Shem Creek flows through the heart of Mount Pleasant and is known for its many waterfront bars and restaurants. It also offers a variety of leisure activities including fishing, boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding. The banks of Shem Creek were originally inhabited by Sewee Indians. Its name is thought to derive from the Native American word Shemee. Variations of this word include Shamee, Shembee, and Shimhee.
The creek begins near present-day Bowman Road, where several small tributaries meet to form its head, and continues to wind through Mount Pleasant’s Old Village before eventually emptying into the Charleston harbor. Shem Creek has a long history as a working creek, beginning in the 1740s when Peter Villepontoux operated a lime kiln on its banks. Several notable businessmen, including Andrew Hibben, also established successful ferries on the creek during this time. Although ferries have since given way to bridges and charter boats, Shem Creek remains one of the most popular channels in the area.
Several mills and factories were stationed on the creek during the 1800s, but commerce came to a halt during the Civil War as the mills were either destroyed or abandoned. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the seafood industry began to take shape.
By the mid-1940s, shrimping had grown into one of the most important industries in the area and several seafood companies, including the Mount Pleasant Seafood Company, had already been established on Shem Creek. During the 1970s, it was not unusual to see several dozen shrimp boats flanking either side of the creek, as seen in the below photo.
However, the shrimping industry of Shem Creek has changed since then. Due to recent regulations governing shrimping practices that require more labor, environmental changes such as heavy rains and extreme temperatures, cheap shrimp being shipped to South Carolina from China, and illegal shrimping by rogues, bonafide local shrimpers are finding it difficult to make a living of the waters. A modern-day view of Shem Creek usually reveals fewer than 10 shrimp boats lined up along the creek.
Despite the contemporary woes of local shrimpers, Shem Creek remains a favorite watering hole, where tourists and locals alike go to enjoy everything the Lowcountry has to offer. Visits from dolphins and even the occasional manatee delight paddlers and diners eating dockside at Shem Creek, while vistas of the local marshes and the Ravenel Bridge complete the spectacular scenery.
Located along Shem Creek are a series of boardwalks known officially as Shem Creek Park. A popular fixture along the boardwalk is this Great Egret known affectionately by locals as Henry. Henry can be seen daily posing for pictures or trying to scope out a fisherman’s latest catch.
More Pictures of Shem Creek
Reflections on Shem Creek
Lea Roberts, who shared our oldest photo of Shem Creek, says: “I took the picture at the Shem Creek Bridge in the 1970s. I was using a new camera and not quite sure of the settings, so it came out a bit grainy. But after looking at the print, I thought the graininess added to the mystique and atmosphere. You can still stand in the spot today and get great shots of shrimp boats, but there are restaurants and businesses lining both sides of the creek. Sometimes progress is bittersweet.”
Keith Briley shares: “Although we woke up late for a morning of shooting, we were anxious to get out the door and capture sunrise. With dawn quickly approaching, we rushed down the interstate as we discussed our destination. Heading towards Charleston, we see the potential sunrise approaching. We quickly decided that Shem Creek would be our go-to spot on this morning. When we arrived, there was no time to waste. We quickly gathered our gear and ran down the boardwalk. I was shooting at the very end of the walk when I noticed a better composition for the explosion of colors that was about to occur. I rushed up the boardwalk and found my spot. There were many shots taken that morning, but this was my favorite. I have titled it, Limelight.”
James R. Geib tell us of his photo: “Charleston is one of my family’s favorite places to visit. I ate at restaurants near Shem Creek as a child with my parents, and now I get to enjoy time there with my own children adding to already precious memories. Unfortunately, the tide was low on this particular day so I didn’t get the panorama I wanted, but getting a closer shot was still a nice way to end the day. I’ll be back after next year after I check the tide tables!”
Charleston resident Elizabeth Gurley says: “Here in Charleston, we jump at every opportunity to take advantage of our coastal locale. Whether you’re cruising Shem Creek, or setting sail down the Intracoastal Waterway, the scenery leaves nothing to be desired. Whether you denote the changing of the seasons by the turning of the marsh grass, or appreciate the deep-seated tradition of local shrimping, there is something for everyone to enjoy and be grateful for from this Lowcountry vantage point.”
Pamela Talbird says of her photo: “I was driving into Mount Pleasant when a storm was moving in. When I reached Shem Creek, I pulled over and grabbed my camera. The storm clouds were meeting with the blue sky over the creek and creating this beautiful contrast overhead.”
Taylor Franta says: “Having recently moved to South Carolina, I was quickly drawn to Shem Creek. It is always a lively place to grab a bite to eat and the view certainly adds to the experience.”