Limited Lockup

People who visit our historic and scenic city often enjoy wandering through narrow alleys and passageways, of which there are several that we see along my walking tours of #Charleston. Among these are Stoll’s Alley, Four Post Alley and the “close” leading from Ropemaker’s Lane to Church Street (pictured here). What is interesting about them, besides their picturesque charm, is that all were initially private property that the public used frequently to walk from one area to another. South Carolina, like many states, has a unique law that states if the public uses a passageway on a regular basis for more than a year without that passage being locked, that it becomes public property. Stoll’s Alley is such a case, and this former private passageway is now public. But at Four Post Alley and the close at Ropermaker’s Lane, owners still lock the gate once each year to keep it in private hands. What is so ironic about locking the gate pictured is that pedestrians can simply walk around it and down the close, yet the formality of locking the gate technically assures it remains private. <img.src=”Charleston Alleys” alt=”Locked Passageways”

Rouged Roads

In a few areas such as Stoll’s Alley and lower Church Street, visitors can still find brick street paving that once stretched for miles around historic #Charleston. As I feel guest on my walking tours, there was an abundance of brick manufactured in Charleston historically, but there was also much that was shipped here from other brick manufacturers around the country and world. The quality of brick depended largely on its underground origins and the methods used to fire it in hot kilns to create a sturdy mass of material. To that extent there were areas in the country that had superior raw materials and manufacturing methods, such as the Katterskill Brick Paving Company in Catskill, New York. The company specialized in waterproof “vitrified brick” made from shale, and in 1908-1909 the city of Charleston purchased tons of Catskill brick and used it to pave extensively. The city acknowledged that the brick from New York was superior, but just to make sure, purchased what were known as “rattlers” to test the strength of the brick by tumbling them in cages with hard pieces of iron. Obviously, the “rattling” proved the affirmative, as these bricks have held up under cars and trucks for more than a century. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”brick paved streets”

Brass and Braille

Most people are focused upward and outward while visiting historic #Charleston, but there are a number of things worth noting beneath your feet. In 1909, the city started adding cast-brass street plate names into the sidewalks, and they can be found throughout the city still today. A few sidewalk plates show different names than the street signs above them – as in the pictured “St. Michael’s Place” plate, above which the street sign says “St. Michael’s Alley”. About a century after the brass plates were added, the city also laid what is called “tactile paving” at street corners as a means for the visually impaired to be warned about stepping off the sidewalk into a street. The raised bumps don’t really spell out anything as in genuine braille, but they make it clearly understood as to the warning not to step into the path of an oncoming vehicle. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”sidewalk plates”

Medicinal Memories

There are a number of buildings in historic #Charleston that feature the look of a medieval castle. This style, known as castellated or crenelated, can be found at the old District Jail, the Slave Mart Museum and, as pictured here, at the Waring Historic Library. The Waring, as it is sometimes called, was built in 1894 near Ashley Avenue as part of Porter Military Academy. Because the mission of the academy was to school young boys in Christian ideals, the cross is prominently displayed on the exterior. The property was sold to the Medical University of South Carolina in 1966, and the old building was rededicated as a library for medical sciences, and named for Charleston physician Joseph Waring, who spent much of his career accumulating books, pamphlets and other educational materials focused on the advancement of medical science. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Waring Historic Library”

Timber Tale

Rarely do people walking along historic Broad Street in #Charleston take much notice of this particular tree, which is the only one of its kind on the street, and with an unusual story to boot. This is a Cypress tree which was planted in 1989 shortly after hurricane Hugo devastated the area with category 4 winds. As a sign of rebirth, friends of mine planted this tree in a small patch of sidewalk where the slate surface had cracked, exposing soil beneath. The scenic city had been badly battered and lost many grand oaks, and this tiny seedling was one of the first attempts to restore the arboreal beauty for which our city is renowned. Thirty years later, the cypress towers over the street as an attractive complement to rows of historic architecture, and stands as a reminder of the city’s undaunted spirit.<img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Broad Street Cypress”

