Fashionable Firefighters

This image of the various fire brigades gathered near City Hall on Meeting Street in historic #Charleston dates from between 1838, when the 182-foot steeple of the Circular Congregational Church in the background was finished, and 1861, when that same steeple and most of the buildings in the background were destroyed by the great fire of 1861. There were nearly two dozen of  these volunteer fire brigades at that time, all of whom had their various uniforms and insignias. They were  considered to be very dashing in their grand sartorial display, but they apparently looked better than they performed in fighting fires. To their credit, there was no pressurized water or underground water source available until the 1880’s who the fire brigade system was scrapped and the Charleston Fire Department created. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Fire Brigades

Colossal Custom

The building of the U.S. Custom House in #Charleston was one of the city’s most ambitious and long-unfinished projects. The site is on former wetlands and a location used by fisherman originally know as Fitzsimmons’ Wharf. The federally-financed project was begun in 1851 with steam engines driving 7,000 pilings 30 feet down into the hard subterranean marl. The edifice designed by architect Ammi Young called for tons of imported stone and a ponderous Greek Revival look with a towering four-sided colonnade. The Civil War interrupted the construction, and after hostilities, the federal government was very reluctant to spend much money on the recently-seceded state, so the design was reduced to two porticoes and not finished until 1879. Despite the lessened girth, the Custom House is nevertheless and imposing sight, standing high above it’s raised basement with its waterfront entrance steps enough to have become a popular grand stand for annual outdoor musical events.<img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Custom House

Free Our Flag

This is the original state flag of #South Carolina, which was created in 1861 after South Carolina seceded from the Union, and flew over the state capitol in Columbia. The crescent was clearly not intended to depict the moon, but the crescent-shaped gorgets of the South Carolina militia, and along with the palmetto tree were symbols of our state’s independence, as both the militia and the palmetto logs were crucial to our Revolutionary War victory over the British in #Charleston in 1776. When Sherman’s armies ravaged the state in 1865, a unit from Iowa took our flag from the capitol as a war trophy. It is now in the possession if the Historic Society of Iowa in Des Moines. Because we are not a conquered enemy, and because the intention of the Northern armies was supposedly to “preserve the Union”, there is no reason why this banner stays a trophy of war. We would like it back. <img.src=”South Carolina History” alt=”The Palmetto Flag

Suave Side-hall

The side-hall single house design is fairly common in historic #Charleston, such as this 1850’s Italianate structure on Legare Street. The floor plan was a departure from the older single-house design, which featured a house with a single room width facing the street, bisected with a middle hall parallel to the street that separated rooms front and back on each floor. The problem with this kind of house is that the rooms are small and compartmentalized, which was not suit able for fancy entertaining by the 1820’s, when Charleston had become a very sociable city. The side-hall design took the hallway out of the middle of the house and put it on the side, perpendicular to the street, so that interior rooms would be interconnected by large archways, making the main floor potentially one big ballroom from the from of the house to the back. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Side-hall single house

Tiffany Tradition

There are a number of stained-glass windows in historic #Charleston that were created by the famous Tiffany Glass Company of New York. Louis Comfort Tiffany made his fame by revolutionizing the images made in opalescent glass, using such techniques as copper-foil soldered rims, fracturing glass to create creative detail, and even adding chemicals such as arsenic into the molten glass to enhance color. This window pictured is The Anunciation, which was done circa 1898, and shows similar iridescent features to the the famous lamps he started making about that time. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture ” alt=”Tiffany Windows”

Citadel Sentinel

The South Carolina Military Academy established in #Charlesotn in 1842 is know as The Citadel, and the current campus created in 1922 along the Ashley River is dominated by the fortress-like facades that give it the distinctive name. Citadel cadets have gone on to serve in both the Confederate and United States armies,  as well the U.S. Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force. With an annual enrollment of less than 2500 cadets, The Citadel nevertheless has a remarkable service record in United States military history, and unlike West Point and Annapolis, Citadel graduates are not automatically given a commission when graduating, and only serve voluntarily by enlisting or joining an ROTC unit.  The cadets have never wavered in their sense of patriotic duty, and in  World War II,  The Citadel had the highest percentage of graduates in military service of any  American college other than the service academies.  <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”The Citadel

Paying Pews

The boxed pews, such as these made of red cedar in old St. Michael’s Church, were a common method of raising money for congregations in historic #Charleston. The boxes were considered the property of those families who leased them, and the lease money would pay for church maintenance and salaries. There are records throughout Charleston’s history of advertisements for pew leases, and in many cases, sub-leases. The concept lasted until the 20th century, when pews were made available to the public in houses of worship all over town, and the collection plate or basket became the method of gathering cash. An old joke among some parishioners at places such as St. Michael’s is that the most sought-after pews were the boxes behind the pulpit, making it easier to go unnoticed if dozing off during a sermon. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Boxed Pews”

Picturesque Piazzas

Many of the historic houses in #Charleston are graced with full-length side porches known by the Italian name piazza. The meaning and the pronunciation are different in Charleston however. We say “pee AH zuh”, while the Italians pronounce it  “pee AHTSA”. It literally is translated as “square” referring to the open inner courtyards of public buildings in historic Italy  that were bordered by covered breezeways, creating what the Italians called a  “salotto a cielo aperto” or “open air living room”. Not lost in translation is the purpose of the covered area, which was to shade and cool the breezes that swept through them and into windows. This became an effective method for enduring the heat of Charleston in the days before electricity, and on most streets in the historic areas of the city, the piazza is still as notable feature.<img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”The Piazza”

Gorgeous Greens

The Village of Harleston was created asa suburb of #Charleston in the 1770’s, the name coming from the large tract of high land that bordered the Ashley River, known as Harleston Green. A handful of homes were erected in the late 18th century by planters who wanted to escape the summer sizzle, but the open breezy meadows were largely used for recreation by a large contingent of Scottish merchant immigrants, who brought with them the new game called golf. Whacking away with odd-shaped clubs with names like the niblick, they swatted balls made of sheep and goat skin into appointed holes. And thus the first golf association in America was formed by 1786 as the Harleston Green Golf Club. Today, the green spaces in what’s now called Harleston Village are as beckoning, but the only thing that swings these days are the gates to the garden areas that replaced former fairway. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Harleston Green”

Fearsome Fortress

The imposing District Jail looms over Magazine Street in downtown #Charleston  with its fortress-like crenelations that give it a forbidding facade. First opened in 1802 as a much smaller structure, it was extensively remodeled in the 1850’s to stand four stories high as a stark example of punishments that was harsh in those days. It was severely damaged by the  1886 earthquake, and restored at the current height of three stories. Among the famous and infamous held here were murderer Lavinia Fisher, hanged in 1822 and supposedly still haunts the jail today; Denmark Vesey, whose attempted slave uprising also earned him a place  on the gallows; as well as hundreds of Federal soldiers, who were briefly kept here as captives during the Civil War. The building was never used as a city jail, which is commonly told to visitors, but as a district and then county jail, and closed in 1939. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”Old District Jail