Thursday, 26 May 2016

Charleston Hampton Park Running Route

Click here for route map
Length a short 3.2 km (2 miles) but extensible with 1-mile laps of Mary Murray Drive loop, terrain: flat

Here's a nice run, far away from the tourist crowds in the Charleston old town. While the tourists are wandering the magnificent old streets at the south end of the peninsula, there is also a great park run further north, at Hampton Park. The park is surrounded by some pleasant, gentrifying neighborhoods, like Hampton Park Terrace, and it is also bordered by The Citadel military college. This run combines that green parkland, waterfront campus and quiet neighborhoods for a really beautiful route.
Live-oak in Hampton Park
Hampton Park is also packed with history, including being a precursor for today's national Memorial Day holiday. It was the site of an orange grove 250 years ago, then became a horse-race track in the decades before the Civil War. Carolina planters would gather there every February to celebrate their plantation lifestyle with a race festival.

During the Civil War, the racetrack was used as a prison camp for Union troops, and over 250 died there and were buried in a mass grave. Then, in 1865, when the city was surrendered to the Union Army and the white residents had fled, the town's newly-freed black population celebrated a precursor to Memorial Day at the race-track. They reburied the Union soldiers into single graves and then 10,000 people held a procession there, decorating the graves with flowers and singing liberation songs, they then sat down to picnics and watched Union soldiers parade around the grounds.

The graves were later transferred to national military cemeteries.
Firemen out exercising in the early morning near the pond
The racecourse never got going again after the war, and the area was turned into a park, designed by the company that designed Central Park in New York. The west end of the property, along the Ashley River, was given to The Citadel as a new home after their old quarters downtown had gotten too small, so the present park is smaller than was originally planned.

Nowadays an oval road, Mary Murray Drive, follows the original racecourse around the edge of Hampton Park. Mary Murray is a one-way road with a big bike lane, and is fine for running. The course is exactly a mile long, letting you easily add as many laps as you wish to this short route to lengthen it to your needs.
Along Mary Murray Drive
So, ready to visit another historic, beautiful corner of Charleston? Let's get to the east edge of Hampton Park, where Cleveland Street meets Mary Murray Drive. There are two baseball fields and a playground just east of the park proper, in McMahon Playground, north and south of Cleveland Street.

To start the run, turn westwards towards the gazebo in the park and start running! The gazebo was left over after a big international exhibition held on the site. You'll see spreading live-oak trees dripping with Spanish moss to either side.
The gazebo
Just run straight through the park until the path ends before the pond.

Now continue straight across the grass and cross the little bridge over the pond, and continue over the grass at the other side. 
Crossing the pond
When you reach the next flower-lined path, turn right and head to the north edge of the park, running past the parking lot back to Mary Murray Drive. This is the part of the park where the graves once stood, at the site of the old racetrack grandstand.

NOTE: You can start the run here, if you need a place to park.

Now turn left and follow Mary Murray until the left-hand curve. Here, continue westwards along Jenkins Avenue, passing through the gate into The Citadel. It's a private college, but it's open for runners like us.
The Citadel entrance on Jenkins Avenue: just cruise on through and hang left!
Follow Jenkins Avenue as it takes you to the left between some college classrooms and Summerall Field, the big parade grounds. You'll likely see cadets moving between buildings, going to classes and crossing the field.
Cadets crossing Summerall Field
Keep running westwards along Jenkins until it ends at the waterfront of the wide Ashley River. There are estuary swamps along the water's edge, so take a closer look by running out to the end of the little pier behind the clubhouse towards the right. It's a beautiful sight! Originally, Hampton Park was supposed to continue to the river here, with a riverside path here, but that never happened.
The estuary at the pier
So now turn south to run along Hammond Avenue, with the river to your right side. There are some athletic fields here.

After the sports fields, Hammond Avenue passes some housing for faculty (officers), and curves to the left.
Faculty housing on campus
At the first turnoff to the right, take Mims Avenue as it loops past more faculty housing (it looks just like the housing in the Presidio in San Francisco!) and heads north to Richardson Street.

At Richardson, turn right, then left to get you back to the south end of Summerall Field.

Now turn right on Lee Avenue and run eastwards out of the Citadel campus and into the Hampton Park Terrace neighborhood.
Along Moultrie Street
You're now back at the southwest corner of Hampton Park, and you have the choice of either running east past the old homes along Moultrie Street, or run a few meters within the park itself along Mary Murray again, which parallels Moultrie here.

Now just follow the south edge of the park until Ashley Avenue, where Mary Murray Drive curves to the north, and follow that curve past the baseball field.

In just a few steps, you'll be back at the start, and can now add one or more laps along Mary Murray to add some distance. Have fun!

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