Historic #Charleston is a great city to explore at night. It is very safe in most parts of the old city, and the visual charm is often enhanced by interesting lighting schemes. Natural gas lines underground allow many downtown residents to burn flickering lamps that help create the feeling that pedestrians wandering old streets and alleys have been transported back in time to the days when gas lamps were the only source of illumination. Many historic church steeples are lit from below, giving a mesmerizing glow to spires and towers above, while soft garden lights offer enchanting silhouettes of exquisite wrought iron gates. It is one of the best ways to enjoy Charleston for free, and a pleasant excursion after an evening’s dinner. The South of Broad area and The French Quarter are my favorites, but there are also very enjoyable nocturnal views in Ansonbourough and around Marion Square. I highly recommend that visitors to Charleston take an evening walk in the oldest parts of the historic city, and enjoy the wonderful scenic area without the traffic or crowds. <img.src=”Charleston At Night” alt=”Lighting Historic Areas”
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”
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 City Market is a great place to tour. 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”
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”
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. I often take my walking tour past this grand house, which is a construction type known as a side-hall single house. That should be Patrick O’Donnell’s lasting legacy.
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”
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”
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. Historically, Charleston was a city of religious freedom, and the first Jews, who were Sephardic, arrived in the 1690’s. 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.
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”
Historic #Charleston, SC is famous for its steepled skyline, and features a variety of architectural styles in these that include English Renaissance Revival, Gothic Revival, Georgian Palladian, Romanesque Revival and Richardson Revival. The term steeple comes from Old English “steap”, meaning lofty, and these are indeed, with the highest being the 254-foot version at St. Matthews Lutheran Church. The steeple pictured here is St. Philip’s Anglican Church, and displays all the classic parts of the steeple, which not all in Charleston have. At the base, with the round window, is the Tower, above that the Belfry, where bells ring through the louvers, and above that the Clock, then the Lantern, where lights were typically shown, then at the top, the Spire. We often go inside St. Philip’s on my tour. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Classic Steeples”