Preserving the culture of art and history on Sullivan’s Island

Board of Directors


President: W. Michael Walsh, MD
Vice-President: Adele Deas Tobin
Secretary: Stephaney Oberon
Treasurer: Carlsen Huey
Board Member: Mark Howard

Board Member: Cyndy Ewing
Board Member: Linda Perkis
Board Member: Kat Kenyon
Immediate Past President: Hal Coste
Contact these officers via our email:

Our Mission Statement

The Battery Gadsden Cultural Center exists to serve the community of Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. In doing so we provide:

  •  Programming on a regular basis, several months of the year, including speakers covering topics of interest to the community, such as history, culture and natural resources. These regular monthly programs are free and open to the general public.

  •  A membership programs whereby members receive various benefits such as advance notice and priority reservations for special events.

  •  Special events several times a year, such as trolley tours of the island, Carolina Day celebrations, and social gatherings.

  •  Arts and cultural events featuring both visual and performing arts.

  •  A venue for performing artists utilizing our property leased from the Town of Sullivan’s Island.

  •  Partnerships with other entities, such as the National Park Service, to assist in furthering their missions.

  •  Assistance to the community and the Town of Sullivan’s Island when called upon for projects consistent with the goals of our organization.

Consider becoming a member today!

Our Past

In the wake of the terrific destruction wrought by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, civic life on Sullivan’s Island was at a low ebb. Clean up was slow and painful as residents sifted through the debris of their homes and their lives. Gradually, though, life returned to normal. Homes were repaired or rebuilt. A new two-story wing opened at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School. Nearby, the Edgar Allan Poe Library was set to reopen in November of 1992 after extensive repairs.

Hurricane Hugo on Sullivan's Island

At that time another force of nature struck the island in the form of Mayme Aiken “Make” Macmurphy, a dynamic organizer with a strong desire to celebrate the stories and gifts of the reborn community. She gathered an enthusiastic group committed to her vision, and the Gadsden Cultural Center was founded. Incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1992, its stated mission was “to establish and maintain a museum of the civilian life of Sullivan’s Island; to establish and maintain an art gallery; and to provide studio space for use by local artists.” It took up residence at 1917 I’on Avenue and was soon off and running.

Through Macmurphy’s inspiration, networking and direction, islanders were soon enjoying guest speakers, Mayfest celebrations, artist exhibitions, Shakespeare in the Park, Piccolo Spoleto concerts, and Frogmore Stew fundraisers. She identified 28 long-time residents as “critical resources” and videotaped them as they shared their oral histories.

Using a script written by local historian, Suzannah Smith Miles, these video sessions were transformed into a celebrated documentary, “The Island Remembered”, which the Cultural Center used as a fundraiser in 1997.

Still not satisfied, Make worked with islanders to gather historic photos. She convinced island historian, Roy Williams, to do a tremendous amount of research and writing resulting in the book, Sullivan’s Island, as part of the “Images of America” series, a book that remains a staple on the bookshelves of many island homes.

Mayme Aiken “Make” Macmurphy died in 2007. Predictably, without a dynamic leader and organizer the group fell into a period of inactivity, essentially disbanding.

Our Present

Fortunately, by 2014 the Phoenix was seen rising from the ashes. A new group of enthusiastic islanders had formed to face the many challenges of rejuvenating the organization now known as Battery Gadsden Cultural Center (BGCC). Those challenges included restoring 501 (c) (3) non-profit status, which has now been done.

It also meant reinstating an active, engaged board of directors as well as stimulating sufficient interest among current islanders, many of whom had not been here during the Make Macmurphy era.

New bylaws were created in 2014 with somewhat broader stated purposes for existence, those being: “To preserve and provide access to the civilian history of Sullivan’s Island; To provide a space for display of art and artifacts; To provide a space for artists to work and display artistic creation, and; To provide a space for community events and artistic performances.”

Since three of those purposes included providing “a space”, a physical home needed to be found. In 2014 the Town of Sullivan’s Island was willing to lease that part of the old Battery Gadsden at the far southwest end, the end opposite the Poe Library, to the organization for a term of two years.

