchased Marymeade from Toby Marvin.  The house Marvin lived in was not a part of the transaction, and Marvin’s family continued to live there until his daughters were grown.

For those who lived “in town,” the farm was considered to be a distinctly rural area, with little else to draw them that direction.  A gate on the corner of East 9th North and North Gum Streets marked the farm’s entrance.

“There was no reason for anyone to be on that dirt road unless they had family or business with the farm,” Billy recalls from his childhood days, noting that often the sheriff had to help remind those who wandered in.  “It seemed like it was way, way out in the country, and an endless journey from our home in North Charleston.”

Having also purchased the livestock from Marvin, Walker continued running cattle and growing corn in fields of the northern boundary of the farm, near what is now the Sangaree area.  By 1964, the new interstate connecting Charleston to the western part of the state was complete, cutting off his land on the north side.  Billy explains that a simple land swap with one of the farm’s original owners solved the problem  “Mr. Prettyman had property on that side of the interstate, and ours was on this side; so he and Dad swapped tracts of land to keep the parcels from being divided.”

Karen DeLonge took over the reins of Rack A Way stables in the early 1960s, and trained many a Summerville youngster in the equestrian arts; receiving numerous awards for showing gaited standard-bred horses.  The stables continued to board horses until the parkway was built, when construction of the Berlin G. Myers Parkway once again split the farmland, and compelled DeLonge to move the business to Ladson.

The Marymeade of today consists of around 200 acres of land, divided north/south by 9th Street and east/west by the parkway.  Billy’s father restored most of the property’s buildings, including the picturesque structure once used as a kennel for foxhounds.   Billy and Kim live in what was Toby Marvin’s farmhouse amidst the oaks and shrubs, sharing the north side of the farm with their horses, fierce Rhodesian Ridgebacks and huge, snowy white Great Pyrenees dogs.  While fit for a Hollywood movie set, the property continues to be a working farm.

Though his real estate and insurance businesses take up his days, Billy calls life as a farmer his “every day after work, and every day of the weekend” job.  As his eyes touch on the features of the land and its animals, it is clear that he has a deep appreciation for both, and that his chores are performed with a love for what they represent.   He doesn’t mind at all when folks park to take a look, and enjoys the fact that parents often stop to show their children the farm’s horses and cows, but admits that there are also a few drawbacks to being so accessible.

“We aren’t open to the public.  It looks romantic, but there is always work to be done.  People sometimes forget that we are a private, working farm. We just ask that they have respect for the animals and the boundaries. “

It’s a small thing to ask for the gift of serenity Marymeade provides those passing the urban utopia, offering the opportunity to pause, if only for a second, take a deep breath and remember that life was once simple, and that even in the midst of the hustle and bustle, there are indeed greener pastures.

By Susan Frampton