Behold The Balcony

Many of historic Charleston’s most picturesque balconies are additions to houses that had been built long before. The corbel-based balcony pictured here was added to this 18th century house as a Italianate detail popular in America in the  mid-19th century. Although we are much better know for the famous “piazzas” that come from earlier Italian architectural details, the balcony is also Italian, at least in name, which comes from the Italian “balcone”, meaning “scaffold”. One of the most interesting stories involving balconies is often told about the cast iron version at 78 Church Street, where George Washington was said to have delivered a speech during his 1791 visit to the city. The story is based on a first-hand account of Washington’s visit, but confuses the location from a reference to his “observing the crowd from a balcony at Church”, (not Church Street).

This was obviously a reference to the open section of St. Michael’s, which is correctly a lantern, not balcony, but would seem the same from that perch above Broad Street, and at a location Washington was known to have visited for services, so a crowd would have surely congregated below.

Oh, one more thing, the decorative cast iron balcony was also not popular in America until the Italianate era, so it was not even there when George was.

Rutledge Avenue Reality

IMG_2206Perhaps the most exquisitely-detailed i exterior in Charleston can be found at the Isaac Jenkins Mikell house on Rutledge Avenue. Built in 1853 by Mikell, and Edisto Island planter, the house at that time overlooked the Ashley River. This period in antebellum Charleston represented the epitome of the city’s architectural elegance, and Mikell chose to build a massive side-hall single house Roman Revival style, not Greek Revival as is commonly stated. Most noteworthy of the details built into the house is the elegant piazza, with its distinctive column capitals decorated with two rows of Acanthus leaves below rams’ heads. This style has been erroneously called “Tower of the Winds”, which it is not. This style of capital is called the Composite Order, and was patterned after the famous Arch of Septimus Severus in Rome. Rams and Bulls were common motifs in Roman architecture, representing animal sacrifices to the gods. The “Tower of the Winds” comes from a Greek motif near the Acropolis in which the capitals feature a row of acanthus leaves below a row of palm leaves.

The gates to the Mikell house were done by the famous German-born ironsmith Christopher Werner, and are some of the most ornate examples of this talented ironsmith, whose work seems to be forgotten in the recent obsession over the ironwork of Philip Simmons.

Certain trends in conveying Charleston’s history are erroneous and need correcting. One is that the Mikell house is Roman Revival with columns featuring the Composite order, and the other is that the house’s gates were done by the Christopher Werner, who, despite the attention paid Mr. Simmons, was the greatest of all Charleston ironsmiths.

Calhoun’s Moving Grave

IMG_2323John C. Calhoun’s grave in St. Philip’s Episcopal Church western cemetery is the source of many a unique historic legend and mystery. Calhoun, who was born in Abbeville, South Carolina, was buried at St. Philip’s in 1850, despite the fact that he was a Calvinist who attended the Huguenot Church when in Charleston.

Calhoun died in Washington DC, and was initially buried there, but was exhumed and returned to Charleston with a grand funeral parade and was buried in the western, or “stranger’s graveyard”, which legend says was initially reserved for members of the parish born outside Charleston. This adds to the flavor of a curious incident during the War Between the States, when Calhoun’s body was apparently exhumed and placed in an unmarked part of the eastern graveyard as a precaution against desecration by Union troops. Known as the “friendly graveyard”,  from the legend that this part is reserved for members of the congregation born in Charleston, the eastern side would only hold Calhoun until after the war, when, again according to legend, it was decided the man from Abbeville should be in with the “strangers”. In the 1880’s, Calhoun’s body was moved again to its current site and the massive monument that bears his name.

In the 1960’s, there was a rumor that Calhoun had been dug up again, this time by a group called STORCH, “striving to return Calhoun home”, who wanted him to join his wife Floride at her grave site in the upstate.     Probes were made and the grave proved to be undisturbed, but poor old John C. Calhoun may not be completely at rest, considering how much fuss has been made over moving and locating his grave.

Poinsettia A Charleston Name

IMG_2330The Poinsettia that is such a Christmas tradition gets its name from a Charlestonian – Joel Robert Poinsett. He was a Charleston attorney who was very fond of plants and trees, and created a massive garden in the upper peninsula that became known as Poinsett’s Grove. He was apparently a brilliant man who enjoyed the company of great thinkers, and was known for hosting breakfasts, at which ideas were offered and discussed with great scholarly detail. With a reputation as a scholar, a jurist, an elected congressman, and fluent in various languages, Poinsett became a trusted diplomat, and was appointed by President John Quicy Adams as ambassador to the newly-independent Mexico in 1825.