Historic Heightening

On my walking tours of historic #Charleston, I have recently been taking visitors past this 1830’s house on Water Street, where a very unusual transformation is currently taking place. The house was built in a low elevation area that was filled from Vandrhorst Creek, that once flowed from Charleston Harbor inland to the center of the city peninsula. Like many older Charleston structures built in former wetlands, the old house has suffered from flooding when high tides and heavy rain cause the old creek to become wet all over again. The current owners decided enough was enough, and are having the historic house raised 8 feet. To do this, the structure ‘s foundation was exposed, and contractors found that the old house had been built on a “raft” – a matrix of cypress and cedar planks beneath the ground above the water table, intended to keep it from sinking into the soft ground. The raft was built in layers, and is several feet thick, requiring augers to cut holes through for 70 steel supports that will be cork-screwed down eighty feet to the hard clay marl. The grand old house will soon have a new life higher above the street and any flooding waters, and will be a landmark for the fascinating ingenuity used to build in the colonial and antebellum eras. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”House Raising”

Absent Architecture

On my walking tours of historic #Charleston, we usually pass the First Scot Presbyterian Church on Meeting Street, which was consecrated in 1814, making it the fifth oldest in the peninsular city. What is striking about the church is what it is missing, as is the case of the three famous Charleston churches designed by Scottish brothers James and John Gordon – First Scots, 2nd Presbyterian Church (1811) and the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul (1816). None of the three has a true steeple, and are capped instead with bell towers without a spire. The Gordon brothers were master builders, but were not trained in architecture, and did not have the skills to design a towering steeple. It’s not a bad look, these bell towers, and all three churches are handsome and historic, but none pierces the sky as well as so many other steeples in our famous “Holy City”. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”First Scots Church”

Gargantuan Gateway

The towering outline of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge enthralls those who enter the city of #Charleston on this route across the Cooper River. Completed in 2005 five, the 3-mile long cable-stay bridge stands as a remarkable achievement in engineering efficiency and aesthetic appeal. The huge twin tower stand 575 feet high, with a road span over the main harbor channel extending more than 1500 feet. Beneath the bridge, ships also enter the port city, including giant container vessels more than 1200 feet long. The panoramic view from the walking and biking lanes high over fabled Charleston Harbor is one of the most impressive in a city know for its scenic charm, and I recommend that anyone who visits Charleston should take a few hours to walk the bridge. The easiest way is to drive or take the water taxi to Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, and walk the highest portion of the bridge over the Cooper, then return without crossing all the way to the Charleston peninsula. It’s a very rewarding walk that will generate some aerobic exercise as well. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”The Arthur Ravenel Bridge”

Picturesque Protection

With the coming of the Fall season in coastal #South Carolina, we see the city of Charleston come alive with fluttering wings. Butterflies of various species abound this time of year – Fritillaries, Sulphurs, Swallowtails and Monarchs – showing off their truly amazing colors that serve a special purpose that is nature’s way of perpetuating the species. Not only do the bright colors attract male and female butterflies to join bodies in mating, the patterns on the scaly wings warn off potential predators. Features on the wings that look much like eyes or claws send a signal to birds and other predators that the fluttering wings are a potential danger, and amazingly, these delicate creatures are mostly left alone to probe flowers for nectar and offer us a dazzling Autumn show. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Butterfly wing patterns”

Lantern Longevity

On my walking tours of scenic and historic #Charleston, we often enter St. Michael’s Anglican Church. The structure is the oldest house of worship in the “Holy City” and whose 186 foot steeple is a wondrous sight day or night. This classic Palladian-style steeple has all the correct vertical parts of its English forerunners – a tower, a belfry, a clock, a lantern and a spire. At night, visitors to the city can see a more dramatic representation of the storied lantern look, and it was lights like this that were lit 24 hours a day in historic times to provide a beacon to overlook the city as well as a guiding point for ships entering Charleston Harbor. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Steeple Lantern”