Having been built in 1902 as part of the Endicott system of coastal fortifications, the building required much in the way of cleaning out and cleaning up. Many hours were spent accomplishing that task, with a dumpster load of trash making its way to the landfill in late 2014. A good power washing and painting in Spring of 2015 made the old battery usable. Happily by the end of the initial lease the Town recognized the viability of the reborn BGCC and signed another lease with the group, this time for a term of five years.

The activities of BGCC in recent years have centered around two things: events to engage the community, and an oral history project.

Community events have been many and varied. A cookout was held on Memorial Day 2015 to stimulate interest and recruit new members. A very successful lecture series alsobegan in 2015 with talks by Ranger Gary Alexander from Ft. Moultrie on “Coastal Defense” and author Cindy Lee on “The Ghosts of Sullivan’s Island”.

Island historian, Roy Williams, has been kind enough to treat our audiences to several talks such as, “The New Brighton Hotel” and “Fort Moultrie and Sullivan’s Island Through the Years”. Ever popular Dr. Nic Butler, historian for the Charleston County Public Library, has also been a frequent guest lecturing on such topics as “The Sullivan’s Island Trolleys”, the four “Pest Houses” that existed on the island during the 18th century, and “Poetry and Music in Early Moultrieville”.

Also relevant to the cultural part of our mission, the exterior part of the building, including one of the old gun emplacements, was used as a stage as “Shakespeare By the Sea” was presented in October. In November BGCC was used as one of the stops for “Art on the Beach”. 2015 was capped by a Holiday Social Event with the old battery being warmed by the cheer of the season.

2016 was a banner year for programming, both historical and cultural. Best selling island author, Dottie Benton Frank, presented a program in July followed by a talk and book signing with Mary Alice Monroe in December. September we were joined by islander and “American Surrealist” painter, Dr. Richard “Duke” Hagerty.

One of our more unique events took place in June with current Charleston Mayor John Tecklenberg entertaining with both conversation and his fabulous piano playing. In November we were honored to have former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley join us for a program held at Sunrise Presbyterian Church. The low point undoubtedly of the year was when Hurricane Matthew blew through the area creating some flooding in the battery itself. Fortunately no permanent damage was done.

Attendance continued to grow in 2017 as the speaker series expanded. Historian and author, Josephine Humphreys, joined us in April to tell us how her life on Sullivan’s Island has informed her writing. In May we turned to nature as Diana Rouse told about “The Life of Bees”. That was followed in June by Mary Pringle, the “Turtle Lady” who brought us up to date on efforts to preserve the local sea turtle population. June saw something brand new tried, that being our first annual Maritime Expo and Wooden Boat Show. Held in Stith Park and the parking area behind the new Town Hall it was a tremendous success with over 30 boats, a silent auction, and other maritime related activities. We rounded out the year with Doreen Larimer, historic property researcher, speaking on how to find the history of your property.

2018 was another successful year for community events and lectures including:

  • Scott Bluestein speaking on maritime law cases, including slave ships, in March
  • An extremely popular “History Hunt” was headed up by Dave Spurgin in April, introducing a whole new generation to the history of Sullivan’s Island
  • In June the second annual Maritime Expo and Wooden Boat Show, co-sponsored by the National Park Service, was held, this time on the grounds of Sullivan’s Island Elementary School, Battery Gadsden, and the old Coast Guard Life Saving Station
  • In September over 70 people turned out to hear the oral history of Mr. Bryan Rowell, former township commissioner of Sullivan’s Island, and one of the interviewees from our oral history project.

As the other major part of BGCC’s activities, the Oral History Project was started with its first interview in November of 2016. The interest in starting this project grew out of Make Macmurphy’s original work in preserving the history of long time island residents through “The Island Remembered” video. Now we are trying to bring this effort up to 21st century standards as published by the Oral History Association. In order to accomplish that goal, individuals must not only be interviewed, but those interviews must also be transcribed, indexed and securely stored while still being accessible to those who wish to view them, whether that be researchers, authors, or the general public.

