Monday, April 23, 2018

Stepping Back in Time: Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is South Carolina's oldest and largest city. Located on a natural harbor, the city is well known for its rich history and well-preserved architecture making it a popular tourist destination. Through the years it has been nicknamed "The Holy City" because of the many elegant steeples that shape the city's skyline.

During our visit to Charleston, we did a lot of walking as we stepped back in time to learn about Charleston's multifarious past ... a colorful history that included war heroes as well as slave owners. The history nerd like myself could easily spend days wandering through the cobblestone streets and touring old homes and plantations. 

But I know that I would need something to entice Doug with. I was happy to see that one recent addition to the Charleston tourist scene ... the expansion of their craft breweries ... would provide the "reward" Doug needed after these many days of stepping through history with me.

Our first day in town, we parked by the Charleston Visitor Center and picked up a city map. Because of the long line of visitors inquiring about tours, we decided to head out on our own. The Visitor Center is on the northern border of the older part of town, so we walked about a half mile to where the historic district begins. We did not have much background information as to what we were seeing, but we were happy to just enjoy the unique Charleston sights.

The Charleston City Market stretches on for blocks
offering food and crafts that reflect the Southern culture.

Local artisans could be seen
 weaving sweetgrass baskets, containers and decorative items.
They could all be mine ... if I had room for such intricacies.

The Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park welcomes
visitors to Charleston. Legend has it that when
seamen returned from trips in the Caribbean,
they brought back pineapple to share with family and friends ...
thus the pineapple has come to symbolize hospitality.

Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired
on April 12, 1861, lies at the entrance of Charleston Harbor.
We could have taken a ferry out to tour it, but I decided
that I would rather take time to explore more of the city.

A statue remembering the Confederate defenders
stands at the tip of Charleston's White Point Gardens
in a section of town known as "The Battery".

Elegant homes that line the harbor's edge ...

... and the neighborhoods piqued my interest in learning more about
the history of the people who called these houses "home".

Walking on our own around Charleston was a good way to get an initial taste for the city, but I wanted to know the significance of what I was seeing. How did these elegant homes rise up? And how is it that 250 years later, they are still shining in their youthful glory? So I googled "w
alking tours of Charleston" and came across the "Charleston in a Nutshell" tours lead by Charleston native, Jim Zimmerman. For $20, he lead our small group on a two hour hike around the oldest parts of town and filled us in on the significance of the beautiful architecture before us. So "in a nutshell", here is some of what I learned.

Rainbow Row is a row of classic Charleston style homes
painted in various pastel colors.
Starting in 1931, Dorothy Porcher Legge purchased
and restored a section of these homes. Her efforts are credited
beginning the revitalization of historic homes in Charleston. 

George Washington Slept Here!
Charleston homes are famous not only for
who owned them, but also for who may
have visited them.

Unlike Savannah, historic Charleston had very
few public "squares". Many of the city's
wealthy residents in the 19th century
had their own private gardens, so there was
little effort to develop public parks.
Washington Square, a small park by the city hall,
is shown here. 

The "single house" is a classic Charleston style home.
With its narrow edge toward the street, it fit well
on the long narrow lots found in historic Charleston.

Tiffany stained glass
adorn the windows
of St Michael's Episcopal Church,
the oldest surviving religious
structure in Charleston.

A few blocks down the street near the waterfront is a
grim reminder of how much of this wealth came to be.
It is estimated that about half of the African slaves that were
brought to America before 1808 arrived in Charleston.
 The Old Slave Mart was used as a slave auction gallery in 1859.

Slavery, unfortunately, is also a part of Charleston's history, and I hoped to learn more by visiting one of the many plantations in the area. There are plenty to choose from, but I am glad that we visited the McLeod Plantation Historic Site. Located just three miles from our campground, McLeod Plantation reflects on the history from the enslaved peoples' perspective. For $15, we embarked on a 90 minute tour in which our guide, Barbara, showed us the often tumultuous journey the enslaved population faced as they made the transition from slavery to freedom.

The main house was built by the McLeod family in 1851
and remained a private home until 1990.
In the years before the Civil War, the five members
of the McLeod family lived on the property with their 75 slaves.

Sea Island cotton, shown here, was the main crop grown
on this 1600 acre plantation. It was very labor intensive to
grow, but because of its extra long, strong and soft fibers,
it was in high demand and thus,
brought the McLeods a good deal of money.
The McLeods were considered a part of the upper middle class
in their comfortable plantation home.

The front porch looks out over the fields where
the enslaved men and women prepared the fields,
planted and processed the cotton
and other food used by the family.

Lined up along the road leading to the main house
were 23 slave cabins like this.
In the years following the Civil War up until the third
generation Mr McLeod's death in 1990, many
"freedmen" and their families continued to live and work here.

The outhouse, located in the woods behind the cabins,
was expected to be used by all.
It is hard to imagine living in such conditions
without running water and electricity well into the 20th century.

Turmoil for the former enslaved people also continued
well into the 20th century. One cabin floor shows
the shoe marks left on the wooden floor when a flash fire
forced the family out of their "home".

If this huge 300 year oak could talk ...
it would tell us that freedom begins
 when we understand the struggles of our fellow
brothers and sisters and treat them with kindness. 

Not far from McLeod Plantation is another important site in Charleston's history ... Charles Towne Landing Historic Site.

Charles Towne Landing is the original birthplace of the Carolina colony. In 1670, a group of English settlers established the first permanent settlement in the area. The colony was moved to the present site of Charleston in 1680, but this area has been preserved by the state as a beautiful historic park.

The visitors center and museum have excellent
interactive exhibits showing what life was like in Charles Towne. 

The one and a half mile walk around
the park brings us to the defense wall that was
built to protect them from their enemies.

A replica of one of the settlement's structures complete
with a costumed guide gave us a view of life in 1670s.

At the river's edge "The Adventurer", a working replica of the
17th century trading vessels, is anchored.
Come aboard and the costumed guide will sign you up
for the next voyage to England!

All these "steps" back in time has
Doug seeking out a resting spot,
as he researches his next craft brew reward.

Which he easily does!
Frothy Beard Brewery has a wall covered with stickers
from other local breweries and much to our surprise,
two of our favorite Rochester, MN breweries are there.
Can you spot them??

During our visit, we stayed at the James Island County Park Campground. The Charleston County Park system does a great job of managing this as well as the McLeod Plantation and a few beaches in the area.

Located about seven miles from downtown, it offers convenient access many of Charleston's attractions.  The large park setting provided a relaxing retreat as well after a full day of sightseeing.

Hiking, biking, kayaking and wall climbing opportunities were also available just in case I didn't tire Doug out enough ...

... with our many "steps" back in time!

Until next time ... Make your steps historical ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

As we were walking around Charleston, we ventured upon
the Medical University of South Carolina's Pinwheel Garden.
Each pinwheel represents someone who has received a
transplanted organ ... the ultimate historical step of love!
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