English Evidence

Two of the most intriguing stories about St. Michael’s Church in historic #CharlestonSC are those of its chandelier and pipe organ. Both came from London, the organ in 1768, and the chandelier in 1803, and both were originally much different than they are today. The tracker organ, created by John Snetzler, originally featured about 900 pipes. It was damaged in the Civil War and again in the earthquake of 1886, and after years of minor repairs, was completely refurbished in the 1990’s, with new ranks and stops added to what was left of the original, and now features 2519 pipes. The chandelier was originally lowered by a winching mechanism that still exists in the church attic, and was brought low enough for lighting candles on the chandelier in its early years. Eventually, gas lamps replaced the candles, and today, electric bulbs. So the sight and sound may be a bit more powerful today than in the church when these implements were installed.<img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”St. Michael’s Church organ and chandelier


Evolving Avenues

Since the first streets were created in #Charleston back in 1672, thoroughfares have been changing in a variety of different ways. Surfaces were originally soil, sand and broken sea shell, and the first major change was the arrival of non-native stones, either lumpy cobblestones or cut perpendicular Belgian Block. This section of Broad Street was once paved in wooden blocks to reduce the noise of passing carts and wagons. The late 1800’s brought the introduction of the first tar, or Macadam surfaces, and in the early 20th century, many streets were paved in vitrified brick from the Catskill Mountains in New York. Since the 1920’s the majority of surfaces have been paved in asphalt, but there are still brick, Belgian Block and cobblestone streets. The early conveyances were carts and wagons pulled by mule and horse, which were pulling much larger vehicles when the first trolley tracks were laid in 1866. The trolleys were made electric in the 1890’s, and within a decade after that, the first automobiles appeared, and at one time, the traffic flow included horse-drawn drays, electric trolleys and gas-powered jitneys. There were no traffic signals or stop signs until the 20th century, and the first creation of right and left lanes began before the Civil War. Parking spaces were added by the 1930’s and the first parking meters came shortly thereafter. Speed limits were also a 20th century addition, as were the first speeding and parking tickets. One thing that is very noticeable about the old streets in images like this that differs greatly from today is the volume of traffic, now much heavier, and you’re not going to have the chance to tie the horse and carriage to the nearest tree. <img.src=”Charleston Streets” alt=”Changing Lanes

Skewered Skyline

The People’s Building is quite an odd sight in old #Charleston, standing awkwardly above the graceful city skyline at its 126 feet of garish yellow Stoney Landing brick. The 8-story building was supposed to be the wave of the future when it was finished in 1911, part of Mayor Robert Goodwyn Rhett’s attempt to bring Charleston out of the doldrums after the Civil War. He was on the board of the People’s Bank on Broad Street, and the bank became the basis for the People’s Bank Building, as it was originally called. Sadly, the only redeeming quality of the building was a roof-line cornice that made it look similar to the Flatiron Building in Manhattan, but the cornice was damaged in the 1938 hurricane, and the cheapskate owners refused to restore it, and it became the eyesore of downtown Charleston that it is still today. Restoring the cornice might help, as would painting the yellow brick or stuccoing it. But in true penny-pinching Charleston fashion, the People’s Building remains an ugly anomaly in an otherwise gracefully scenic city. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt= “The Peoples’Building”

Artistic Anthemion

A very common detail in classic architecture throughout historic #Charleston is the anthemion. This is symbol represents the Greek palmette, whose natural symmetry impressed ancient architects enough to be depicted in stone, iron and wood as an example of beauty and welcome. With the great influence of Greek and Roman styles in Charleston’s historic architecture, the anthemion became a fashionable addition to gates, furnishings and facades throughout the city. Although most commonly framed by wood, iron or stone, some versions are free-standing, a detail called the acroterion. Some versions are more detailed and embroidered than others, and this version pictured from a gate on Hasell Street, is a grander example than the simpler shapes at places such as the gates of St. Philip’s Church. Some of the symbols are hand-forged, but this gate pictures is clearly iron cast in a mold. Look around at details both interior and exterior in Charleston’s classic structures, and the anthemion is sure to be there. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Anthemion Symbol