We are fortunate to have reached an agreement with the Lowcountry Digital Library, housed in the Addlestone Library on the College of Charleston campus. They have agreed to be the repository for our oral histories. In fact, we will be the first oral history project housed at the Lowcountry Digital Library that will be in video format. This is an exciting, though challenging, job for our organization. As of this report, eight interviews have been done with more scheduled. BGCC is always on the lookout for new candidates to be interviewed.

Our Bright Future

With the growth and enthusiasm that has built since 2014, clearly there would appear to be a bright future for Battery Gadsden Cultural Center. In the absence of any of the national service clubs on the island (Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, etc.) BGCC must rank as one of the most active, if not the most active, community based non-profit service group on Sullivan’s Island. However, up to now programs and activities have been free of charge. There have been no formal dues. Funding has mainly been through donations, usually modest in size, from interested islanders. With expenses generally small the group has been able to exist through careful fiscal management. However, financial support will become more and more important as activities continue. Major donors and sponsors need to be found.

The other major challenge is our physical plant, our “clubhouse”, Battery Gadsden itself. Some progress has been made. Both the interior and exterior have been cleaned. Much of the overgrowth on top of the battery has been removed. We were delighted in November of 2017 when one of the Boy Scouts from Troop 502 on the Isle of Palms, John Petersheim, chose power washing and repainting the exterior of Battery Gadsden as his Eagle Scout project!

A major issue continues to be climate control for the interior of the structure. Air conditioning and humidity control would do much In turn to control mold and mildew. Until such time as this is done, we are limited with what can be done at the Battery itself. A great deal of old furnishings have already been thrown out due to the problem despite efforts at temporizing with portable dehumidifiers and air conditioning units. In addition the electrical system in the Battery sorely needs an upgrade.

Why should one even be concerned with improving an old Spanish American War era artillery battery? Recently we have developed a good working relationship with Fort Moultrie and the National Park Service. They have generously allowed us to use their Visitor Center auditorium for most of our monthly lectures. Why not just continue to do that? The answer is that as amiable as the relationship is now, it is not necessarily permanent. Additionally, the only lectures and speakers that they will be interested in co-sponsoring, thereby allowing us to use the auditorium, are those dealing with topics that fit with the mission of Fort Sumter National Monument and the National Park Service. If we were to have a talk on something totally out of their area of interest and not consistent with their mission, we would not be able to use that facility. If we wanted to have a fund raiser, we could not use that facility. If we wanted to have a book sale and signing we could not. If we wanted to have a purely social event with food and drink, we could not use that facility. Next year we have plans for another theatrical production like the previous Shakespeare by the Sea. That we cannot have at Fort Moultrie. Christmas parties, membership meetings, art displays all require our own space.

One need only look back at the purposes stated for both the original Make Macmurphy organization as well as the current one. Words like “museum”, “art gallery”, “studio space”, “space for community events and performances” imply the need for our very own space. It seems that almost every interviewee from the oral history project feels the need or desire to give BGCC some of their old documents, papers or memorabilia for safe keeping and for the use of others who may be investigating the history of Sullivan’s Island in the future. Right now our hot, damp, moldy facility does not allow us to offer safe keeping for those documents, so most have wound up in a board member’s storeroom. This needs to be corrected.

What can really be done with a structure like ours? One need only look at the other end of the complex to the Poe Library to see what could be done. Granted, that was a costly project presumably funded by the county, but it could be done again even on a more modest scale.

There is another example. In Hawai’i on the island of Oahu, above Honolulu there stands another Endicott battery, Battery Randolph. The story goes that at one point the government wanted to knock Battery Randolph down so they brought in a wrecking ball. Try as they might they could not tear down the battery. It was that strongly constructed. So they took a different approach and Battery Randolph now stands as the Hawaiian Museum of the Army. Could Battery Gadsden ever stand as the Museum of Sullivan’s Island? A dream certainly but dreams can come true.

Our thanks to Delores Schweitzer and to the Island Eye News for allowing us to re-use some of their previously printed material dealing with Make Macmurphy and the Battery Gadsden Cultural Center.