One of the beautiful Summer sights along the historic sidewalks of scenic #Charleston is that of the blooming crepe myrtles. We see them in abundance on my walking tours, and many guests ask if they are related to lilacs, which have a similar lacer-looking flower. But the crepe myrtle is in the Lythraceae family of trees, more closely related to the pomegranate, while Lilacs are in the Olive family. Up close the pink and white flowers resemble crepe paper, thus the name, and the bark is very distinctive as well, peeling off in the hot weather as an exfoliation to prevent fungus. The crepe myrtle was introduced to America by French botanist Andre Michaux, who moved to Charleston in 1786 after escaping the French Revolution. This widely-traveled man brought with him three plants native to southern Asia that have become common favorites in our coastal city today – the crepe myrtle, the mimosa and the camellia. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Crepe Myrtle Tree”
The grand Regency style house at 172 Rutledge Avenue in historic #Charleston has been home to Ashley Hall School for 110 years. This girls’ preparatory school was created by Mary Vardrine McBee in 1909 for the purpose of giving young women a chance to excel in academics at a time when womens’ educational opportunities were limited. The devotion to its purpose by faculty and students one the years has made Ashely Hall one of the most prestigious schools in the South, and for years had a boarding facility that allowed young women to attend from other cities and states. Among those was New Yorker Barbara Pierce, class of 1943, who would go on to become First Lady Barbara Bush. Ashley Hall has turned out a wealth of authors, doctors, and high-level administrators in its 110 years, and also has a very competitive athletic program with one of the finest volleyball teams in the state each year. A grand old house with a grand legacy. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”Ashley Hall”
The loggerhead sea turtle is South Carolina’s state reptile, an air-breathing sea creature which has a natural connection to the land. On my tour, we sometimes sea turtles popping up for air in #Charleston Harbor, but typically, they are most active in the area this time of year after dark. During the summer, huge female loggerheads, weighing as much as 300 pounds, drag themselves out of the surf on remote beaches and lay eggs by digging shallow holes in the sand near dunes at night. Usually the mother lays about 40 golf-ball sized eggs, then covers them up with sand and drags herself back into the sea. About 60 days later, the eggs will hatch, and tiny turtles like the one pictured emerge from the sand no larger than the palm of your hand. They instinctively waddle into the nearby ocean and amazingly, many survive to become massive turtles years later, and repeat the process on another dark Summer night along the South Carolina coastline. <img.src=”Charleston Wildlife” alt=”Loggerhead Sea Turtles”
Many visitors to historic #Charleston are impressed with the wealth of classic architecture that makes our city so special and scenic. The styles of ancient Romans and Greeks had become all the rage in Europe in the 17 and 1800’s, and those styles also became very popular in America. What tourists are seeing in abundance with the columns, arches domes and elaborate details is what the Greek and Romans treasured. As I often explain on my walking tours, the architectural concepts of the ancients can provide some interesting optical illusions, and one is called “entasis”, which comes from the Greek for “stretching”. The towering fluted Corinthian columns pictured here at Charleston’s Trinity Methodist Church appear to be uniform in circumference from top to bottom, but in fact are slightly larger at the base, tapering almost imperceptibly to the top. The concept is classical displayed in the 451BC Parthenon in Athens, Greece, where the symmetrical look of the columns is actually created by the asymmetry of entasis. Because the base is closer to the eye, a perfectly uniform column shape would appear to be concave and unstable, but the entasis corrects the visual illusion with its own. Come join me on the tour, and I’ll show you. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Classic Columns”
When asked what makes historic #Charleston, SC such a captivating scenic experience for those touring the city, I say it’s all in the details. Most of the buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries are basically no different in concept than modern structures – all typically built in box-like symmetrical fashion. But what greatly separates the charm of the classic buildings from the bland of the modern is exquisite detail on the exteriors. Pictures here is the Blacklocke House on Bull Street built around 1800. What attracts the sightseeing eyes is evident in its grand entrance. The side-to-side steps are what’s known as an Imperial Staircase to replicate European grandeur; The doorway is embellished with attached columns and fanlight tracery; and the stair rail is beautifully hand-forged in the style of the ancient musical instrument, the lyre. These details are expensive and demanding of super architectural skill. This was very important to buildings owners and craftspeople long ago, but sadly not so much today.
