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  • Writer's pictureKendra DeKay

The Mystery of Beech Island, SC

So, perhaps you’ve heard people talk about a mysterious "Beach Island" area southwest of Aiken.

Perhaps–like me–you’ve had… QUESTIONS.

Like, specifically…

Is it a mythical place?

Was the dude who named the place drunk or something? Beach? ISLAND?? 

I am pleased to say, after nearly 16 years as an Aiken resident, I have some answers, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned.

First of all, it is BEECH as in beech tree, not BEACH as in sandy oceanside area. That makes a little more sense. American or Carolina beech trees are a slow-growing, long-lived hardwood native to the Eastern US.

I'm a big fan of beech trees, even though they can be messy in yards with brittle branches that come down easily in wind or heavy rains and fruitnuts that litter the ground seasonally. The height, shade canopy, and spectacular fall color of beeches more than makes up for any inconvenience of clean-up.

They stand out as one of the very last trees to lose their leaves in the fall, and their pointed serrated oval leaves turn a gorgeous golden color. In our area, they are in their full Fall glory in the month of November. 

They can live 200 years and get very tall, with a large canopy spread and shallow roots. The trunk flares close to the ground, and has elephant-gray bark that is relatively smooth and thin. 

Encased in a spikey or hairy looking shell, the edible beechnut fruit is prized by birds and squirrels, but bitter to humans. Beech trees also provide a great habitat for small animals because they often

have hollow spots and hidey-holes in their branches and trunk. 

So that’s the easy answer to the BEECH in beach island. But island?

Beech Island is a five square mile unincorporated community in Aiken County, southwest of the city of Aiken with a population of less than 2,000 as of 2020. It is not an island of any kind… so what gives? 

According to the curator at Redcliffe Plantation, located in Beech Island, the “island” is a shortened version of what was originally “highland,” in reference to the relatively higher elevation of the area (226 feet above sea level compared to Aiken’s 136 feet.) Why the “H” was dropped is anyone’s guess.

So now you know the mysteries of Beech Island! If you are inclined to explore further, I’d highly recommend an educational visit to Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site.

Fall colors at Lundy Creek grist mill
The beautiful fall colors in this photo are courtesy of the magnificent American Beech Trees.

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