Evening Elegance

One of the great things about historic #Charleston, SC is that the city is so safe after dark. I often encourage visitors on my walking tours who are looking for things to do in the evening to take a stroll down some of the streets of the older city and enjoy the light show at place such as First Scots Presbyterian Church pictured below. Night lights are a long tradition in Charleston, dating back to the first street lamps in the 1700’s lit by hand with burning wicks. By 1846, wick-lit lamps gave way to gas lamps, as the city burned coal and piped the coal gas underground to ignite lamps after dark. The first electric lighting came at the turn of the 20th century, and one of the most memorable displays at the international Charleston Expo in 1901 was a landscape lit by Thomas Edison’s incandescent bulbs. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Night lighting”

Salty Surface

I often get questions by guest on my walking tours about some of the discoloration in the stucco walls of historic buildings here in Charleston. Stucco is a mixture of sand and calcium hydroxide, the latter substance being essentially salt. This allows the stucco to breathe so as not to trap moisture under the wall surface, but can cause problems if there are cracks in the stucco. Exposed crystals of calcium hydroxide will either rect with carbon dioxide from the outside air or dissolve with intruding rain water to form calcium carbonate that creates a discoloration usually in the form of patches and streaks – what is known as efflorescence. Calcium carbonate is not soluble in water, so it will not contribute to any further damage, but just give the stucco exterior a mottled look as in the image below of the old Charleston District Jail. In this case, the salt and sand stucco having worn off over the years has allowed the efflorescence to intrude.

Perfect Pane

When I lead guests on my walking tours, I try to emphasize the visual detail of historic buildings in #Charleston as a clue to either how old they are or what they were used for. And with so much detail in some of the older buildings, sometimes obvious things go unnoticed, such as the differing types of windows. As Charleston was growing in the 1700’s, the double-hung window became a very popular way of lighting up a structure. But because glass at that time what still made by hand, window panes could not be made with any great size or strength, and it was the structure of the muntins that held the glass that gave a window its durability and look. A dead give-away of a pre-1800 structure are the 9 over 9(pane) and 12 over 12 windows, such as this 18th century house on Broad Street. It wasn’t until the advent of rolled glass panes by the 1820’s that bigger and stronger panes emerged, and led to larger windows that were often built floor-to-ceiling to add significantly more light. So I recommend to anyone touring Charleston, observe the number of window panes, and you will likely know from what era the house originates. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Nine Over Nine Windows”

Colorful Contribution

One of the classic images each Christmas is the decorative red glow of the Poinsettia, named for #Charleston native Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett, who was well-educated and multi-lingual, was a diplomat by trade who served under several presidents as envoy or ambassador to foreign countries such as Russia, Chile and Mexico. He was also an avid botanist, and at his home in Charleston, he cultivated a variety of plants and trees in what became known as Poinsett’s Grove. While serving as ambassador to Mexico in the 1820’s, he became infatuated with the fiery-colored plant known scientifically as euphorbia pulcherrima, and brought samples back to cultivate in Charleston. The plant was eventually named for Poinsett, and is widely-used as a Christmas decoration today. One other lesser-known Christmas contribution from Poinsett was the fact that he almost single-handedly prevented an American Civil War in December of 1832, when South Carolina was threatening to nullify federal tariffs. It seemed that the state and the Federal government were headed for a military conflict until Poinsett used his connections with the nullifiers and President Andrew Jackson to help create a compromise.  <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”The Poinsettia”

Limited Lockup

People who visit our historic and scenic city often enjoy wandering through narrow alleys and passageways, of which there are several that we see along my walking tours of #Charleston. Among these are Stoll’s Alley, Four Post Alley and the “close” leading from Ropemaker’s Lane to Church Street (pictured here). What is interesting about them, besides their picturesque charm, is that all were initially private property that the public used frequently to walk from one area to another. South Carolina, like many states, has a unique law that states if the public uses a passageway on a regular basis for more than a year without that passage being locked, that it becomes public property. Stoll’s Alley is such a case, and this former private passageway is now public. But at Four Post Alley and the close at Ropermaker’s Lane, owners still lock the gate once each year to keep it in private hands. What is so ironic about locking the gate pictured is that pedestrians can simply walk around it and down the close, yet the formality of locking the gate technically assures it remains private. <img.src=”Charleston Alleys” alt=”Locked Passageways”

