Curious Caps

The chimneys of historic #Charleston #SC are among the most notable features in the #architecture, typically built with rounded “caps” or funnel-like “pots”. These are more than just decorations, and in the past, provided a function crucial to the buildings. aIn the days before electric and gas furnaces, homes were heated by fireplaces, in which wood or coal was burned. The mass of smoke rising through the narrow chimney passage must rise rapidly to make burning of fuel more efficient and to prevent it from backdrafting into the house. Chimneys often had cracks  inside the shaft as well as build up of carbon deposits that would reduce the lift of the smoke column, and by adding a cap or pot that funneled the column into a smaller outlet, this would create a vacuum effect that induced a better upward flow. A second advantage of the cap or pot was that it made more difficult the chance of flaming embers from other fires dropping into the chimney. Historically, many of Charleston’s disastrous fires were characterized by the hazards of airborne embers landing on roofs and in chimneys. <img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Chimney Caps“>

Steeple Showcase

The steeple of St. Philip’s Anglican Church was added to the 1830’s structure in 1848, and is another superb example of the architecture of Edward Brickell White. At 200 feet, and on one of the highest areas of the city,  the steeple is very visible from the entrance to Charleston Harbor, and until 1918, was lit at night with navigation lights to helped incoming ships locate the channel. The four bells inside the steeple were added in 1976, replacing the original bells that were donated to the Confederacy to be melted down as cannon during the Civil War.

<img src=”St. Philip’s Church” alt=”Historic Charleston”>

 

Silent Sentinels

The Charleston Fire Department was organized in 1881, after years of individual “fire brigades” that protected buildings on a private contract arrangement. The old fire brigades were dedicated, but the system did not work largely because of lack of coordination among those fighting fires. The new fire house and fire towers built in the 1880’s included a “fire telegraph” system, in which a fire could be reported by turning a key in a street box, which sent an electric signal to the firehouses and bells would then summon the firefighters to action.

Illuminating Edifices

St. Philip’s Anglican Church is a marvel of elaborate detail and longevity. It was begun in 1835 and the body of the church completed in 1837, with much of the detail work from artisans who came to Charleston from all over the world. The steeple added later in the 1840’s was the design of Charleston architect Edward Brickell White, and the 190-foot edifice was lit up at night until 1917 and used as a harbor channel marker, now a beacon of shining Charleston history.

Southern Wharf

Charleston’s historic East Bay Street was once lined with more than two dozen large wharves, where tall-masted sailing ships once loaded large cargoes of rice and cotton. The very first wharves where made by tying together palmetto logs, floating them off the bank and sinking them in the mud at low tide, then bridging the distance with stones, tree limbs and even animal carcasses. Not surprisingly, the first such docks were called “bridges”, and in colonial-era maps, there are numerous bridges protruding out into the Cooper River.

Over time, the docks got wharf names and were built bigger and wider to accommodate warehouses and shipping offices. The picture is a rare glimpse at the famous Southern Wharf, which was busy until after the War Between the States, when commerce declined. This shot is the wharf in ruins shortly after the Cyclone of 1885, which wrecked an already-dilapidated area. Today, the old wharf is home to the Carolina Yacht Club, whose buildings include cotton brokers offices visible in the 1885 picture.east battery 9_25_1885

Old Charleston HIgh School

IMG_2801The original High School of Charleston opened in this building at 55 Society Street in 1841. Designed by famed Charleston architect Edward Brickell White, it Classic Revival structure features a portico facade of six massive Corinthian columns on a high raised basement. This was part of the city’s rebuilding program in the Ansonborough area after the fire of 1838, and included “fire loans” to citizens who rebuilt in brick, or brick and stucco such as this building. Students who attended studied Latin, Greek, English Composition, Algebra, and Biology, as well as Chronology and Mammology.

The fortunes of the neighborhood suffered after the War Between the States, and the area declined into a slum. The high school was relocated to  George Street in 1881, and the old building fell into disrepair, and was used as a VFW post in the early 20th century. Ansonborough made a comeback in the 60’s and 70’s, and in 1984, the old school was beautifully restored into condominiums.

St. Luke and St. Paul’s “New” Oldest

IMG_2805With St. Michael’s and St.Philip’s congregations returning to the Anglican fold, the historic Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul is now the oldest Episcopal Church on the Charleston peninsula. Consecrated as St. Paul’s Churchin 1816 in the area known as Radcliffeborough, the structure was designed by architects James and John Gordon in Classic Revival style. The Gordons also designed the Second Presbyterian Church on Meeting Street, and the two buildings are very similar in their details and great size. Apparently steeples  for such massive structures were a problem in the Gordons’ design, and neither church has a full spire. Nevertheless, St. Paul’s had bells in its Gothic tower, which were melted down for cannon during the War Between the States.

