"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Historic Charleston, SC

 Several times since we arrived here almost a month ago, we've taken the 20 minute drive into Charleston to see a little more each time of this beautiful city. Charleston has recently been selected by Conde Nast as the top tourist location in the USA and the top city in the world!  It has a rich history that is evident at almost every turn, except maybe this one:

This is the new Ravenel Bridge that links Mt. Pleasant and Charleston, so we have to cross it every time we go into the city (no tolls!). It's an inspiring bridge and we can see it from much of Mt. Pleasant.  At the peak of the bridge you get an expansive view of the Cooper River, Charleston harbor, the USS Yorktown, and Ft. Sumter, the site of the first shots of the Civil War. 

On our first trip into the city we wanted to see the famously beautiful ceiling of the Unitarian Church.  There are some exquisite pictures if it and others at a website called Churches of America, which I'd highly recommend even if you aren't into churches. We had read online that the church was open every Friday and Saturday for a few hours. 

 So one Friday we found our way there, found parking (which is not easy in Charleston) and found that the church was not open on Fridays after all.  Well, we enjoyed the outside instead, along with the Lutheran Church next door.

It was a beautiful day, as you can see, so we wandered around a bit practicing our architectural photography. We've been photographing nature scenes for so long; buildings are really different. Because Charleston is an old city, the streets are narrow, and it's hard to get very far away from your subject. Some of these close angles worked out well against the clear blue sky. 

The typical Charleston home is called a "single," with a single row of rooms on two or three floors. The homes were built this way to maximize cross ventilation in each room. They often have the narrow side facing the street, and many have porches built on the wide side, making them look like they're sitting sideways. 

For Christmas, my son Mark and his girlfriend Ahna gave us tickets to a History and Homes Tour with the Old Charleston Tours company. So a few days ago we drove back over the Ravenel Bridge, lucked out with a free parking spot on the street and met our tour guide in Washington Park on Broad St.  She was very knowledgable about the history of the city, even more so because she grew up here.  She has lots of fun anecdotes about how much the city has changed just in her lifetime. 

The day was not so beautiful; it was overcast with a pale grey sky.  I know that some photographers really like overcast skies, but I haven't got the hang of it. Photos on these overcast days always look kind of pale or dingy to me. Anyway, we started at the "Four Corners of the Law" (Broad and Meeting St.) where each corner has a building representing a branch of law (church, county, city and federal).  In this picture a woman is selling sweet grass baskets in front of what I think is the federal building. 

The tour walked us through one of the oldest residential areas of the city, with classic Charleston homes, churches and commercial buildings. The photo below shows the wrought iron work that Charleston is known for, much of it, like this example, is over 200 years old.

The "War Between the States," or what Northerners call the Civil War, was very hard on Charleston, and many buildings were damaged or destroyed. Then, as Charleston was well on its way to recovery, the big earthquake of 1886 devastated much of the city once again. Many of the old buildings have these braces running through them, with caps like those below visible on the outside.  Sometimes they just look like architectural details, with lion's heads and the like. 

These periods of destruction (most recently topped by the damage done by Hurricane Hugo) have had a  dramatic impact on the architecture in Charleston. Each event gave the town the opportunity to reinvent itself, but it never losses sight of its heritage. Our guide told a a joke: What do Charlestonian's and Asians have in common? They both eat rice and they both worship their ancestors. (I hope that's not an offensive joke - none intended) We have certainly seen a lot of historical portraits in these old homes, and heard a lot about rice agriculture.

This house is a large single with a porch that was probably added on later. Our guide told us that the singles did not originally have porches. Why not??  Tours in horse drawn carriages are also a popular tradition here.

We finished our tour at the Edmondston-Alston House. It is a home that has been preserved and filled with antiques, 90% of which have belonged to the Edmundston or Alston families.  One of the Alston's still lives on the third floor.

We couldn't take any photos inside, but we could take them on and from the porch.  The front of the house has wrought iron trim, and provides a view of the Battery - the road that runs along the harbor.

We got a birds eye view of their garden.

On another day in the city I saw what I think was a carriage house, or maybe a gate house, that is now part of the College of Charleston.  A lot of the buildings in Charleston are pink. 

Back out in Mount Pleasant, we intended to visit Boone Hall, but it was closed for the month. Luckily, right across the street was the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, so we got a little outing anyway.  The only remaining structure on the site in this idyllic southern home, what we would call a "cape." Is that the right name here in the south?

Many of these plantations and homes have joggling boards, which I loved bouncing on. The story is that they were based on a design from Scotland, built to provide a little bit of movement for a woman incapacitated with arthritis. I imagine they probably got more use by children.

Speaking of children, grandniece Caroline thought the Angel Oak was the best playground ever.

We thought it was pretty grand too. It is said to be as much as 1500 years old.

Today we leave Mount Pleasant, with loving family memories, a greater understanding of why Charleston is such a popular destination, and an appetite for shrimp and grits well satisfied. We're sad to say goodbye to our family here. It's been so long since we've been near family and it began to feel like home. Maybe someday it will be. Who knows?

Next stop: Edisto Beach State Park.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this, I needed some info about Charleston. I have recently begun searching for some Charleston, SC real estate because I just got a job down there. I want to be able to have something close to my job, but I have to get it for the right price.


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