With its grand majestic old Live Oaks, cycling, jogging, walking trails, a nearly one-hundred-year-old bandstand, and manicured flower beds and gardens Hampton Park is one of my favorite Charleston County Parks. One of the most spectacular aspects of this park is the "Avenues of Oaks". I say "avenues" plural because there is more than just one. These avenues are made up of "Live Oaks" one of the few oaks that display green foliage year round. These beautiful evergreen trees are actually all over the Charleston and Low Country area. However, I have not seen them anywhere else arranged and displayed as majestically and in such harmonious manner with their surroundings, as they are here at Hampton Park.
Hampton is one of the oldest parks in Charleston. Which means there is a great deal of history attached to it - both good and bad. While I have a very strong affinity for historical facts, I have chosen to briefly touch on just a few historic tidbits - only to the end that they invoke a desire to experience this beautiful park in person.
After a gentleman by the name of John Charles Olmsted designed a plan for a park while visiting the Charleston area in 1906, the city of Charleston employed the services of Olmsted & Elliott Landscaping from Boston, Massachusetts. A little research about Olmsted & Elliot Landscaping: They can be credited for designing some of the most beautiful parks in the country; and I venture to say, probably in the world.
In 1932 Hampton Park became home to the Hampton Park Zoo. In the 60s and early 70s my parents with their six boys in our '59 Impala Chevy made frequent trips to downtown Charleston. Back then large shopping centers and mass merchandisers were few and far between. After visiting various downtown shops and always Sears, which was located behind the Francis Marion Hotel at the corner of King and Calhoun, they would take us to Hampton Park. In retrospect, I believe part of their reasoning for this was to tire us out before making the trip back home to Summerville via Hwy 61. I have fond memories of climbing the giant oaks, running in the grass and playing around the bandstand; and I thought that zoo was the coolest thing in the world. If I remember correctly, the lion's name was Leo and there was a myna bird that would wolf whistle and call out "pretty girl". In 1975 the zoo was closed and it's occupants were moved to Charles Towne Landing - another of the beautiful parks in the Charleston area. After seeing how much more room the animals were allocated as well as the upgrade in their habitats at Charles Towne Landing, the Hampton Park Zoo closure and move of its occupants was quite understandable. For me, however, it still marked the end of an era.
The 1970s were a strange time for most American cities; and Charleston was not to be excluded. Old large abandoned homes and buildings could be found around every corner. There was a move toward modernization which entailed prefabricated buildings with aluminum windows and siding popping up next to the more majestic and historic. Many of the homes around Hampton Park fell into disrepair. The whole area became run down and the crime rate went up. Fortunately due to the actions of historic preservation societies, conscientious developers, and city planners, preservation and restoration became a priority. Once the City of Charleston went into full-bore restoration mode in the early '80s, differences were notable and more than welcomed by all.