Rouged Roads

In a few areas such as Stoll’s Alley and lower Church Street, visitors can still find brick street paving that once stretched for miles around historic #Charleston. As I feel guest on my walking tours, there was an abundance of brick manufactured in Charleston historically, but there was also much that was shipped here from other brick manufacturers around the country and world. The quality of brick depended largely on its underground origins and the methods used to fire it in hot kilns to create a sturdy mass of material. To that extent there were areas in the country that had superior raw materials and manufacturing methods, such as the Katterskill Brick Paving Company in Catskill, New York. The company specialized in waterproof “vitrified brick” made from shale, and in 1908-1909 the city of Charleston purchased tons of Catskill brick and used it to pave extensively. The city acknowledged that the brick from New York was superior, but just to make sure, purchased what were known as “rattlers” to test the strength of the brick by tumbling them in cages with hard pieces of iron. Obviously, the “rattling” proved the affirmative, as these bricks have held up under cars and trucks for more than a century. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”brick paved streets”

Brass and Braille

Most people are focused upward and outward while visiting historic #Charleston, but there are a number of things worth noting beneath your feet. In 1909, the city started adding cast-brass street plate names into the sidewalks, and they can be found throughout the city still today. A few sidewalk plates show different names than the street signs above them – as in the pictured “St. Michael’s Place” plate, above which the street sign says “St. Michael’s Alley”. About a century after the brass plates were added, the city also laid what is called “tactile paving” at street corners as a means for the visually impaired to be warned about stepping off the sidewalk into a street. The raised bumps don’t really spell out anything as in genuine braille, but they make it clearly understood as to the warning not to step into the path of an oncoming vehicle. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”sidewalk plates”

Medicinal Memories

There are a number of buildings in historic #Charleston that feature the look of a medieval castle. This style, known as castellated or crenelated, can be found at the old District Jail, the Slave Mart Museum and, as pictured here, at the Waring Historic Library. The Waring, as it is sometimes called, was built in 1894 near Ashley Avenue as part of Porter Military Academy. Because the mission of the academy was to school young boys in Christian ideals, the cross is prominently displayed on the exterior. The property was sold to the Medical University of South Carolina in 1966, and the old building was rededicated as a library for medical sciences, and named for Charleston physician Joseph Waring, who spent much of his career accumulating books, pamphlets and other educational materials focused on the advancement of medical science. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Waring Historic Library”

Timber Tale

Rarely do people walking along historic Broad Street in #Charleston take much notice of this particular tree, which is the only one of its kind on the street, and with an unusual story to boot. This is a Cypress tree which was planted in 1989 shortly after hurricane Hugo devastated the area with category 4 winds. As a sign of rebirth, friends of mine planted this tree in a small patch of sidewalk where the slate surface had cracked, exposing soil beneath. The scenic city had been badly battered and lost many grand oaks, and this tiny seedling was one of the first attempts to restore the arboreal beauty for which our city is renowned. Thirty years later, the cypress towers over the street as an attractive complement to rows of historic architecture, and stands as a reminder of the city’s undaunted spirit.<img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Broad Street Cypress”

Historic Heightening

On my walking tours of historic #Charleston, I have recently been taking visitors past this 1830’s house on Water Street, where a very unusual transformation is currently taking place. The house was built in a low elevation area that was filled from Vandrhorst Creek, that once flowed from Charleston Harbor inland to the center of the city peninsula. Like many older Charleston structures built in former wetlands, the old house has suffered from flooding when high tides and heavy rain cause the old creek to become wet all over again. The current owners decided enough was enough, and are having the historic house raised 8 feet. To do this, the structure ‘s foundation was exposed, and contractors found that the old house had been built on a “raft” – a matrix of cypress and cedar planks beneath the ground above the water table, intended to keep it from sinking into the soft ground. The raft was built in layers, and is several feet thick, requiring augers to cut holes through for 70 steel supports that will be cork-screwed down eighty feet to the hard clay marl. The grand old house will soon have a new life higher above the street and any flooding waters, and will be a landmark for the fascinating ingenuity used to build in the colonial and antebellum eras. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”House Raising”