The 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II coincides with the “class that never was” at the South Carolina Military Academy – The Citadel. The Citadel was created in Charleston in 1842 as a college for military cadets, and Citadel graduates have served in every war going back to the Mexican War. The campus is located along the Ashley River, with distinctive crenelated barracks and parade ground that thrills visitors to Charleston year after year with military parades and a wealth of military hardware from various wars, including tanks, aircraft and cannon. The Citadel has produced more soldiers in American wars than any other colleges with the exception of the military colleges at West Point and Annapolis, and 6,000 cadets served during World War II, including a group of seniors who never had a graduation ceremony, thus the “class that never was”. With the Allies badly in need of manpower in the Spring of 1944, the senior cadets were asked to enlist in the war effort before the academic year was completed. They all did, and served admirably in the latter stages of the war. Surviving members of the class did return to get their senior rings, which is a great tradition at The Citadel, but never a graduation ceremony.
<img.src=”Charleston Military History” alt=”The Citadel Class of 1944”
One of the most interesting aspects about historic and scenic #Charleston, SC, is the Holy City’s wealth of plants that visitors find so appealing on walking tours. In our warm Summer season, one plant that often catches the eye does so not because of its beautiful flowers or statuesque trunk, but its ability to seemingly come back to life after dying. The scientific name is a great tongue-twister, Pleopeltis Polypodioides, but its common name is Ressrection Fern. This small plant is an epiphyte, one that grows on top of other plants, such as the limbs of live oaks, as well as crevices in walls, by absorbing nutrients out of the air. The Resurrection fern’s diet consists mostly of water, and when dry periods occur, instead of dying, it restricts the amount of water it needs by creating a hormone called abscisic acid, allowing the leaves to curl up and turn brown and look dead without hurting the plant. The fern can tolerate dryness for weeks and lose up to 97 percent of its water and still come back strong after a good soaking rain, turning lush green. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Resurrection Fern”
The Magnolia Grandiflora is a native tree that is currently in bloom all around historic #Charleston, SC. This big evergreen can grow well over 50 feet in height and produces large white flowers that give it its distinctive name. The blooms of the Magnolia are especially alluring with their creamy color and soft, linen-like scent. The petals actually will open and close with sunlight for several days, and when the stamens fall off, a cone-like seed pod emerges. The seeds, bark, leaves, and roots of the Magnolia have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, and during the Civil War, became important as a source of alternative medicine when supplies were cut by the Northern naval blockade. The Magnolia can help reduce inflammation and anxiety, lower liver toxicity and regulate blood sugar, as well as helping the respiratory system. Many of these benefits can be found in The Resources of the Fields and Forest of South Carolina, published during the Civil War by Charleston physician Francis Porcher. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Magnolia Grandiflora”
There are many historic buildings throughout scenic #Charleston that display features that come from different architectural eras, and on my tours I explain much of the diverse architectural heritage of the city . It was common throughout the city’s history for building owners to update the look of an existing structure by adding a newer, in-fashion look. Most typical are the buildings, such as this one on Broad Street, that were “Victorianized” in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Victorian period in architecture was known for a dramatic change in roof lines, as the high-hipped, fish-sale slate Mansard Roof became all the rage. Times were tough in Charleston in the decades after the Civil War, so few building owners had the money to tear down and rebuild – which is out great fortune today. The body of this building dates to circa 1800, when the roof would have been much different. The Victorian additions give buildings like this a regal look, and it was all down without losing much history or money. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Victorianized buildings”
I have this enchanting oil on canvas of my great-great-great grandmother Caroline Poincignon Trouche, painted by her husband Auguste circa 1830. He was a gifted Charleston artist well-known for the realistic qualities of his work, and in her eyes there is a tangible look of the love, dignity and compassion for which she was known. They were married at St. Mary’s Church in 1826, and lived on Church Street in the old city. She was gifted in music, and his work survives in famed paintings featured at the Gibbes Museum of Art. Both were second-generation French immigrants, and I have composed a poem below her photograph in the language she grew up speaking to honor her on Mother’s Day.
Le doux visage de notre matrone de famille,
qui nous savons d’huile sur toile.
Vit encore dans sa lignée aujourd’hui,
avec nous toujours comme la caresse d’un voile.