“How long have you been in business here?” I asked the owner of TW Graham & Co., a modest seafood restaurant tucked into a historic storefront on the oak-shaded Main Street of the seaside village of McClellanville.
“We’ve been in business since 1894,” he said, and then with a grin that made it more than just an afterthought, “but I’m not the original owner.”
I spoke to Patrick Runey, who was busy greeting guests and chatting with friends while the crowd gathered for dinner and talk on Saturday night.
TW Graham & Co. is a fixture in the small fishing village, and as it’s a stone’s throw from the shrimp-crammed docks, it serves a range of fresh seafood for lunch and dinner almost daily. While my plate was covered with freshly made shrimp, hand-shredded coleslaw, fries and hushpuppies, Patrick described how it all came about.
“I’m from Charleston and when the owners wanted to sell I told them about our plans and they knew we were the right buyer. They had other offers but didn’t want anyone to get it.”
Originally a general store, TW Graham & Co. has served the people of McClellanville in many ways over the 128 years it has been a Pinckney Street resident. Today it continues to be a place where villagers and out-of-towners alike congregate and life goes on for the small waterfront community.
McClellanville sits on the edge of a vast network of swampy creeks and rivers that stretch to the horizon where the old lighthouse stands atop Cape Romain. Founded in the 1850s as a seaside retreat for the swamp-ravaged plantation owners of the Santee River region, the town quickly grew into a prolific fishing village.
Today it is a destination for day tourists and overnight visitors who come to the small settlement between Charleston and Georgetown to get away from it all and enjoy the peace and quiet of life under live oak trees.
When you visit McClellanville, you will encounter a place that is like a picture of bygone Lowcountry days. A network of quiet streets connects half-timbered houses ranging from two-story farmhouses to small, comfortable cottages. A dozen vintage storefronts line Pinckney Street where you can shop for locally handcrafted gifts and seaside décor while being greeted by friendly locals who look forward to your visit.
At a crossroads in the middle of the village are churches in the neighborhood including the historic Chapel of Mercy of the Parish Church of St James Episcopal. The gingerbread decoration reflects the 19th century Lowcountry style. This is where the congregation worships every Sunday and also maintains the old brick church of St. James Santee near Hampton Plantation.
A drive to the end of Pinckney Street brings you to the Village Museum, a cultural center that preserves the history of the town and region. A town walkway gives you a view down Jeremy Creek at the vast swampy wilderness that stretches to the Atlantic, or upstream at the towers and nets of the shrimp fleet docked at the fish company near Oak Street.
The boats provide a backdrop for the Seaman’s Memorial, dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives working in South Carolina’s coastal waters. It’s a reminder of the expense of braving sea and storm to bring home the catch each day.
You can round off your visit with a delicious meal at TW Graham & Co. or one of the city’s other great restaurants. Local institutions like McClellanville Diner, The Bent Rod and Buckshots offer a variety of seafood, home cooking or more adventurous fare to suit every palate.
As I finished my meal and prepared to head home, I only wished I had more time to explore and enjoy this quiet, beautiful city. Whether you’re just staying in McClellanville for the day or just passing through, you’ll feel right at home.
McClellanville is ahead of the USA. 17 between Charleston and Georgetown.
A little over two hours’ drive takes you through Charleston and along the wide, deserted coastal highway. McClellanville is 30 miles above Charleston and just before crossing the Santee River. As you reach the city limits you will see three of the popular local restaurants, each open on different days and times to suit your appetite or itinerary.
To enter the village proper, turn right onto Pinckney Street and follow its winding path into town. You will soon reach the business district where you will find shops and welcome TW Graham & Co. or you can continue to visit the museum, churches and the often busy waterfront along Jeremy Creek.
There are also many things to do and explore nearby. You can explore nature at Santee Coastal Reserve, discover history at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site, or arrange a boat trip to visit the historic lighthouse at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.
For more information about the city and what it has to offer, visit the City of McClellanville’s home page at https://www.mcclellanvillesc.org or call TW Graham & Co. at (843) 887-4342.