Charleston and South Carolina’s Lowcountry
With nearly five million visitors attracted to Charleston’s metropolitan area each year, employees of Naval Weapons Station Charleston and their families find themselves in the heart of one of this nation’s prime vacation destinations.
Antebellum homes, historic forts and plantations, year-round outdoor activities and festivals, museums, ghost tours, and carriage rides all help make up the fabric of England’s first settlement in South Carolina.
In 1663, shortly after regaining the throne of England, King Charles II granted eight of his loyal friends a charter to
Carolina territory in return for an annual payment of twenty marks, and one-fourth of all the gold and silver that might be found. Seven years later, 148 settlers landed on the banks of the Ashley River at a location now preserved as a historic site for “Charles Towne.” In 1680, the capital and port of entry were officially moved across the river to a peninsula of land located between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers that provided more protection against Indians, Spaniards, and Pirates. In 1783,
that new city was renamed Charleston.
Although the area never produced the gold and silver sought by King Charles II, it did prosper. By the mid-18th century, Charleston was colonial America’s largest and most prosperous metropolitan area and the largest port south of Philadelphia.
Today, the metropolitan area of Charleston extends along 90 miles of ocean front, stretches 50 miles inland, and includes three counties: Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley where Naval Weapons Station Charleston is located. With a population of nearly 600,000 people, the Charleston metropolitan area is one of the most dynamic regions in the state with a $5.7 billion tourist industry, the largest containerized cargo port on the South Atlantic, one of the Southeast’s most impressive medical hubs, a growing manufacturing/technology industrial base, and a large federal and military presence.
The Charleston metropolitan area is part of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, those counties located along the Atlantic coast between Georgia and North Carolina noted for their tidal marshes, saltwater and freshwater lakes, wide-mouthed rivers, bays and coves, and Atlantic Ocean. All contribute to making this area an outdoor paradise.
Charleston’s semi-tropical climate makes living in the Lowcountry a pleasure most times of the year. Summers are hot and humid, but winters are very mild. The area enjoys approximately 234 days of sunshine a year while rainfall averages 52 inches annually. Snowfall is rare, but frost does occur between December and February.
Moving to South Carolina
Vehicle Registration/Drivers License – Military members and their dependents, living temporarily in South Carolina, may drive without obtaining a South Carolina driver’s license by maintaining current home state driver’s license and tags. A tax exempt form must be obtained from the Naval Legal Office (Building 302) in order not to pay South Carolina property tax on your vehicles. Military personnel and students must maintain a valid driver’s license from either home state or South Carolina at all times.
Other new residents moving to South Carolina, and military members and/or dependents wishing to obtain South Carolina vehicle license plate and driver’s license, must transfer out-of-state vehicle registration to South Carolina within 45 days of arrival and obtain a drivers license within 90 days of arrival.
If you are a new resident, you may use a valid driver’s license from your former state for up to 90 days before converting to a South Carolina driver’s license. If your driver’s license from your home state has expired, you must also pass the knowledge and road tests. To schedule a road test, you need to call the DMV office where you would like to take the test.
Each qualified driver can have only one driver’s license. To
qualify for a South Carolina driver’s license, you must pass the eye exam given at all DMV offices or submit a statement of visual acuity from an eye specialist. A South Carolina driver’s license is valid for 10 years and must be renewed by your birthday in the 10th year.
Unless you are a military member maintaining your original home of record, you must also register your vehicles in South Carolina within 45 days of arrival. Be sure to change your address with your auto insurance company before you register your vehicle in South Carolina. In order to transfer out-of-state vehicle title and registration, you must provide the following: (1) out-of-state vehicle title and registration (or name and address of the company that holds the lien); (2) liability insurance information; (3) completed Form 400, Application for Certificate of Title/Registration; (4) paid vehicle property tax receipt; and (5) title and registration fees.
Additional information on driver’s license and vehicle registration can be found on the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles web site at: www.scmdvonline.com. Web site information includes office locations, hours of operation, and the application Form 400 for Certificate of Title/Registration.
Voter Registration – New residents must be 18 years old or older, and be a U.S. citizen without a felony conviction, to vote in any local, state or federal election. Registration in the county of residence is required at least 30 days prior to an election. Proof of residency will be required to register. Contact the appropriate voter registration office for more details: Berkeley County – 723-3800; Charleston County – 744-8683; and Dorchester County – 832-0132.
Taxes – South Carolina has a tiered indexed personal income tax with withholding rates ranging from 2.5% to 7% depending on taxable income. There is no state property tax, but real and personal property taxes are levied by local taxing authorities. Sales taxes are 6% in Dorchester and Berkeley Counties, and 6.5% in Charleston County.
