Historic downtown Charleston! My, a day long tour with a historian makes for a day of complete mental overload! We saw SOOO much in one day. I couldn’t even keep up with the information! I took notes on my phone hoping I’d remember what the cryptic words meant. I do for the most part but some are like a foreign language!
Will was our tour guide. He is a teacher by nature and career; he is definitely a people person and 100% “on” the whole day. His job is exhausting to me! Will said in order for him to be a tour guide with this company he goes to classes and takes four tests a year, both written and oral. This company keeps up with every aspect of Charleston from Latin names for flora, to the culinary award winning restaurants, to religion and of course, history including everything about historical Charleston. Yowsers, now you know why we were whipped at the end of the day!
We learned so much, it will be hard to write about our tour but I’ll try to be brief and to the point.
As we began winding our way through the neighborhoods, Will brought to our attention the wrought iron work that gated most houses. It is an impressive piece of history to think that the decorative wrought iron (really, as well as so much of Charleston) survived through natural disasters, war and just in itself, the centuries .
“In mid-nineteenth-century Charleston, Christopher Werner was a prominent and successful ironworker, praised for his contributions to the city. His work was recognizable to the citizens of Charleston and he created a large volume for them to see. It was said that he strove “to show what could be accomplished in Charleston in the adornment of edifices, to make it worthy of the name of ‘Queen City of the South.’
“He was an entrepreneurial man who not only owned his own foundry, but also a concert hall that functioned as a gathering place for fellow members of the mechanic class. His career as an ironworker developed over multiple decades, through fires, war, and economic ups and downs. Remarkably, some of his contributions survive to be studied.” (http://etd.lib.clemson.edu/documents/1285620923/Ciociola_clemson_0050M_10672.pdf)
Another tidbit of Charleston history is the earthquake of 1886 registering 7.3 on the richter scale. Unknown to the residence of that time, Charleston, as well as South Carolina and a region on the East coast, sits on an earthquake fault. The earthquake caused severe damage in Charleston, damaging 2,000 buildings and causing $6 million worth in damage. After the quake, homeowners installed earthquake bolts. These could be added to existing unreinforced masonry buildings to add support to the structure without having to demolish the structure due to instability. The bolts pass through the existing masonry walls tying walls on opposite sides of the structure together for stability.
In 1920, citizens recognized the need to preserve the historic architecture and charming houses of Charleston. From that year forward any home 75 years or older, a board of people (it has a name but remember, the information was flowing) will issue permits to home owners for home improvement only after they have inspected and approved the plans. Interestingly enough, after the Civil War, neighborhoods began to deteriorate and became slums. This board of folks, with the interest of private money, began to restore what was lost and now you would never know that a block of beautiful homes used to be a slum of houses; Rainbow Row is one of the restored areas.
“In the early 1900s, Dorothy Porcher Legge purchased a section of these houses numbering 99 through 101 East Bay and began to renovate them. She chose to paint these houses pink based on a colonial Caribbean color scheme. Other owners and future owners followed suit, creating the “rainbow” of pastel colors present today. The coloring of the houses helped keep the houses cool inside as well as give the area its name.
“Common myths concerning Charleston include variants on the reasons for the paint colors. According to some tales, the houses were painted in the various colors such that the intoxicated sailors coming in from port could remember which houses they were to bunk in. In other versions, the colors of the buildings date from their use as stores; the colors were used so that owners could tell illiterate slaves which building to go to for shopping.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Row)
Malaria and yellow fever were well established as a self-perpetuating cycle which had an adverse effect upon the life spans of the colonists. In the winter months, after the first freeze, the colonists would return to their plantations. The reason for moving upriver after the first freeze? Because the freeze killed off the mosquitoes.
During the summer when the water saturated land of the plantations bred mosquitoes, the residence moved many miles down the Ashley River to Charleston. They wealthy built their homes right on the southern most tip of the harbor in order receive the prevailing breezes not only to find some respite from the repressive humidity, but also from the mosquitoes.
