High Half

Wandering around the parts of #Charleston where the buildings are older, visitors will often see houses with half-gable rooftops. Some of these are row house, but some are free-standing, and in each case, the gable lowers toward the side of the property where there is some open ground, and never lowers toward the ground of another separate property. These are all houses built long before Charleston’s first tapped water became a reality in 1879, when the first artesian well was successfully drilled. Prior to that, the cleanest water came from above in the form of rainfall, and any method of catching, collecting or storing it was considered a good idea. Some could be diverted through gutters and pipes to metal attic vats, but much of it cascaded off the roofs into the ground below, so many Charleston gardens featured masonry cisterns to catch the flow, and run-off was good for plants that may have included citrus fruits and herbs. The half gable, therefore, became a good way to divert all the water that struck the roof back into the owner’s property. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Half Gable Roofs


Opulently Original

The 1818-era Aiken Rhett House is on of six museum houses in #Charleston, but is unique in way that separates it from the  others. The grand 19th century home of Governor William Aiken is preserved, not restored, and it looks much the same as it did when Confederate President Jefferson Davis attended a reception in its grand ballroom during the Civil War. The house is an Italian Villa design with later Greek Revival entrance, and also has a fully intact area in the rear garden with slave quarters and carriage house. It is not air-conditioned, so it can be stifling in Charleston’s Summer heat, but still a magnificent structure that literally takes you back in time. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”Aiken-Rhett House”

High Hydration

The Middleton-Pinckney House, built in an elegant Adamasque fashion in #Charleston during the 1790’s, became a most unusual public facility in 1879, when it was made into the Charleston Waterworks. The city’s first successful artesian well was dug in 1879, tapping into massive subterranean aquifers whose positive pressure from centuries of water trickling downward, established a non-stop gushing flow upward that poured in millions of gallons each day. The old house was equipped with pumping mechanisms and just outside, a huge reservoir that would also serve the city in an unexpected capacity in 1933 by being diverted into the municipal swimming pool until 1963.  <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Middleton-Pinckney House

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

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”

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”

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

Riverside Reminder

The circa 1800 Gaillard-Bennett House on Montagu Street is several blocks from the Ashley River today, but when it was built, it faced the water. The #Charleston peninsula was much different then, and on its western edge grand houses were built by prominent citizens to take advantage of the prevailing breezes that came over the Ashley. This Adam-style house built by Theodore Gaillard was designed with extensive side porches and windows to take in the cooling breezes, and it stands on a considerable lot that stretches back nearly one block. Filling of Ashley River marshes in the 1880’s left the grand old house high and dry, but it still retains its classic elegance, if not its breezy nature. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Gaillard-Bennett House

Scot Spot

The First Scots Presbyterian Church on Meeting Street in historic #Charleston is among the oldest in the city, completed in 1814. The church replaced the original Scottish “Kirk” built on this site in 1731, which was too small for the expanding congregation by the 19th century. The builders were also Scots, John and James Gordon, who in the frugal Scottish tradition, saved the cost of a steeple with a pair of domed towers, The concept had come from another pair Scots, Robert and James Adam, whose  Adam style swept America in the early 1800’s. One tower had a bell that was donated to the Confederacy and melted down for cannon, and the church went without chimes until the current bell was installed in 1999. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”First Scots Presbyterian Church