There are four public school districts serving approximately 88,760 students in the Charleston region. Berkeley County, Charleston County, Dorchester II and Dorchester IV collectively operate 134 schools serving grades K-12 in the Charleston metropolitan area. There are also approximately 65 private and parochial schools in the region as well as 21 colleges.
Where you live usually determines where your children will
attend school. Children residing on Naval Weapons Station Charleston attend Marrington Elementary School (Grades K-5) and Marrington Middle School (Grades 6-8) which are located on the military installation. Older children living on base attend Goose Creek High School (Grades 9-12). All three schools are a part of the Berkeley County School District.
Prior to moving, parents should sign a release form at their
child’s school for student records to be transferred to the new school district. If this is not possible, bring to the new school previous report cards and/or records with the old school’s name and address.
Children who will be five years of age or older on or before September 1 must be enrolled in a public or private school unless the parent or a legal guardian signs a waiver or chooses to home school their children under the guidelines of South Carolina law. Under state law, students must attend school from age 5 to 17.
When enrolling your child in a South Carolina public school, you will need to bring the child’s birth certificate, child’s Social Security card, and properly completed immunization certificate. In addition, some districts require proof of residency and other information prior to registration. For specific information, contact the school district where you plan to send your children. Web sites for all public school districts, as well as private schools, are listed in this guide under “Helpful Web Sites.” The web sites include registration forms and immunization information.
An exit exam must be passed in order for a student to graduate from high school in South Carolina. It tests three basic skills: reading, writing, and math. The exam is given in the spring to tenth graders for their first try. Students who do not pass are enrolled in special classes that teach the skills they lack. The test can be taken again in the eleventh and twelfth grades.
A pre-school program is offered, in conjunction with a traditional daycare system, at the Child Development Center at Naval Weapons Station Charleston. Call (843) 764-7984 for more information, or to place your children on the Central Enrollment Waiting List.
Colleges - There are 21 colleges in the Charleston metropolitan area. The three largest colleges include the College of
Charleston, Trident Technical College, and The Citadel. The College of Charleston is an accredited four-year liberal arts university which offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. The Citadel, established in 1842, continues its military academy tradition with its Corps of Cadets, while also offering evening
and summer, coeducational undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Trident Technical College is a public, two-year, institution with courses in health sciences, business, tourism
and culinary arts, humanities and social sciences, industrial
and engineering technology, law-related studies, nursing, science, and mathematics.
Sailors interested in off-duty educational opportunities are encouraged to visit the Navy College Office in Building 302 to learn what on and off-base college courses are available.
Spouse Employment Opportunities
With a labor force of nearly 284,000 people, and many of the largest employers in South Carolina, the Charleston metro area provides excellent employment opportunities for spouses of Sailors working at Naval Weapons Station Charleston.
Military spouses are encouraged to receive job search assistance through the Family Employment Readiness Program at the Fleet and Family Support Center in Building 755 on base. Services include career development and employment counseling, job skills workshops, local job bank referrals, internet job searches, resume and federal job application classes, resource library and job fairs.
The Career Development and Resource Center at the FFSC sponsors a joint Navy and Air Force job fair semi-annually (usually in April and November) which is designed to give spouses, separatees, and retirees an opportunity to network
with employing agencies. The list of prospective employers usually varies each time, bringing prospective employees face-to-face with those agencies offering immediate and future employment opportunities.
Military spouses who relocate with their sponsor under permanent change of station orders are eligible for increased employment assistance through the Military Spouse Preference (MSP) program. This program provides hiring preference for military spouses to DoD jobs and Non-Appropriated Fund jobs such as in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation office and Navy Exchange. To request MSP status, military spouses must submit an application or resume; a statement requesting MSP; and a copy of the military sponsor’s PCS orders.
The Department of Defense has actively engaged private
partners and other government agencies to enhance employment and career opportunities for military spouses. As a result of a partnership with Monster.com, the virtual Military Spouse Career Center, www.military.com/spouse, was created to provide
career networking services and employment information to military spouses.
Our goal through these programs is to help military spouses
find productive, rewarding career opportunities while living in
With Charleston and the Lowcountry continually being listed among the top 10 tourist destinations in the United States, a newcomer’s choices are nearly limitless. There is something for everyone: Tours of historic Charleston; deep sea fishing and championship golf courses; ballet and symphonies; year-round festivals; outstanding restaurants; professional soccer and hockey leagues and minor league baseball; auto racing; water parks and aquariums. This list goes on and on.
With so many choices, the biggest problem is selecting attractions which meet your needs and interests.
An excellent starting point is the Naval Weapon Station’s Information, Tickets and Travel (ITT) Office which offers discount tickets for many Charleston area entertainment venues, as well as many attractions throughout the southeast. Located in Building 1700 on Fletcher Street, ITT offers brochures on many area attractions as well as discount tickets for area theaters, historic tours, water parks, aquarium, and sporting events.
