Scenic Streets

Orange Street gets its name from an 18th century Orange Grove that existed there, and from which oranges were grown for export until a hard winter in the 1740’s killed most of  the trees and the land was sold as lots where houses are now. The well-drained, sand and clay soil is still ideal for growing, and the street is typical of #HistoricCharleston with his palate of colors from a variety of native and imported plants and trees. We often go down Orange Street on the tour, and visitors marvel at the combination of natural and manmade beauty. <img src=”Orange Street” alt=”Charleston Gardens”>

Charleston Skyline

The People’s Bank Building, completed in 1911, was part of the effort by Charleston Mayor Robert Goodwyn Rhett to bring the old city into a new modern century with its first high-rise office building. The 8-story, 121-foot edifice was distinguished by its yellow Stoney Landing Brick and an overhanging cornice that was damaged by hurricane in 1938 and removed. But despite Goodwyn’s intentions, the modern building was considered an eyesore, and was one of the reasons this part of the city has height restrictions today. Charleston is divided into height zones, and this part of the city is designated 55/30, meaning nothing can be built higher than 55 feet and nothing lower than 30 feet to prevent such changes to the historic skyline. <img src=”People’s Building” alt=”Charleston Architecture”>

Historic Charleston Hall

What opened in 1801 at a Bank of the Unites States, became Charleston’s City Hall in 1818, and in the main second story hall there are still teller’s windows. Inscribed in the marble floor is the city seal, which includes the Latin “Civitatis Regimine Donata” meaning Given to the City Government. There are paintings of the building done before the Civil War showing that a fire-red brick facade that was eventually stuccoed over for the ivory look it has today. Among the famous figures who spoke from its front steps were U.S. President James Monroe, the Marquis de Lafayette and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Tourists see the famous building on each my tours. <img src=”City Hall Charleston” alt=”Historic Buildings”>

Clay Crown

A still common sight in old #Charleston is the clay tile roof, which has been in vogue since the origins of the city in the 17th century. Clay is abundant in the Charleston area, and easily fashioned into bricks or tiles by baking in kilns. Clay is made up of natural compounds silica and alumina, as well as various amounts of water. The clay in Charleston’s coast plain is well-saturated with water, which gives the clay a very low thermal conductivity. With clay tiles, the double advantage is that heat does not pass through as easily, keeping houses cooler from scorching Summer sun outside, and in the Winter, retaining heat inside. The raised edges and depressed interior of the tiles, called cap and pan style, also serves to facilitate air flow in the cap and water run-off down the pan. This is the #PinkHouseTavern in the #French Quarter. <img src=”Clay Tile Roof” alt=”Pink House Tavern”>

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. We start my walking tour in the shadow of this bell tower.

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.

Spiral Stair Mystery

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Some nice folks on my tour told me about the Loretto Chapel in Sante Fe that is built in the similar cantilevered style of the famous staircase at the #Nathaniel Russell House at 51 Meeting Street. The Loretto chapel was built in 1878, after Catholic nuns asked for help in building a passageway from their chapel to a choir area 22 feet above. They apparently prayed for help to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, and had their prayer answered by an anonymous builder, who fashioned the magnificent staircase to spiral upward in elliptical shape without any supporting wall.

How interesting that the 3-story staircase at the Russell house also goes up without any support, and the carpenter is also unknown. Even more intriguing is that the Russell house also became home to nuns in 1870, when the Sisters of Charity of Our lady of Mercy moved in and turned the house into a convent academy for young girls .<img src=”Russell House” alt=”Historic Charleston”>

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 and the ships disappeared. 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 is a Classic Revival structure that 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 Civil War.

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.