Illuminated Illusion

In December 1901, #Charleston held its own version of the World’s Fair with the Interstate and West Indian Exposition. The event was held on the old Washington Race courses grounds near the Ashley River, and was to hoped to generate interest in the Southeastern and West Indian trade and drag Charleston out of its post-Civil War economic hardships. The 250-acre tract was adorned with a hastily-built “Ivory City”, consisting of large cheaply-made wooden buildings that were painted white and gave the appearance of great palaces. Tracks were laid for a trolley that would take customers to various exhibits inside the palaces, as well as canals, pedestrian bridges and statues. The bright light of the exposition was exactly that, Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb, which was strung by the tens of thousands on structures like the 50,000 square foot Cotton Palace in the picture, to enhance the enjoyment and scope of the fair. Yet with all its exhibits, and an impressive midway that featured camels, elephants and oddities from around the world, the exposition was a financial failure, and within a few years, all the palaces had been pulled down. Today, part of the expo location is Hampton Park, where the only reminder of the great Ivory City is the sunken garden lake that stood in front of the Cotton Palace. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Interstate and West Indian Exposition

Minimally Moorish

The distinctive Farmers and Merchants Bank in historic #Charleston features a very unusual facade style that is typically described as “Moorish”, and details such as its   horseshoe arches are commonly assumed to be an Islamic creation spread into southern Europe by the conquering Moors. This is demonstrably untrue. There are numerous existing examples of horseshoe arches in ancient Catalonian and Byzantine structures that were built long before those areas were conquered and influenced by Islam. The Islamic conquest that speed from Arabia in the 7th century would eventually engulf the Middle East, North Africa, much of Southeastern Europe, and most of Spain. The conquerors borrowed extensively from earlier architectural designs, most notably Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which was built a century before Islam began as a Greek Orthodox Church. Not that borrowing others’ ideas is a bad thing, and in fact, it was America’s extensive borrowing of styles that were popular in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries that gives Charleston its grand look today. But although brought to us largely by English and Scottish Christians, Charleston’s historic architecture is based neither on European or Christian concepts, but largely the multi-theistic ancient Romans and Greeks. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Farmers and Merchants Bank

Posthumous Pinckney

One of the saddest losses in the history of #Charleston was the burning of the Charles Pinckney mansion in the   great fire of 1861. The grand Georgian-Palladian structure was finished in 1745 for Charles and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, largely built with the fortune they made in indigo, whose production Eliza revolutionized at the family plantation along the Stono River by devising methods that made the process more efficient. One of their three children born in the house was Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who would go on to sign the Constitution. The family leased the house to several Royal Governors, and the structure was commandeered by the British during the Revolution, only to return to the family by the 1820’s, after the Pickneys had turned over former creekside property to the city to be used as the City Market that still is there today.  The house featured local brick that was “rouged” by adding iron oxides to the kilning process, as well as classically symmetrical  Palladian features such as a two-story pilaster facade and belt course. The house stood on what is now the Southwest corner of East Bay and Guignard streets. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Pinckney Mansion

Genuine Gordon

The Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul in #Charleston has a very distinctive look at history. The structure was begun in 1810, and was designed by the Scottish-born brothers James and John Gordon, who also built Charleston’s Second Presbyterian Church and First Scots Presbyterian Church. One distinction of the churches is that they have towers, but no spire, and although the Gordons were master carpenters, they did not have formal architectural training and apparently did not fully comprehend the complex details of a towering steeple. The Church was originally called St. Paul’s Cathedral, and was unofficially know as The Planter’s Church because at the time it was built, many planters lived in houses in the vicinity that during that era faced the cooling breezes of the Ashley River. In 1949, the congregation of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church merged with St. Paul’s, and the cathedral has since affiliated with the Anglican Church. The original tower bell was donated to the Confederacy during the Civil War, and replacement bells were not reinstalled until 1998. And when being installed, contractors realized why Gordon churches had no steeples, because the tower was not sufficiently able to handle the load, and had to be reinforced to handle the bells. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul

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.

Puzzling Portico

The St. Julian Ravenel House on East Battery Street has one of the most unusual looks and stories in historic #Charleston #SC. The 1840’s structure was built with a two-story colonnaded portico which came crashing down in the 1886 earthquake, and one of the building’s parts, a Corinthian capital, seemed to have been lost. Years later in the 1950’s a hurricane hit Charleston uprooting one of the trees in front of the house, and up through the tree roots came the missing capital, which had hit the ground with such force that in buried underneath. Apparently all the original parts still exist and there has been speculation that the grand old house may one day be put back together again. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Missing Portico

Ringing Relic

In 1882, shortly after the first public fire service was created in #Charleston, three alarm towers were built, at 112 Meeting Street, 262 Meeting Street and 5 Cannon Street, where new fire stations were soon to follow. The stations at 262 Meeting and 5 Cannon are still active fire houses, but there is no bell at Cannon Street, and the only existing bell is at the 112 Meeting Street location, now a city office building. The tower at 262 Meeting has long since disappeared, but the bell is still there in excellent condition. Last used in the 1950’s, they were rung for fires and for hurricane alarms, and gave a sound that helped protect Charlestonians for decades. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Fire Bell Meeting Street

Corinthian Confusion

A popular detail from the mid-19th century in historic #Charleston was the addition of colonnades topped by the Corinthian Order, considered the highest level  and most spectacular design. Based on the elaborate Greek details from ancient buildings, the Corinthian capital -the top section of the column – was typically in the pattern of drooping Acanthus leaves. But a more intricate version, as pictured here at the 1850-era John Hume Lucas House on Rutledge Avenue, was the capital featuring both Acanthus and water leaves known as the Tower of the Winds capital in architecture. What is interesting is that the real Tower of the Winds, standing in Athens, Greece since around 50 BC, does not feature this type of capital. Instead, it came from the monument of Lysicrates, built some 300 years earlier, and also still standing. Drawings of its details were first published in England in 1762, and because the earlier building resembled the more famously known Tower of the Winds, an understandable misidentification was made. Admittedly, Tower of the Winds sounds more catchy than Lysicrates, so presumably none of the ancient Greeks would be offended.  <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Tower of the Winds capitals”

Ashkenazic Assimilation

The synagogue Brith Sholom Beth Israel on Rutledge Avenue in #Charleston is a 20th century structure, but embodies centuries of Orthodox Ashkenazic tradition. The temple’s origins go back to the arrival of the first Jews from Eastern Europe in Charleston during the 1840’s and by 1854, the congregation of Brith Sholom was established. The original synagogue was built in 1874 on St. Philip Street and although no longer standing, the current temple features many of its sacred aspects, including the Aron Kodesh (Ark) with its Corinthian columns, the tablets of the Ten Commandments above the Aron Kodesh, and the columns throughout the sanctuary supporting the women’s gallery. As more Ashkenazic Jews arrived in the early 20th century, there were tensions between those who had lived in Charleston for many years and those who arrived from countries such as Poland, Prussia and Lithuania. These newer immigrants formed a separate Orthodox congregation in 1911, Beth Israel, which built the current structure. Eventually, Orthodox followers came together and combined the two congregations, and in doing so have the distinction as being the oldest Orthodox congregation in continuous existence in America.

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”