Historically nicknamed “Planters’ Church” St. Paul’s was situated on a small bluff overlooking a section of the western peninsula that was mostly marshes and creeks well into the 19th century, and whose pleasant breezes attracted numerous planters to build stately homes in the area.

The congregation merged with St. Luke’s in 1949, and became the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul. !n 2001, eight new bells were installed in the tower which are now rung by hand in the method known as “change ringing” , in which ringers change the sequence of rings to change the octaves that the eight bell notes can create.

Clever Calhoun

IMG_2628Standing high above us is a fitting location at Marion Square for John C. Calhoun – a man whose genius dwarfs that of most American politicians before or since. Despite the stereotype that he was some crusty, backward yokel, Calhoun was Yale-educated and one of America’s most outstanding orators, and was twice elected Vice President of the United States, while also serving as Secretary of War and Secretary of State, as well in the U.S. Senate.

Calhoun’s grasp of the purpose of government, being formed to serve and protect its people, not rule them, was as astute as any of the founding fathers. Calhoun’s brilliant “Disquisition on Government”, written nearly 200 years ago, provides a good example of his concise, logical perspective, as well as a good lesson in what ails our government and society today. For example, he envisioned in the 1840’s, a “despotism in numbers” where tax consumers could out vote and control tax payers and impose majority will on a voiceless minority. He stressed, as Jefferson had years before, the principle of nullification and concurrent consent, which the South had voiced in response to tariffs passed by a Northern majority in Congress that

favored one region at the expense of another.

“In such case,” he wrote, “ it would require so large a portion of the community, compared with the whole, to concur, or acquiesce in the action of the government, that the number to be plundered would be too few, and the number to be aggrandized too many, to afford adequate motives to oppression and the abuse of its powers.”

Bollards Not For Boats

IMG_2571The bollard is still a common sight in historic Charleston, found in various sizes and shapes around the old city. The bollard is an old ship-tethering component, and thus has created some far-fetched stories about boats being tied up to bollards on Water and Church streets, such as these pictured in front of the George Eveleigh house. The term bollard comes from the Old English word for tree, “bole”, and is a device that was much more commonly used as a barrier against wagon and carts. Heavy drays and wagons could easily damage walls and houses if they bumped their axles against other surfaces, and people would use just about anything that could create an effective barrier. Old cannon barrels were often used as bollards, and one still exists on Tradd Street, and for many years, the West end of Longitude Lane was blocked by a cannon-barrel bollard, since replaced by the masonry one there today.

Although the Eveleigh house was built when Water Street was still a creek, these bollards certainly don’t date to the 18th century, and were most likely added when Church Street was continued in the early 19th century, creating a bend in front of the house where wagons could easily stray into the property if not for the barrier. The real mystery of the four bollards on the spot is not so much their purpose, but why they all lean slightly to the West. My guess is that the soil beneath them settled or was shifted by the 1886 earthquake, causing the noticeable lean that gives them such character today.

Enlightening Latin

IMG_2483The official seal of the city of Charleston is very interesting and often misinterpreted. The seal shows the Greek goddess Athena standing symbolically as the protector of Charleston, depicted behind her. Athena was recognized as the goddess of the city or town in the ancient Greek world, and much of Charleston’s symbolism in architecture and sayings comes from ancient Rome and Greece. Above her is the city motto, “Aedes Mores Juraque Curat”, meaning “She guards her buildings, customs and laws”, referring to Athena symbolically representing the city in protecting its own. Beneath her, the term “Carolopolis” is a combination of Latin and Greek, “Carolus” is Latin for Charles, for whom the city was named, and “polis” is town in Greek, the combined meaning “Charleston”.

“Condita AD 1670” refers to the founding of the city, as  “Condita Anno Domini” is “established in the year of our Lord” in Latin.

Below that is the term “Civitatis Regimine Donata AD 1783”, meaning in Latin “Given to the city government in 1783”, referring to the official incorporation of the city after the Revolution.

Finally, at bottom and surrounding the seal are books, scroll, quill, lamp, and palmetto leaves, representing the wisdom and legality of the city government, as well as its openess to other as shown by the palms, which were a symbol of welcome in the ancient world.

This seal is in the main hall of City Hall, carved in the stone floor.