The towering 182-foot spire of the Circular Congregational Church is shown in this pre-Civil War photograph. The church, designed by famed Charleston architect Robert Mills, was a domed structure when finished in 1804, and the steeple was eventually added in the 1830’s. It was the second largest domed structure in America behind the US Capitol, and a marvel of engineering with a truss-supported roof. The church stood majestically next to South Carolina Institute Hall to its right in the picture. Institute Hall, designed by Charleston architects Edward Jones and Francis Lee, and was the largest public hall in the state when finished in 1854 where South Carolina delegates were the first to sign articles of Secession breaking from the Union in December 1860. A year later, both would be in ashes after a devastating fire swept through the city in 1861. Despite such irreparable losses in historic architecture, Charleston still displays the most compelling contiguous area of colonial and antebellum architecture in America.<img src=”Circular Congregational Church” alt=”Charleston Architecture”>
Orange Street gets its name from an 18th century Orange Grove that existed there, and from which oranges were grown for export until a hard winter in the 1740’s killed most of the trees and the land was sold as lots where houses are now. The well-drained, sand and clay soil is still ideal for growing, and the street is typical of #HistoricCharleston with his palate of colors from a variety of native and imported plants and trees. We often go down Orange Street on the tour, and visitors marvel at the combination of natural and manmade beauty. In this picture the flaming red tree is a Japanese Maple<img src=”Orange Street” alt=”Charleston Gardens”>
The People’s Bank Building, completed in 1911, was part of the effort by Charleston Mayor Robert Goodwyn Rhett to bring the old city into a new modern century with its first high-rise office building. The 8-story, 121-foot edifice, which is now simply called The People’s Building, was distinguished by its yellow Stoney Landing Brick and an overhanging cornice that was damaged by hurricane in 1938 and removed. But despite Rhett’s intentions, the modern building was considered an eyesore, and was one of the reasons this part of the city has height restrictions today. Charleston is divided into height zones, and this part of the city is designated 55/30, meaning nothing can be built higher than 55 feet and nothing lower than 30 feet to prevent such changes to the historic skyline. <img src=”People’s Building” alt=”Charleston Architecture”>
What opened in 1801 at a Bank of the Unites States, became Charleston’s City Hall in 1818, and in the main second story hall there are still teller’s windows. Inscribed in the marble floor is the city seal, which includes the Latin “Civitatis Regimine Donata” meaning Given to the City Government. There are paintings of the building done before the Civil War showing that a fire-red brick facade that was eventually stuccoed over for the ivory look it has today. Among the famous figures who spoke from its front steps were U.S. President James Monroe, the Marquis de Lafayette and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Tourists see the famous building on each my tours. <img src=”City Hall Charleston” alt=”Historic Buildings”>
A still common sight in old #Charleston is the clay tile roof, which has been in vogue since the origins of the city in the 17th century. Clay is abundant in the Charleston area, and easily fashioned into bricks or tiles by baking in kilns. Clay is made up of natural compounds silica and alumina, as well as various amounts of water. The clay in Charleston’s coast plain is well-saturated with water, which gives the clay a very low thermal conductivity. With clay tiles, the double advantage is that heat does not pass through as easily, keeping houses cooler from scorching Summer sun outside, and in the Winter, retaining heat inside. The raised edges and depressed interior of the tiles, called cap and pan style, also serves to facilitate air flow in the cap and water run-off down the pan. This is the #PinkHouseTavern in the #French Quarter, and the style of the double-hipped roof is actually a Dutch Gambrel. <img src=”Clay Tile Roof” alt=”Pink House Tavern”>
The Charleston Fire Department was organized in 1881, after years of individual “fire brigades” that protected buildings on a private contract arrangement. The old fire brigades were dedicated, but the system did not work largely because of lack of coordination among those fighting fires. The new fire house and fire towers built in the 1880’s included a “fire telegraph” system, in which a fire could be reported by turning a key in a street box, which sent an electric signal to the firehouses and bells would then summon the firefighters to action. We start my walking tour in the shadow of this bell tower.
St. Philip’s Anglican Church is a marvel of elaborate detail and longevity. It was begun in 1835 and the body of the church completed in 1837, with much of the detail work from artisans who came to Charleston from all over the world. The steeple added later in the 1840’s was the design of Charleston architect Edward Brickell White, and the 190-foot edifice was lit up at night until 1917 and used as a harbor channel marker, now a beacon of shining Charleston history.