Picturesque Protection

With the coming of the Fall season in coastal #South Carolina, we see the city of Charleston come alive with fluttering wings. Butterflies of various species abound this time of year – Fritillaries, Sulphurs, Swallowtails and Monarchs – showing off their truly amazing colors that serve a special purpose that is nature’s way of perpetuating the species. Not only do the bright colors attract male and female butterflies to join bodies in mating, the patterns on the scaly wings warn off potential predators. Features on the wings that look much like eyes or claws send a signal to birds and other predators that the fluttering wings are a potential danger, and amazingly, these delicate creatures are mostly left alone to probe flowers for nectar and offer us a dazzling Autumn show. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Butterfly wing patterns”

Lantern Longevity

On my walking tours of scenic and historic #Charleston, we often enter St. Michael’s Anglican Church. The structure is the oldest house of worship in the “Holy City” and whose 186 foot steeple is a wondrous sight day or night. This classic Palladian-style steeple has all the correct vertical parts of its English forerunners – a tower, a belfry, a clock, a lantern and a spire. At night, visitors to the city can see a more dramatic representation of the storied lantern look, and it was lights like this that were lit 24 hours a day in historic times to provide a beacon to overlook the city as well as a guiding point for ships entering Charleston Harbor. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Steeple Lantern”

Classic Crossing

The oldest functioning bridge in the city of #Charleston is the Ashley River Memorial Bridge, completed in 1922 in honor of local veterans who fought in World War I. The Ashley had been spanned as earlier as 1807, but its early bridges had lots of bad luck, with the initial bridge burned during the Civil War, and an 1880’s replacement that was struck by boats so many times, the Corps of Engineers listed it as a hazard to navigation. The 1922 bridge was the first really modern bridge in Charleston, with bascules that could be raised for ships to pass, a much better arrangement than its swing bridge predecessor. But alas, the new bridge continued the bad luck tradition, and was struck by a ship in 1956, twisting the west bascule so badly that it took weeks before it could be lowered and the bridge reopened for traffic. These days, I prefer boating beneath the old structure rather than driving across – it still has the classic look of the tower cupolas, and it seems safer from the water. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Ashley River Memorial Bridge”

Seriously Social

On our walking tour of historic #Charleston, SC, I typically take guests past local sites that are home to some of the city’s most traditional societies, such as the plaque pictured, which is on Chalmers Street. The Deutsche Freundlische Gesellschaft, known in English as the German Friendly Society, was created in 1766, as most societies in the city, to help those in need. German immigrants had flocked to Charleston in the colonial period to escape hardship and wars in Europe, but many came with little more than the clothes on their backs, so other Germans were very willing to help as “friends” to the immigrants. Over the years, the society has become largely social in nature, with festive events and meetings, but still provides help for the indigent. <img.src=”Charleston Culture” alt=”The German Friendly Society”

Celebrated Ceramics

In the early colonial period here in #Charleston, fine earthenware and porcelain ceramics were largely imported from England, where skilled artisans had perfected the dazzling plates, bowls, cups and saucers that adorned the fine homes. But as Charleston grew and became a source of great wealth, it attracted artisans to immigrate and establish the Holy City as a home for such skills as well. The soil strata beneath our coastal city is abundant with clays of varying types which proved ideal for casting into decorative shapes. With the advent of slip-casting molds by the 19th century, as well as new techniques in coloring glazes with tin ash and other compounds, Charleston’s earthenware became highly sought after. Classic patterns included the very popular Chinoiserie motifs that are still eye-catching today, and one of the best selections can be found at the Shops of Historic Charleston Foundation at both the City Market and 108 Meeting Street, where I begin my walking tour. <img.src=”Charleston Furnishings” alt=”Elegant Earthenware”

Gilded Guardians

One of the noteworthy details that intrigues many tourists visiting #Charleston, and often catches the eye of guests on my walking tours are the interesting door knockers featured on historic entranceways all over the city. The door knocker became fashionable back in ancient Rome as a means of alerting residents that someone was requesting entrance to the building. Typically, these were made of iron cast in molds to create a heavy object that would resonate when tapped on wood or iron and leave no question that someone was at the door. Charleston’s early architectural details were largely fashioned after what was stylish in England and Europe, and in England, the evolution of door knockers came with some interesting symbolism. Certain shapes fashioned in iron might indicate the trade or authority of the home owner, but the most popular appear to be those that symbolize that the house was well guarded. The fox was a very traditional motif, suggesting the clever, watchful nature of the animal was present in the house, and the fox is very well represented in the door fronts of old Charleston. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Historic Door Knockers”

