We Worship Washington

IMG_2485The shadow of George Washington still looms in grand fashion over historic   Charleston. The first Washington presence in the city was actually George’s cousin William, who came to South Carolina to fight the British during the Revolution. William was crucial to the victory here, and fell in love with Charlestonian Jane Elliott, who he married and lived here happily after the war. George made his visit here in May of 1791, on his tour of Southern states after his election. Charleston adored George, but George was less impressed with Charleston’s streets, and mentioned in his diary that the thoroughfares here were “like sand”. Washington was feted at the Old Exchange, where he was seated between local ladies known for their whit and good looks, and apparently the father of our country held his own with charm and intelligence to match his military record.

Today, we have Washington Square, aka Washington Park, which the statue in the picture dominates. We also have a Washington Street near the waterfront, and the Village of Washington, a post-Revolutionary suburb near Hampton Park. One of Charleston’s most fabled organizations is the Washington Light Infantry, a military unit established in 1807, which has fought with distinction both for and against the United States, and whose towering obelisk is the central focus of Washington Square.

On President’s day here in Charleston, we tend to favor the great George, a fellow-Southerner who won our respect and our hearts, as well as helping win our liberty.

Bollards Not For Boats

IMG_2571The bollard is still a common sight in historic Charleston, found in various sizes and shapes around the old city. The bollard is an old ship-tethering component, and thus has created some far-fetched stories about boats being tied up to bollards on Water and Church streets, such as these pictured in front of the George Eveleigh house. The term bollard comes from the Old English word for tree, “bole”, and is a device that was much more commonly used as a barrier against wagon and carts. Heavy drays and wagons could easily damage walls and houses if they bumped their axles against other surfaces, and people would use just about anything that could create an effective barrier. Old cannon barrels were often used as bollards, and one still exists on Tradd Street, and for many years, the West end of Longitude Lane was blocked by a cannon-barrel bollard, since replaced by the masonry one there today.

Although the Eveleigh house was built when Water Street was still a creek, these bollards certainly don’t date to the 18th century, and were most likely added when Church Street was continued in the early 19th century, creating a bend in front of the house where wagons could easily stray into the property if not for the barrier. The real mystery of the four bollards on the spot is not so much their purpose, but why they all lean slightly to the West. My guess is that the soil beneath them settled or was shifted by the 1886 earthquake, causing the noticeable lean that gives them such character today.

The Real Stag Story

IMG_2566The Stag Window at 73 Rutledge has been the subject of many stories over the years in fabled Charleston, and an image that has so long been attributed to a local family name, actually has its origins in Hartford, Connecticut.

The house stands at the corner of Rutledge and Wentworth streets, and for years was the unfortunate target of wayward drivers speeding too fast down the formerly one-way thoroughfare. Now that the lanes have been made two-way, the old house is safe from cars, but not from misinformation.

Remodeled in the 1890’s by Charleston businessman Isaac W. Hirsch, the house has Victorian features, such as its stained glass windows. Because the German name Hirsch means “stag”, it has been logical to assume that Mr. Hirsch installed the window, but, after doing some interesting research, I find that he didn’t.

The house had been built in the 1850’s by another Charleston businessman, William Whilden, who was an insurance broker who represented The Hartford Insurance Company. In 1875, The Hartford established as its symbol a 10-point buck taken from a painting called “The Monarch of the Glen”, modifying it in 1890. A quick comparison of the latter version and the 73 Rutledge window are a perfect match.

So the truth is, Mr. Whilden, who didn’t sell the house until 1893. put the window in as a symbol of the company he represented here in Charleston.