O’Donnell Overlooked

The common story told about  this grand side-hall single house on King Street in historic #Charleston, is that its builder, Patrick O’Donnell, got so obsessed with adding details to the house that the fiance’ he was creating it for got tired of waiting and married someone else. There’s no way to prove that, but there is something O’Donnell did in 1861 that makes him much more worthy of admiration. During the great fire of December 1861, which struck at night with fire companies unprepared and winds pushing flames across the city, the Catholic orphanage and convent, as well as Roper Hospital, where in the path of the oncoming blaze coign down Queen Street with seemingly no chance of stopping it. O’Donnell, being a builder who understood stress points in structures, volunteered to carry black powder into houses in the path of the fire and blew them up, creating a fire break that altered the course of the flames, and saved the orphanage, hospital and convent. That should be Patrick O’Donnell’s lasting legacy.

Porter Persistence

In 1880, the old United States arsenal in #Charleston was conveyed to Rev. Anthony Toomer Porter for use as a school, the Holy Trinity Church Institute, for young men. Porter, who had served as a Confederate chaplain during the Civil War, pulled off an amazing feat in having his request to possess the old arsenal, which had been seized by Confederates in 1860, approved by the General of the U.S. Army, none other than William Tecumseh Sherman. Porter’s remarkable persuasiveness got a hundred-year lease for one dollar, far less in treasure and blood than Charlestonians hd sacrificed in taking similar federal installations during the war. Porter converted most of the old arsenal buildings into classrooms, but selected one building for use as St. Timothy’s Chapel. Today, very little of the old campus exists other than St. Timothy’s, which stands as a reminder of the determined man for whom the school would eventually be known as Porter Military Academy, and eventually merging with Gaud School for boys into the current Porter-Gaud School, which moved from the location in 1966. <img.src=”Charleston History ” alt=”St. Timothy’s Chapel”

Symbolic Certainty

There are still those who insist the crescent in the #SouthCarolina flag is based on the moon. There is simply no evidence of any kind to back that up. On the other hand, I have found considerable evidence that the crescent comes from the Gorget, the crescent-shaped throat piece from the old knights’ armor that became a symbol of military rank throughout Europe. It is a fact that King George II was very fond of the gorget and presented replications in gold and silver to military officers, and many a historic painting shows this symbol worn like a necklace by military officers. One of the biggest admirers of King George II was William Bull II of Charleston, who was appointed Lt. Governor four times while South Carolina was a Royal colony. Bull’s own family crest includes the Gorget and the Gauntlet, both symbols of protection and power in the world of heraldry. Bull created the uniforms of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment militia in the 1760’s, and the caps worn by the soldiers had the crescent shape like a smile with points turned upward. Bull also commissioned William Moultrie as an officer in the 2nd South Carolina, and in Moultrie’s memoirs, he points out that a flag was created in 1775 for the Regiment, and that the crescent was based on the uniform. That flag became the basis for the state flag officially created in 1861, whose original design had the points of the crescent pointing up, and was changed in the late 1800’s to the current design. So by sheer linear logic, there is an almost undeniable case that the crescent is the Gorget. <img.src=”Charleston Military History” alt=”The Flag Crescent”

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

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

Factually Fictional

This idyllic image of the grand Regency-style mansion on Rutledge Avenue in #CharlestonSC seems to come from some dream of the past when it was owned by the man many believe Margaret Mitchell fashioned her character of Rhett Butler in “Gone With The Wind”. The    house built for Patrick Duncan in 1816, was bought in 1845 by Charleston banker George Alfred Trenholm. Trenholm was everything the novel and movie portrayed in Butler, who was said to be from Charleston – dashing ladies’ man, expert with dueling pistols, and financer of blockade-running ships that brought in supplies during the #Civil War. Ironically, the house of the ladies’ man has been home  since 1909 to Ashley Hall  School – a girls school. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”Ashley Hall”

Artistic Ancestor

This painting, entitled “The Hundred Pines”, was painted by my great-great-great grandfather, Auguste Paul Trouche circa 1830. He was of French heritage, and  was trained in a method landscape realism that was made famous at the Barbizon School near Fontainebleau outside Paris. The painting is part of the collection at the #Gibbes Museum of Art in #Charleston, where curators have told me that his obvious skill in the exceptional lighting in this  oil on canvas may indicate that he was actually trained in France. The Hundred Pines was a cluster of large trees used as a landmark for ships entering Charleston Harbor, and a great example of the natural settings around Charleston in those days. <img.src=”Charleston Artists” alt=”Auguste Paul Trouche

Unconventional Unitarians

The Unitarian Church on Archdale Street in historic #Charleston is the 3rd oldest in the city, completed in 1787 and remodeled in the 1850’s by noted Charleston architect Francis Lee, incorporating English Renaissance and Gothic Revival styles. The Unitarians were always considered to be unconventional, and one of their intrinsic beliefs is that the son of God was not as divine as God himself, and therefore were not considered by some to be Christians. The Unitarians were very progressive in many respects, and were sympathetic to abolition and to women’s rights. One of the famous legends of the church graveyard is that the congregation was the only one in Charleston willing to accept the body of the notorious Lavinia Fisher, hanged for highway robbery in 1882, and whose body lies here in an unmarked grave. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Unitarian Church”

Mystical Mimosas

The stunning flower of this summer-blooming tree was    first introduced to #Charleston in 1785, with the arrival of French botanist Andre Michaux, who brought a number of exotic species to America, including the Crepe Myrtle and Camellia. Although not a true Mimosa, the name adds flair to a tree which is actually related to soybeans, chickpeas, and peanuts, and who scientific name is a mouthful – Albizia Julibrissin. Michaux was royal gardener under Louis XVI, but instead of losing his head to the guillotine as did his former employer, he was sent by the French Revolutionary government to America as an naturalist emissary, and would find a home in Charleston for more than ten years, exploring the Southeast for other species, such as the one from the mountains he named the Rhododendron. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Mimosa Tree”