By Kent Hutchinson

Charleston has always played a major role in the defense of our nation. Even after the 1990’s closing of our Navy base during the BRAC process, Joint Base Charleston continues to plays a major role in thousands of lives across the Lowcountry. Beyond that, many of our local veterans first served elsewhere and have returned home or they’ve migrated to the military-friendly environment that South Carolina offers.

For 51 years, the Ralph H. Johnson Veteran’s Administration Medical Center (VAMC) has been providing them their earned medical care. One element of successful medical treatment and recovery is the support that the presence of family members contributes. This often is not possible due to the expense of staying in close proximity of the hospital.

That’s why, 27 years ago, the Fisher House Foundation began to address this issue by providing free lodging to families who were supporting their veteran relative. The first Fisher House “comfort homes” were in the high-cost area of Washington, D.C. near what is now known as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Today there are now five Fisher Houses there, with a total of 73 private rooms. By the conclusion of 2017, it is expected that Fisher House Charleston will be the 74th house to join the continually-expanding network of nationwide and overseas. Each of these have been constructed and opened on government locations proximate to their related medical facility.

Despite the need, Charleston has not had the benefit of a Fisher House to support the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC. The primary obstacle was the absence of available land on the VAMC government site to construct such a facility. This was addressed in 2012 when Trux and Durbin Emerson, Medal of Honor recipient Major General James Livingston, USMC, and public relations director of our VAMC, Tonya Lobbestael, met to explore methods of solving this need.

Initially a 501(c)3 charitable foundation was created under the name of Harbour House, Inc.; its primary objectives were to find candidate properties, purchase one and construct a lodging facility for veteran’s families. Funds were raised via numerous meetings with churches, organizations, communities and government officials. These donations were supplemented with golf tournaments and other fund raising events.

With the successful identification of the vacant structure at 150 Wentworth St., the Fisher House Foundation agreed to work with Harbour House and fold it into the Fisher House family in 2014. This recognition and support included taking over the responsibility of the construction of Fisher House Charleston at 150 Wentworth St after the purchase and donation of that site to the Veterans Administration.

In the three years since Harbour House transitioned to Fisher House Charleston, attaining the balance of the necessary funds to pay off the mortgage and negotiate the property transfer to the VA led to a ground breaking last November 18.

The location is unique in many ways. Although not on the VAMC campus, it is in the nearby Harleston Village neighborhood, providing a quiet and comfortable environment. It required significant discussion to ensure the facility will be a compatible and positive addition to the neighborhood. As a result, the standard Fisher House design was significantly modified in response to suggested changes to the proposed original plan by numerous community organizations.

You can now observe the construction of the 16-bedroom facility. When completed, this warm and welcoming residence will include an oversized kitchen with ample food storage and duplicate cooking facilities, a living room and family room. Video tours of the current design and a summary of the conveniences in the house may be found on the link www.fisherhousefoundation.org/houses.

It should be noted that when the property was purchased the carriage house remaining on the northwest corner of the lot was designated historic and in need of total restoration. The responsibility for this restoration remains with Fisher House Charleston. The outlook for this restoration following the construction of the main house will further make this site unique. The preliminary plan envisions a structure providing interludes of privacy for meetings with clergy and other support organizations. Also it could be used as a local meeting facility further integrating Fisher House Charleston into the fabric of the neighborhood.

Preliminary design and construction tasks are currently being identified and addressed. Several firms and organizations have pledged contributions in kind to reduce the overall cost to complete, but donations are still required to finish the project. This will be a compliant historic design subject to full review when available later this year. In short this will be the most unique Fisher House project to date — most appropriate for Charleston — and the only one made possible through the donation of the building’s site by a private, volunteer organization.

After opening in late 2017, there will be numerous and various opportunities to continue supporting our veterans and their families. To keep abreast of construction progress and other updates including the opportunity to donate, please visit the website, www.fisherhouscharleston.org.

 

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.