Poinsett was as interested in Mexican plants as politics, and became enamored of the fiery-red blooming shrub known as Flor de Noche Buena, or the Christmas Eve Flower. He brought the plant back to his grove and cultivated it as a Christmas ornamental flower, and by the 1840’s, it became known as the Poinsettia. It is pronounced “poyn-Setta” for the benefit those TV football commentators who pronounce the Poinsettia Bowl game with an “eeah”.

Trouche Family Mystery

IMG_2246This painting is, according to family history, a portrait of my great-great-great-great grandfather and his young son. We know the son’s name was Auguste Paul Trouche, and that he lived from 1803-1846, but sadly, there is

complete mystery as to the older Mr. Trouche’s name and life. According to family stories, the Trouche family arrived in Charleston about 1792, as French immigrants fleeing the uprisings in Saint Domingue in the aftermath of the French Revolution. There is no record of anyone in the city by that name until 1806, when the city directory lists a “Madame Trouche” as a refugee. Perhaps she survived the uprising with her infant son, and Mr. Trouche died in Saint Domingue.

Auguste would become a skilled artists, whose work is still displayed in the Gibbes Museum of Art. According to one of the past museum directors, the artistic skill of Auguste was unlikely to have been learned in Charleston at the time, and the style of his oil landscapes on canvas was very much in vogue in early 19th-century Paris.

This makes me wonder whether the family may have been separated by the events in the Caribbean, and that perhaps Auguste and his father returned to France and the younger man came to America later. There is also the possibility that Auguste’s age is recorded wrong, because the painting seems to be late 18th century with Mr. Trouche’s powdered whig. Another peculiar fact is that when Madam Trouche died in 1843, she was 86 years old, which, if Auguste was really born in 1803, means she would have given birth to him when she was 46 years old, which was very unusual in those days.

Quel mystere!

Majestic Manigault House

IMG_2288The Joseph Manigault House stands majestically as one of Charleston’s most fascinating tourist attractions at the corner of Meeting and John streets in the historic Mazyck-Wraggborough neighborhood – a far cry from the house’s situation a century ago.

Completed in 1803 as a “garden villa” overlooking open meadows in the Charleston peninsula “neck”, the grand Adam-style house was an exquisite design completed by local architect Gabriel Manigault for his brother Joseph, a wealthy rice planter.

Distinctive features of the Adam style, also known as Federal style, is the focus on unusual color, which has been meticulously restored in the house,  open for public visitation as part of the Charleston Museum.  Another noteworthy detail is the sense of spaciousness created by a grand central staircase built in elliptical shape.

Like many Charleston houses, the structure fell on hard times after the War Between the States, deteriorating badly as the surrounding area gave way to factories and rail lines. By 1922, the property was sold to the Standard Oil Company, which turned the grounds into a filling station, and the beautiful Gate Temple entrance was converted into a restroom.

The Depression ended the gas station venture, and in 1933, the house faced possible demolition when the Charleston Museum purchased it in a public auction.

During War World Two, it was leased to the federal government as a women’s USO club.

Today, the house is beautifully restored and displayed, with features that include a stunning garden and an opulent interior that still dazzles.

Charleston’s Most Unusual Church Story

IMG_2309It was almost Charleston’s grandest church, and now its congregation hangs on to an aging, faded structure that never matched the original design.

Begun in 1859 as St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Charlotte Street, the massive Gothic Revival concept of famed Charleston architect Francis D. Lee was to have a 210-foot steeple and stucco facade over exquisite brick details. The church was not finished when the Civil War began, and money intended for its finish details was diverted to the defense of the city, so the spire and stucco never were added.

Changes in the city demographics by 1950 saw the congregation badly dwindled, and they joined St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Coming Street. The old building was sold to black parishioners and became the New

Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church, a congregation first established by Rev. Daniel Jenkins, who would achieve great fame as creator of the Jenkins Orphanage Band.

Today, weeds grow from the old bricks, and the small congregation hangs on to a faded remnant of antebellum Charleston.

