Wildwood Contractors likes the versatility of the Case CX80C. The operator loads material into the Case CR320C compact track loader.
A building contractor’s ability to work creatively and efficiently within an urban confined space is a special talent.
Wildwood Contractors Inc. in Walterboro has built a solid reputation doing just that in the state’s coastal Low Country, particularly in Charleston, a city fabled for its historic neighborhoods of tightly-packed homes and high-traffic, high-pedestrian streets and avenues.
The city’s downtown is located on a narrow peninsula on Charleston Harbor between the Ashley and Cooper rivers. At the lower end of the peninsula is an area known as The Battery, which originated as a defensive position protecting the city from enemy ships in the harbor during the Civil War.
Wildwood is currently working in The Battery to rebuild and rehabilitate the 146-year-old Colonial Lake, a 10-acre tidal pond that has been a city park since the 1880s. Just 1,500 ft. (457.2 m) to the west is the Ashley River, which influences the lake with its tidal flow.
Beautiful old homes can be found on three sides of the lake with recreational facilities along its western edge. The entire park is ringed by sidewalks and city streets.
The tight setting calls for the deft touch of a company like Wildwood.
Its crews started the $4 million Colonial Lake project in January and the work is expected to be finished early next year.
Wildwood’s Unique Skill Set
Wildwood Landscape Contractors was formed more than 60 years ago by Isaiah Crosby. Today, his son, Jerry, runs the business along with his son, Cole. In 2003, the firm changed its mission to be primarily a general contractor, although it still maintains its landscape business, as well.
“We have done a great deal of work for the city of Charleston over the last 35 years and have geared our business toward doing a lot of recreational construction, such as building parks, playgrounds and ball fields” said Jerry Crosby. “We also do a lot of historical reconstruction for Charleston.”
Among the projects that Wildwood has worked on are the Charleston Aquarium and the revitalization of King Street, an approximately eight-year project (done in stages) that ran several mi. from I-26 to Broad Street. The firm also did granite curbing, bluestone and historical brickwork at the city’s Crosstown project. Additionally, at Courtney Square, another of Charleston’s old historical parks, Wildwood rebuilt a more than 100-year-old gazebo just last year.
“These are all pretty high-profile projects, too, but our business has been tailored to working in areas with a lot of vehicle and foot traffic,” Crosby said. “At Courtney Square, for instance, there was not one parking space on that square. It is difficult to work a job where you don’t even have a place to park your truck, but we made it work.”
Crosby said that many contractors don’t want to work in confined urban areas, but his firm has not only managed to carve out its own niche in this type of work, but also finds it most enjoyable.
A Delicate Rebuilding Process
At Colonial Lake, Wildwood is working on a pond that has fallen into disrepair even though it is among the largest parks in Charleston.
Due to the method employed to build it just after the end of the Civil War, Wildwood has had to figure out a way to reconstruct the entire pond using modern techniques without damaging the integrity of the historic wall surrounding it.
“The retaining walls were handmade from what is called ’tabby-based oyster-shell concrete,’” Crosby said. “This is material that was produced back in the 1800s when conventional cements were not available.”
Tabby was used primarily in the coastal areas of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida in the absence of clay in the region, from which bricks were made. Tabby, on the other hand, was easily obtainable as it is made up of lime, sand, water and crushed oyster shells.
Wildwood has a long history of working with tabby, Crosby said.
He added that the firm also is reconstructing the seawall, installing granite coping around the lake and putting in new sidewalks and brick seat walls.
Lends Its Expertise
Because Wildwood has always preferred to use Case construction equipment, Crosby worked with his local Case dealer, Hills Machinery, to decide which piece of machinery would work best in the confined space at Colonial Lake.
To begin with, Crosby said his crews could not use equipment so large that it might damage a wall this old, but rather needed machinery capable of removing 12-in. (30.4 cm) concrete that was poured at the site in the past.
In the end, with help from Hills Machinery, Wildwood decided to primarily use a Case CX80C mini-excavator on the project.
The highly maneuverable CX80C is designed to handle demolition, street repairs and the construction of retaining walls for landscape projects — all of which are part of the Colonial Lake project.
“We need something with low ground pressure that doesn’t create any problems or any damage to the wall once this concrete is removed,” Crosby said. “Track machines are about the only thing we can utilize around here.”
A Rehab Project Designed to Last
Much of the retaining wall around the lake has suffered deterioration over the last century and half and Crosby’s company will be repairing areas that were simply patched up over the years. The elevation of the wall varies from about 1.5 to 2 ft. (.45 to .6 m) and with Wildwood’s rehab, the company will be raising the level of the wall to a consistent level all the way around.
Since the wall’s original construction in 1869, multiple layers of brick and concrete have been added to it to form pathways and walkways. His crews have found that the top of the wall is approximately 18 in. (45 cm) thick and 9 ft. (2.7 m) high, while at the base of the wall it is 3 to 3.5 ft. (.9 to 1 m) thick.
According to Crosby, a new tidal control structure also is being built that will allow the city to maintain the water level in Colonial Lake with the intent of keeping the level as high as possible and make it more like a reflection pool. Once that is done, another inlet is to be built to improve the lake’s water quality.
“It is a very unique project and not something where you can just send in heavy equipment to demolish it and build it back” Crosby said. “You have to handle it with care, remove things very delicately, look at them piece by piece and try and figure out the best way to put them back. We have a modern design team trying to reproduce something that was built 150 years ago and we want to make sure it is going to last another 150 years.”
From Hills Machinery
Crosby said that he has always been highly impressed with the outstanding service and product support he has received from the folks at Hills Machinery. Their help on the Colonial Lake project has, once again, been invaluable.
“They have done everything we have needed them to do so far,” Crosby said. “Whenever we have run into any problems they have addressed them. You couldn’t ask for a better equipment dealer.”
Hills Machinery is a full service dealership with locations in Charleston and Columbia, S.C. In North Carolina, the company maintains shops in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greenville.