They built their homes so that the piazza (covered side porch) benefited from the winds; also the windows both front and back were opened to refresh the house. Just think of it, the women in those days dressed from head to toe in clothing not just for modesty but also protection from the mosquito. The piazza had an entry door that when closed, the women could disrobe a bit in order to cool off. If the door was closed, this was a sign the homeowner was not receiving guests, if it was open, guests were welcomed. And a side note, the piazza ceiling was painted sky blue because of spiders. Spiders can only see 6″ and if they see sky blue, instinctually they will not build webs. Interesting little fact!
Charleston is known as the Holy City due to the prominence of numerous church steeples that can be seen rising above the cityscape skyline. In fact, Charleston was one of the few cities in the original thirteen colonies to provide religious tolerance to the French Huguenot Church and later home to a mixture of ethnic and religious groups. I was so impressed with the unique architectural design of each church. Another bit of interesting info, church door was painted red because of the blood of Christ.
“By the mid-18th century, Charleston had become a successful trade center, bringing in goods from the mainland, Europe, and the northern ports it had become the center of the trade for the southeastern colonies.
“With a population of 11,000, Charleston became the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. Not only did the port allow for rare and luxury imports, but also rice and indigo had been cultivated by slave-owning planters for export as well. With the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, cotton’s production was revolutionized and it quickly became South Carolina’s major export.
“Cotton plantations relied heavily on slave labor. Slaves were also the primary labor force within the city, working as domestics, artisans, market-workers or laborers. With this dependence on slave labor, Charleston had become the cultural and economic center of the south.” (http://www.charlestonsfinest.com/articles/early-charleston.htm)
Charleston’s main commodity was rice, cotton and indigo. The wealth of Charleston and plantation owners was built on the backs of slaves. We all know the history of this era but an important fact was brought up. If the plantation owner wanted to be profitable then he would treat his slaves fairly so that in return, the slaves worked productively.
We were told slaves sold anywhere from $1,200 to $2,000, the average being $1,200 in 1859. The plantation owner of the Magnolia plantation was known to be fair and not only that, he broke the law by teaching his slaves reading and writing in the guise of Sunday school. The slaves respected Mr. Drake so much that after the war a loyal group remained and one walked all the way to North Carolina, where Mr. Drake and his family took refuge, to tell him the war was over and it was safe to return home.
The slaves developed their own language called Gullah. Will told us that slaves came from different regions of Africa and spoke their own dialect. In order for the slaves to communicate with one another and work together on the plantation, they developed their independent language.
“While it is likely that some of the Gullahs’ ancestors came from Africa with a working knowledge of Guinea Coast Creole English, and this language influenced the development of Gullah in various ways, it is also clear that most slaves taken to America did not have prior knowledge of a creole language in Africa. It is also clear that the Gullah language evolved in unique circumstances in coastal South Carolina and Georgia, thus developing its own distinctive form in that new environment.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gullah_language)
The Magnolia Plantation “became known for its gardens after the Reverend John Grimke-Drayton inherited the property in the 1840s and developed them.
“Grimke-Drayton, an Episcopal minister, began to have the gardens reworked in an English style; according to legend, this was done to lure his bride south from her native Philadelphia. He was among the first to use the camellia in an outdoor setting (1820s), and is said to have introduced the first azaleas to America. Under his supervision, the gardens of Magnolia on the Ashley became well known in the antebellum period for their azaleas and live oak trees.
“The manor house was burned during the Civil War, likely by Union troops. In the aftermath of the Civil War and postwar economic disruption, John Drayton opened the gardens to the public to earn money as a tourist attraction. In 1870, “Magnolia-on-the-Ashley” were the first private gardens opened to the public.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnolia_Plantation_and_Gardens_%28Charleston,_South_Carolina%29)
So you can see why at the end of the day we were on major overload and I didn’t even cover the half of it.
We decided that rather than go to Savannah to do a similar tour, we just wanted to chill at the beach – and that we did!
Some other photos