ITT also offers discount tickets to attractions in nearby states such as Biltmore Estates in Ashville, N.C.; Dollywood in Tenn.; Busch Gardens in Williamsburg; Six Flags in Atlanta; and Walt Disney World and Sea World in Florida. Other vacation areas within easy driving distance of Charleston include Myrtle Beach, S.C (92 miles), Hilton Head Island (95 miles), and Savannah, Ga. (107 miles). ITT is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday – Friday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
For outdoor lovers, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department offers another wonderful opportunity only 25 miles from Naval Weapons Station Charleston. Swimming, camping, boating and fishing are all available at Short Stay Outdoor Recreation Area on beautiful Lake Moultrie. Accommodations include log cabins, villas, roundettes, and camp sites. Ask for details when visiting ITT or call (843) 743-2366.
Most first-time visitors gain an overview of Charleston’s historic district by first stopping at the Charleston Visitors Center, located downtown at 375 Meeting Street. The Visitors Center serves as starting point for many historic district tours and is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week (except from November through March when closing time is 5 p.m.) The Center is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Armed with maps, brochures, and welcome guides provided by the Visitors Center, newcomers travel by foot, van, or carriage through the historic district while making a list of places where they would like to return.
Orientation tours pass restored nineteenth century historic homes which are open to the public; America’s first theater where plays are still being presented; Old City Market where small shops and street vendors still sell products as they did one hundred fifty years ago; the oldest municipal college in America; Victorian churches built in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, and picturesque city parks and marinas.
A short distance from the Visitors Center is Aquarium Wharf, home of the South Carolina Aquarium, IMAX Theater, and numerous harbor and dinner cruises. The aquarium specializes in fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and plants that flourish along South Carolina’s freshwater and saltwater coastal regions.
The past comes alive for adults and children at 15 area museums. The Charleston Museum--America’s first museum-showcases cultural and natural history of South Carolina’s coastal region. The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry provides a hands-on interactive learning environment for youth ages 3 months to 12 years. Old Slave Mart Museum recounts the story of Charleston’s role in inter-state slave trade. Other museums include the American Military Museum, The Citadel Museum, The Confederate Museum and the Maritime Museum.
No trip would be complete without visiting two of this nation’s most historic forts — Fort Moultrie where Americans won their
first victory over the British Navy during the American Revolution, and Fort Sumter where the first shots were fired starting the American Civil War. Fort Moultrie is reached by land on Sullivan’s Island, while Fort Sumter is reached by ferry boat departing from either Aquarium Wharf in Charleston, or Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant. Both Forts are now operated by the National Park Service and are open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and News Year’s Day.
Of special interest to Sailors and their families is Patriots Point, located on historic Charleston Harbor in Mt Pleasant. The Maritime Museum includes tours of the Aircraft Carrier USS Yorktown with 25 aircraft on its flight deck, Submarine Clamagore, Destroyer Laffey, and Coast Guard Cutter Ingham. The exhibit also includes a true-to-scale Vietnam Naval Support Base exhibit, and an F/A-18 flight simulator. Recently added to the exhibit is a Cold War Submarine Memorial dedicated to the Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines and their crews stationed at Naval Weapons Station Charleston. While ITT has discount tickets for Patriot Point exhibits, military members in uniform are admitted free.
Every season brings a reason to celebrate in the Lowcountry as festivals fill the calendar throughout the year: Food and wine festivals, music and arts festivals, cultural heritage festivals, harvest and water festivals, holiday festivals. Information on all area attractions and events can be found in local publications and on various South Carolina web sites including www.sciway.net.
Whatever your interest, there is always an exciting adventure awaiting you in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
The Naval Weapons Station Charleston Newcomers' Guide is published by Benchmark Publications Incorporated, a private firm in no way connected with the Department of the Navy, under exclusive written contract with Naval Weapons Station Charleston. The appearance of advertising in this publication, including inserts and supplements, does not constitute endorsement by the Department of the Navy or Benchmark Publications, Incorporated of the products or services advertised. Everything advertised in this publication shall be made available for purchase, use or patronage without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital status, physical handicap, political affiliation or any other non-merit factor of the purchaser, user or patron. If a violation or rejection of this equal opportunity policy by an advertiser is confirmed, the publisher shall refuse to print advertising from that source until the violation is corrected. The Naval Weapons Station Charleston Newcomers' Guide is an unofficial publication authorized by AR 360-81. Editorial content is prepared, edited and provided by the Public Affairs Office of the Naval Weapons Station Charleston. All photos are provided by the Public Affairs Office unless stated otherwise.