Shipbuilding on James Island and the Dill’s Bluff Shipyard

Dill's Bluff shipyard

by Henry Horres

OK, I’m no artist. Nor do I count myself a writer or a historian. This is just my idea of what a ship made at Dill’s Shipyard on James Island might have looked like as it made its way to Charleston Harbor by way of James Island Creek during the antebellum period, perhaps in the 1850’s. Dills Bluff is in the background.

Shipbuilding was a big industry during our Island’s history, and oak was a favorite material for building them. Being curved, oak tree limbs were particularly suited to make many members of a vessel of those days. And there were actually tradesmen who excelled at looking at an oak tree, and visualizing which limbs could best be hewn to create a given part of the hull.

Of course, in the process, much of the tree was wasted. It could take as many as 600+ trees to make a larger ship, and that took quite a toll on the mature trees in the area. In fact, the southeast end of Folly Island use to be covered with acres of oak trees that fell prey to the shipbuilders axes. Needless to say, much that end of Folly has been lost to erosion because of the clear-cutting that took place. And virtually all the oaks we see on James Island today grew after 1865.

The exact number of ships built by James Island boat builders, and locations of all the shipyards that may have produced them is unknown. Certainly the number was in the hundreds. But it is doubtful that any shipbuilding activity took place on James Island during the Civil War. And soon after, industrialization gave rise to steam powered ships made of metal, and the era of majestic wooden sailing vessels was gone forever.

Henry Horres, Jr. is a supporter of and contributor to the Bugle. He is also a News Analyst, Professional Information Consultant, Poet, Photographer and Artist. A resident of James Island since 1959 and a former Realtor, he has seen many changes since moving here. He has plans to write a book about the Island’s history, and is seeking old photos and stories to be included. Henry can be reached at

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