Not So Very Victorian

IMG_2186 People who tour historic Charleston often walk past grand houses that seem to date to the Victorian period. Common features include the high-hipped Mansard Roof and the bulging Oriel Window, both of which were very much in vogue at the turn of the 20th century. Yet many houses that seem Victorian, such as the one pictured, are actually much older buildings that were updated with external features in the Victorian era.
Charleston suffered a tremendous economic disaster in the Civil War, as the terrible toll in lost lives, commerce, money and infrastructure turned a grand city into a shabby shadow of its former greatness. Opulent houses that had been built during the city’s flourishing years still stood, but owners had little means of maintaining them, and much of Charleston fell into disrepair.
This would prove beneficial in the long run, because lack of money kept Charlestonians from tearing down old houses and replacing them with gaudy Victorian styles in the 1880’s and 90’s. The wave of urban renewal
that swept through the Northeast and led to the destruction of countless antebellum and colonial homes did not reach Charleston, and numerous old homes were spared solely because there was no money to replace them.
For those who did want to conform to Victorian styles, it was more economical to add details to the house exterior to give it the look of a brand new home, and thus Victorian architecture made a sizeable influence in Charleston, without replacing many of the other classic styles that came before.The house in the picture is a Georgian style dates to the 1770’s, and was altered in the 1890’s to give it the Victorian look.

1675 Deed for Kiawah Island

Cassoe TreatyCharleston businessman David Maybank III showed me this deed witnessed and signed by his ancestor (David Maybank) on March 10, 1675. The deed, handwritten in old English script, states that the Indians of “Cassoe” convey the island “Kyeawah” to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, in exchange for “a valuable parcell of cloth, hatchetts, beads and other goods and manufactures.” What a deal!
The island is, of course, Kiawah Island today, and is worth quite a bit more.
The Indian name is probably a corruption of the Cusso or Coosaw, which was among a number of native groups living along the Carolina coast when the first European settlers arrived, all part of the larger Cusabo tribe.
Among the Cusabo groups were many names still recognized in the Charleston area today, given primarily to rivers, such as Edisto, Combahee, Ashepoo, Wando, Wappoo and Stono.
The deed is signed by seven of the English settlers on one side of the paper, and on on the other side are the marks of 29 Indians – the Cusso chief (cassique), three subchiefs, plus 14 women and 11 men who were of some rank in the tribe.
The Cusabo people were a great help to the early settlers of Charles Town,
and it was good initial relations and trade with the local Indians that helped the tiny original settlement of 57 people survive.
The Maybank name is also a classic South Carolina tradition, that has been included on lists of governors of the state and mayors of Charleston.
Ironically, the Maybank family gave an island back in 1993, bequeathing the 4500-acre Jehossee Island for a natural preserve as part of the ACE Basin Wildlife Refuge.

Simms’ Timeless Sentiments

The words below were penned by the great SC writer, historian and poet William Gilmore Simms in 1859, describing the alluring natural beauty of our coastal landscape, and are just as appropriate today.
“There is a wondrous charm in this exquisite blending of land and water scape. It appeals very sweetly to the sympathies, and does not the less excite the imagination because lacking in irregular forms and stupendous elevations. Nay, we are inclined to
think that it touches more sweetly the simply human sensibilities. It does not overawe. It solicits, it soothes, beguiles ; wins upon us the more we see ; fascinates the more we entertain ; and
more fully compensates than the study of the bald, the wild, the abrupt and stern, which constitute so largely the elements in that scenery upon which we expend most of our superlatives.
Glide through these mysterious avenues of islet, and marsh, and ocean, at early morning, or at evening, when the summer sun is about to subdue himself in the western waters ; or at midnight, when the
moon wins her slow way, with wan, sweet smile, hallowing the hour ; and the charm is complete. It is then that the elements all seem to harmonize for beauty.”

Historic Sullivan’s Island Stroll

IMG_2077Among the many enjoyable things to do in historic Charleston is a visit to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. The Civil War fortification is part of the Fort Sumter National Monument, and is administered by the National Park Service, and is one of the least expensive tickets in the area for a view of the old fort. There are also a number of displays near the fort that are absolutely free, such as the impressive row of seven giant cannons pictured, which stand just to the north of the old fort.
These guns range in size, but are all part of the formidable weapons used in Charleston during the Civil War. The big, bottle-shaped Dahlgren guns are smooth-bores, which fired round explosives and solid shot, and were the most effective guns at the start of the Civil War. Farther down, there are rifled cannons, which were grooved inside the barrels to fire a bullet-like projectile that spun with more more accuracy than the wobbling round shot.
The third one down is an especially unique gun, which was a Federal smooth-bore captured by the Confederates and converted to a rifled barrel.
Because rifled guns fired for greater distance, they were equipped with iron bands around the breech to keep larger gunpowder charges from ripping the gun apart, and you can just see the makeshift bands on the rifled gun. These were done by a local Charleston forge, the J.M. Eason Co., which also built an ironclad ship in Charleston harbor during the Civil War.
The Eason company markings can still be found on the gun, and all the guns have historic markings showing their muzzle sizes and places they were forged. The largest is a 15-inch Parrott Rifle, which could fire 200-pound explosive shells at distances more than 3 miles.
This is a fascinating place to wander by just outside Fort Moultrie, and nearby, there are other guns from the Revolutionary War era, when the fist fort was built on this location. Less than 100 yards away is a path to the beach on Sullivan’s Island, which at this point overlooks Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor, and is a wonderful stroll any time of day.