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”

Singular Seal

This version of the state seal of South Carolina is at the #WashingtonLightInfantry monument in Washington Square. The seal was created in 1776 with the declaration of South Carolina’s independence from England, and this version shows mythical figures representing the citizenry beside the two ovals with Latin versions of the state motto. On the left, the Palmetto tree with the inscription “Animis Opibusque Parati”, meaning “prepared in mind and resources” and on the right, the Greek goddess Spes, meaning hope, and the inscription “Dum Spiro Spero”, while I breathe I hope. <img.src=”South Carolina History” alt=”State Seal”

Calhoun Crypt

One of the most famous graves in #Charleston is that of #JohnCCalhoun. Calhoun was not a Charlestonian, actually born in Abbeville, SC in 1782, but when he died in 1850, he had become such a notable Southern figure, that it was decided he would be buried in the city from which South Carolina was born. The funeral was done with tremendous fanfare, as thousands of participants marched in honor of Calhoun, who had served under four presidents – twice Vice-President (John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson) Secretary of War (James Monroe) and Secretary of State (John Tyler) and was US Senator and Congressman. But the Charleston burial did not suit everyone, and there were demands from the upstate that he be buried there. In the early 20th century, a group called STORCH (Society to return Calhoun home) allegedly tried to exhume his body, and the sarcophagus was opened to make sure he was still there – and indeed he was. <img.src=”Famous Charlestonians” alt=”John C. Calhoun”

Twisted Tale

As in any historic city, #CharlestonSC has its share of commonly-told legends and stories that are completely erroneous. One historic architectural detail that is consistently misrepresented is the twisted rope motif carved in wood around historic doorways. The most persistent tale is that the rope image represented the fact that the house was owned by a merchant, who presumably dealt in goods such as ropes. In truth, there is no symbolism in the rope motif at all, it is simply an exquisite detail that was very coveted in historic times before powered lathes and saws, when the skill of the artisan was on display. This detail has been used since the ancient Greeks to decorate doorways and the same helix shape was used throughout ancient Europe in columns as well, what is called a Solomonic Column. The rope motif is typically cut from a single piece of wood that, in historic times, was worked with rasp and chisel as the piece was slowly turned. Some helixes are more tightly-spaced than others and can be either left-handed or right-handed in spiral. Expertly done, the wooden spiral motif is a thing of beauty, and that is the only meaning it really has. <img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Rope Spiral Doorways”>