Tidal Technology

Rice was a major export from #Charleston throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and became a source of considerable wealth, as well as the basis for a slave labor system. Grown in massive amounts in low wetlands that were steamy hot and filled with mosquitoes, rice production was hard labor in tropical conditions that those of European descent were not used to, whereas rice had been cultivated in West Africa for centuries in even more sweltering conditions. There had also been a thriving slave trade in West Africa for centuries, so that’s where slaving ships went for gangs of slaves to work the rice fields. The means of cultivation was very simple in coastal Africa, involving flooding of fields with fresh water to irrigate and flooding with brackish water to kill off competing vegetation. The idea was recreated in South Carolina lowlands with the use of tools that controlled water flow, such as this reconstruction of a rice gate and trunk in the Charleston Museum. The tidal action in coastal rivers was manipulated in this way to push open and close the gates. allowing for  fresh water to irrigate and salty water to eliminate competitive vegetation in the fields. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Rice trunks and gates

Historic Hangout

Everyday on my walking tour, I take visitors along the historic waterfront promenade we call the High Battery. This pleasurable walkway overlooking scenic Charleston Harbor was first completed in 1854, but got its name from a fortification built in this area after the American Revolution where a row of cannon, a cannon battery, stood for so many years that the name has stuck. Standing about 14 feet above mean sea level facing the harbor and Fort Sumter, the height of the stone structure added to its lofty name and appeal. And as the boys in this picture enjoyed the breezy outlook back in the days of tall-masted ships that crowded the waterfront at that time, today visitors are still mesmerized by one of the best tourist attractions in Charleston that is completely free. We often see dolphin and pelicans hunting for fish in Charleston Harbor<img.src=”Charleston Landmarsk” alt=”The High Battery

Furious Fiddler

The colorful crustacean that swarms in coastal creek beds each Summer gets its name from its habit of waving claws much like a violin player sweeping strings with his bow. This behavior is actually a mating routine, in which males, who have the bigger claws, are making themselves appealing to females in fiddler crab fashion. Besides sitting near the bottom of the salt marsh food chain as a tidbit for fish, birds and larger crabs, the fiddler provides a valuable service with its tunneling into mudbanks for habitat, which great helps aerate the creek beds and promotes growth of other plant and animal species. <img.src=”Charleston Nature and Wildlife” alt=”Fiddler Crabs

Hardly Historic

With statuesque oak trees, exquisite wrought iron gates and grand houses overlooking the Ashley River, Murray Boulevard at first glance seems to be one of the most historic areas in #Charleston, yet nothing was here at all prior to 1911. The southern tip of Charleston’s peninsula was once no more than sand flats and mud banks, and the closest anyone built with houses the still stand today was on what would become South Battery Street, a full block inland. But filling of the area began in earnest when Charleston philanthropist Andrew Buist Murray donated part of his considerable fortune in a project that would take more than a decade to complete, as acres of river bottom were dredged to build the promenade that now bears his name. The first house was built on Murray Boulevard in 1913. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”Murray Boulevard

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.  This particular building can be seen from Ropemaker’s Lane, where we often go on the tour. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Half Gable Roofs

Limestone Labyrinth

It may come as a surprise to find out that not far from the flat #South Carolina coast, there are a wealth of underground rock caves. Forty million years ago, the Coastal Plain of South Carolina was a sea bed, and the many centuries of calcium deposits from decaying sea life left the receding ocean front filled with limestone. Now a full hour’s drive from #Charleston, Santee State Park features this incredible rock formation that has passages that wend their way deep below the surface with ice-cold water trickling through them. The caves are ideal habitat for the Rafinesque big-eared bat, which thrive in the cold, dark caverns and give  them a creepier nature. However, like all bats, the creature’s diet is primarily insects, and provides a helpful pest control along the banks of Lake Marion, where the park is located.  <img.src=”South Carolina Natural History” alt=”Santee Limestone Caves”