Departed Detail

The structure at 50 Broad Street was completed in 1798 as the Bank of South Carolina, and is the oldest building in historic #Charleston used as a bank. The concept of banks was relatively new at that time, as most currency changed hands and credit was issued in custom houses and vendors offices, and much of the money used was English and Spanish coins of gold and silver. Early American banks issued their own paper currency, and quickly became a source of credit for the booming merchant class in Charleston after the Revolution. The new building was striking in appearance, featuring brick that was “rouged” with iron oxides for a bright red color, as well as details that included splayed lintels, belt courses, recessed edicules, and a protruding bracketed cornice along the roofline. The impressive building and its cache of coins and currency quickly caught the attention of a thief named Withers, who tried tunneling his way inside by digging through drain openings on Broad Street in 1801. The “Charleston Mole” was caught, and the bank went nearly another century without a significant loss until the earthquake of 1886. The violent tremors of the quake shook the building so hard that the cornice was dislodged, and with so little money in Charleston after the Civil War, there was no attempt to replace it. Today, the building houses city offices, and still is striking with the obvious marks of the missing cornice under the eaves. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Bank of South Carolina”

Welcome Wings

This time of year brings fluttering wings to historic #Charleston, as we see scores of butterflies darting through colorful gardens. The species we see most often on my walking tour of downtown Charleston are the yellow-winged Cloudless Sulphur, the Black and Yellow-winged Swallowtail, and the orange-winged Gulf Fritillary. These creatures thrive on the nectar of late Summer blossoms such as Lantana, probing with their needle-like probiscus as they flutter from petal to petal. There colors come from tiny scales that absorb the heat of the sun to provide extra energy for migrations that take these delicate bodies thousands of miles. Seemingly vulnerable to birds and other quick-moving predators, the natural color of the butterflies acts as an instinctive warning to other creatures, suggesting toxicity found in plants with similar colors that animals know to avoid. Fortunately, the color patterns provide enough defense to assure that these wonderful wings will provide an eye-catching spectacle each year. <img.src=”Charleston Natural Resources” alt=”Butterflies”

Resplendent Row

Each day on my walking tour of historic #Charleston, I take tourists past scenic Vanderhorst Row on East Bay Street. The impressive brick structure was built along Charleston’s waterfront circa 1800, when bustling shipping wharves stood nearby this residential edifice. There were actually two row buildings erected side by side, but the building to the north was destroyed in the earthquake of 1886, and now there is nothing there but a bland parking lot. Vanderhorst Row itself does exemplify the classic architecture that makes Charleston so unique, and although no more than a rectangular brick building, it is the exquisite detail that makes the structure so pleasing to the eye. The bricks are “rouged” to a deep reddish hue by iron oxides that were added to clays in the kilning process. Those bricks are laid in an attractive pattern called Flemish Bond, with vertical “soldiers” over doors and windows. Stone quoins, voussoirs, splayed lintels and lunette arches added considerably to the classic look of Vanderhorst Row, details that increased building cost, but made it so memorable. Unfortunately, modern architecture in Charleston is rarely distinguishing, as simple details such as those mentioned above are missing from what are typically just brick boxes. We can see so easily in Vanderhorst Row how simple it would be to make all buildings scenic and attractive. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Vanderhorst Row”

Famous Forging

On my walking tours of historic #Charleston, I typically take the group of visitors down Stoll’s Alley in the famous South of Broad district. One of the gates there was done by the Charleston’s most heralded 20th century ironsmith, Philip Simmons. I got to know Mr. Simmons in his later years, when he was still pounding hammer on anvil into his eighties. He got his start as a 13-year old apprentice in a blacksmith shop back in 1925, learning to forge iron axles and wheels for wagons and carts. He quickly found a fascination with the decorative ironwork found in old structures around the city that had been done in previous centuries by ironworkers such as Jacob Roh, Johann Iusti and Christopher Werner. Mr. Simmons decided at age 20 to start his own decorative ironwork enterprise and got his first commissioned job to do a gate on Stoll’s Alley in 1932. The gate pictured below is what he called his “billboard gate”, as he would ask potential customers to look at it and decide if they wanted to hire him. Decades of iron details and hundreds of gates later, the billboard gate was a testimonial to the talent and skill of Philip Simmons from the very first stroke he made on decorative iron. <img.src=”Charleston Gates” alt=”Philip Simmons Billboard Gate”