Elegance In Elliottborough

IMG_2314One of the most impressive buildings in Charleston is located in one of the city’s most unlikely places – the corner of Coming and Spring streets. This grand Roman Revival structure towers over the corner atop a high raised basement, with a frontal colonnade of two-story Corinthian columns and a pedimented roof. Designed by Charleston architects Barbot and Seyle and opened in 1858 as the Spring Street Methodist Church, the historic building

quickly fell on hard times. During the War Between the States, it was used as a field hospital for Confederate soldiers, because it was located out of range of the Federal bombarding guns and had a sizeable cistern with plenty of water. When the Confederates evacuated, the Federal occupying troops also used it as a hospital, and carried away anything that wasn’t nailed down as war trophies.

Following the Civil War, many inhabitants left the Elliottborough neighborhood, and it became a low-income area as buildings fell into disrepair. The church’s congregation dwindled over the years, and the building was in bad shape after damage from Hurricane Hugo when it was rescued by California philanthropist David Karpeles, who converted it into a manuscript museum.

Today, the Karpeles Manuscript Museum is open to the public weekdays, Tuesday-Friday from 11am to 4pm, and features rotating collections of manuscripts and artifacts that may range from Colonial American documents to Egyptian hieroglyphs to Italian opera compositions, and much more.

Assistant director Roy Smith is a very affable host for visitors, and has a wealth of knowledge of the building, its displays and the history of Charleston. It’s worth a visit just to step up on the grand portico and enjoy this classic structure that has stood through thick and thin here in Charleston.

Famous Charleston Second Is First

IMG_2306Second Presbyterian Church was completed in 1811 at Meeting Street and Ashmead Place, three years before the current First Presbyterian Church was built at Meeting and Tradd as a replacement for a structure built there in 1734. So in terms of historic rank among the Presbyterian congregations, the Second is the first and the First is the third. Second Prez, as it is commonly referred to, was designed originally with a Georgian-Palladian spire, but the scale of the structure was so massive that money ran out, and all that was built was a tower and lantern section above the enormous two-story portico. Still, the lantern is among the highest church structures in the old city, and built atop a slope whose base stands more than six feet above Meeting Street, Second Presbyterian stands out clearly when viewing the city from the harbor or the Ravenel Bridge.

When constructed, the church lay outside the boundaries of the old city in what was then called “The Neck”. Situated equidistant from the city Guard House on Broad Street and the nine ammunition magazine buildings on Laurel Island along the Cooper River in 1827, the Second Presbyterian lantern was put into service for sending signals back and forth in replenishing ordnance.

It was also high enough to be used as a marker for mariners working their way up the Cooper River, and there are references to “Flinn’s Church” in 19th century maritime accounts. According the the 1882 city directory, Second Presbyterian was also known as Flinn’s Church, presumably because of its first pastor, Andrew Flinn.

The church is the 4th oldest in historic Charleston, and today adorns the beautiful Mazck-Wraggborough neighborhood north of Calhoun Street, where the streets are wide and quiet, and pleasant walks can be made under giant oaks and among fountains and flowers. Nearby are the famous Joseph Manigault House and the statuesque Fourth Tabernacle First Baptist Church.

The Citadel – A Charleston Classic

IMG_2261One of the most beautiful and storied college campuses in America can be found at The Citadel. It is a remarkable spectacle – located along the scenic Ashley River with statuesque buildings, uniformed cadets on parade, booming cannons, and a tradition of military service comparable to West Point and Annapolis. Founded in 1842 as the South Carolina Military Academy, the military school was first located in downtown Charleston at Marion Square, but moved to its present location in 1922. The grandeur of the crenelated barracks along the famed Avenue of Remembrance is lined with military aircraft, tanks, missiles and guns, symbolizing the service of Citadel Cadets from the War Between the States to the present.

One of the truly hidden gems of Charleston is the Citadel Museum on campus, featuring artifacts, pictures, uniforms, weapons, medals and momentos throughout the school’s highly-decorated past. One of the most amazing displays is the giant “Stainless Banner” that flew over the garrison at fortifications in Charleston Harbor, where Citadel cadets distinguished themselves as expert artillerists, commanding guns that helped keep Charleston uncaptured throughout the Civil War.

Best of all, the Citadel Museum and a visit to the campus is completely free. Simply drive in and enjoy the spectacle of Summerall Field and the Avenue of Remembrance, where Friday afternoon parades are very popular. To find out days and times of the parades, go on line at www.citadel.eduHomeVisit The Citadel.