The Stevens-Lathers house on South Battery Street appears a good example of a common construction method in Charleston after the Civil War – but there is something different here. With fortunes lost and money scarce after the war, many Charlestonians could not afford to build anew in the ornate Victorian era styles that became so popular, so in a number of locations, Victorian details were added to the houses to give them the appearance of being new. The high-hipped Mansard roof was a very common and popular addition to older houses, and there are many in the city today on houses built long before the Victorian period. Such was not the case in the antebellum house purchased by Col. William Lathers in 1870. Col. Lathers had made a huge fortune in New York after the Civl War, and returned to his native South Carolina with the idea of restoring some of the former architectural grandeur. Certainly Lathers could have built a brand new mansion, but instead, preserved the 1840’s structure while giving it a dazzling multi-colored Victorian roof.
As Charleston passes into its 351st year, a good year end idea is to be thankful for this marvelous, scenic historic city unlike any other in America. We are truly blessed to have an architectural jewel that is largely preserved in its most glorious state, as well as stunning visual accompaniment from florid gardens, towering ageless trees and intricate ironwork. Add to all this a beautiful harbor and oceanfront barrier islands and a welcoming sub-tropical climate, and it’s no wonder that Charleston is ranked highly worldwide as one of the most desirable tourism location
I often take visitors to Charleston who join my walking tours down the street where I grew up in the famous South of Broad district. Legare Street was not such a pricey location when my parents bought a large 1850’s side-hall single house for less than $40,000. Back then, your average family could have afforded a house on Legare, which is one of the most picturesque and fabled in the historic city. Most of the scenic block between Tradd Street and South Battery are houses built in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was quite common to have a residence that sprawled in excess of 8,000 square feet. The long years of decline after the Civil War showed in the aging houses, as most people who owned them back then had extra money for new paint or renovations. No, we just lived in the old houses, as did other families, and Legare was filled with children played in the streets every afternoon, and with the aromas of Southern cuisine being prepared in the old kitchens. Jus this past year, two houses on the street sold for more than $10 million, so times have changed, even though the old houses look pretty much the same.
I encourage anyone who is visiting Charleston on vacation to take one of the boat tours to Fort Sumter. Not only does the trip offer a wonderful view of the scenic city and a pleasant experience on our oceanfront harbor, but the story of the fort itself is a remarkable part of American history. The site is part of the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historic Park, and National Park Service rangers are on location to act as guides or answer any questions about the fort. Fort Sumter played such a crucial role in the Civil War, and when it held fast for four years against attacks by Confederate, and then Union forces. The original 3-story structure was reduced to near rubble by the end of the war, but was partially rebuilt and served as a defense installation until World War II. There are many historic Civil War cannon in the fort, as well as an amazing museum that explains the fort’s exceptional history.
Those visiting Charleston will find the scenic city to be an extremely enjoyable example of living history. My walking tours are an excellent way to experience the unique aspects of Charleston, as we wander through centuries-old parts of the city and witness its fabled architecture, stunning gates and gardens, as well as overlooking the spectacular oceanfront views from Charleston harbor. Among the heralded locations we walk past and view are Rainbow Row, The Four Corners of Law, Battery Row, The French Quarter, the High Battery and Fort Sumter. It’s a great introduction to a fabulous city.
One of the colorful aspects of Charleston’s scenic history is the city’s historic paving surfaces. Three are still common in the older parts of the city from long ago. Pictured here are Unity Alley, which features a combination of vitrified brick and Belgian Block. This type of brick, which was made in places such as the Catskill mountains, was densely pressed to hold up to the weight of vehicles, and popular in the early 1900’s. The Belgian Block, which many confuse with cobblestone, was cut from igneous quarries in the Northeast and was popular in the mid to late 1800’s. Pictured next is Chalmers Street, paved in true cobblestone, which was formed in riverbeds from the force of eroding water, and came from the Northeast and England, and became a common paving material in the late 1700’s. Come take one of my walking tours and find out about so many aspects that make Charleston a perfect place to visit on vacation.
There are so many locations around historic Charleston that are best visited by walking, otherwise you might miss something driving by. I like to point out such places along my tours of the scenic city, and I find that most who make Charleston a destination are impressed by its nooks and crannies. One such spot is this gate between 143 and 145 Church Street, which was enhanced by an owner welding an old cutlass to the bottom. Also, when looking through the gate, tourists will notice that the siding of the house is Bermuda Stone, which was a building material only used in the earliest part of Charleston’s history, and these dwellings certainly date to the early 1700’s, if not late 1600’s.
There are endless curiosities to be found wandering the streets of scenic, historic Charleston, such as the White Point Garden bandstand where bands have not played for decades. The attractive structure was built from money donated to the city by the Carrington family in the early 1900’s, when White Garden was a favorite spot for strolls, carriage rides, picnics, and even swimming from a long-gone Ashley River bath house. A common theme was some type of musical event on Sunday afternoons, usually featuring a local band. The tradition continued into the 1930’s and 40’s, but after World War II, there was much more mobility available to Charlestonians, and many people preferred a drive to nearby beaches on Sundays, and the bandstand fell into disuse. It was beautifully restored and offers a charming centerpiece to a delightful park, perhaps not so pleasing to the ears these days as to the eyes.
There are plenty of things to do in historic Charleston on a cold or rainy day, and the scenery can be as enjoyable inside as the city features a wealth of museums and museum houses that are popular with visitors. One is the Gibbes Museum of Art on Meeting Street. A 1905 structure built in the Beaux Arts style, the Gibbes has been at the forefront of artistic endeavors in Charleston for more than a century. Along with a wealth of archived artistic artifacts, there are more than 600 works on permanent display in a variety of oils, miniatures, sculptures and photographs, featuring such outstanding Charleston artists as Charles Fraser, Thomas Sully, Henrietta Johnson and George Cook. One of the featured artists is my great-great-great grandfather, Auguste Paul Trouche, whose oils on canvas and miniature paintings on ivory are exquisite.
Tailgating for football games had a different meaning in pre-World War II Charleston. The tradition for games at Clemson, University of South Carolina and The Citadel back then was to gather in front of the old Timrod Hotel on Meeting Street and then caravan to the games, and coming on the heels of Prohibition, there was ample cocktail companionship for the ride