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 that we see each day on my walking tour.

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.

The Real Stag Story

IMG_2566The Stag Window at 73 Rutledge has been the subject of many stories over the years in fabled #Charleston, and an image that has so long been attributed to a local family name, actually has its origins in Hartford, Connecticut.

The house stands at the corner of Rutledge and Wentworth streets, and for years was the unfortunate target of wayward drivers speeding too fast down the formerly one-way thoroughfare. Now that the lanes have been made two-way, the old house is safe from cars, but not from misinformation.

Remodeled in the 1890’s by Charleston businessman Isaac W. Hirsch, the house has Victorian features, such as its stained glass windows. Because the German name Hirsch means “stag”, it has been logical to assume that Mr. Hirsch installed the window, but, after doing some interesting research, I find that Mr. Hirsch had nothing to do with it.

The house had been built in the 1850’s by another Charleston businessman, William Whilden, who was an insurance broker who represented The Hartford Insurance Company. In 1875, The Hartford established as its symbol a 10-point buck taken from a painting called “The Monarch of the Glen”, modifying it in 1890. A quick comparison of the latter version and the 73 Rutledge window are a perfect match.

So the truth is, Mr. Whilden, who didn’t sell the house until 1893. put the window in as a symbol of the company he represented here in Charleston.<img src=”famous houses” alt=”Stained Glass”>

Cannonball Showcase

IMG_2472It’s not unusual to see cannonballs and other ordnance decorating Charleston locations, because there is certainly more where that came from. The city has twice been subjected to bombardment from besieging troops – in 1780 by the British, and from 1863-65 by Federal troops in the #Civil War. Contrary to the popular conception that these balls, shot and shells were fired into the city by ships, by far the largest amount came from land-based guns. Ship cannons in historic times rarely had the ability to be angled high enough to fired great distances, whereas land guns could easily be set at a trajectory that allowed great range. The British did fire into the city from ships that came very close to the peninsula, but they also used guns placed at land approaches to a city they had surrounded by 1780. Some of the British guns were placed West of the Ashley River, about were the neighborhood of Moreland is today, and launched both explosive balls and solid shot at patriot fortifications. Just last year, a 22-pound solid ball was unearthed on Savage Street, which would have been the western line of American defenses during the Revolution.

More common and plentiful were the bullet-shaped explosive shells of the Federal guns mounted on and around Morris Island. These huge rifled cannons, called Parrott Rifles,  could fire 200-pound projectiles in excess of 3 miles, and also included rounds mixed with pitch and tar to ignite fires. One single gun near Cummings Point fired 4606 shells into Charleston in the Fall of 1863 before its muzzle exploded, and estimated are as high as 22,000 rounds fired by Northern troops at Charleston. Some folks have dug these up, and the proper procedure is to call in the Air Force Base Bomb Squad, as the black powder inside still may be dangerous. However, as much as Charlesonians like their artifacts, many are willing to disarm the shells themselves, and a certain prominent attorney who lives on Tradd Street still displays a 200-pound Parrott shell in his hallway that was dug up by a contractor, who simply sat the shell in a garbage can full of water for several days to assure it was defused. <img src=”Civil War” alt=”Historic Charleston”>

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. I often take visitors there on the walking tours.

Behold The Balcony

Many of historic Charleston’s most picturesque balconies are additions to houses that had been built long before. The corbel-based balcony pictured here was added to this 18th century house as a Italianate detail popular in America in the  mid-19th century. Although we are much better know for the famous “piazzas” that come from earlier Italian architectural details, the balcony is also Italian, at least in name, which comes from the Italian “balcone”, meaning “scaffold”. One of the most interesting stories involving balconies is often told about the cast iron version at 78 Church Street, where George Washington was said to have delivered a speech during his 1791 visit to the city. The story is based on a first-hand account of Washington’s visit, but confuses the location from a reference to his “observing the crowd from a balcony at Church”, (not Church Street).

This was obviously a reference to the open section of St. Michael’s, which is correctly a lantern, not balcony, but would seem the same from that perch above Broad Street, and at a location Washington was known to have visited for services, so a crowd would have surely congregated below.

Oh, one more thing, the decorative cast iron balcony was also not popular in America until the Italianate era, so it was not even there when George was.

Rutledge Avenue Reality

IMG_2206Perhaps the most exquisitely-detailed i exterior in Charleston can be found at the Isaac Jenkins Mikell house on Rutledge Avenue. Built in 1853 by Mikell, and Edisto Island planter, the house at that time overlooked the Ashley River. This period in antebellum Charleston represented the epitome of the city’s architectural elegance, and Mikell chose to build a massive side-hall single house Roman Revival style, not Greek Revival as is commonly stated. Most noteworthy of the details built into the house is the elegant piazza, with its distinctive column capitals decorated with two rows of Acanthus leaves below rams’ heads. This style has been erroneously called “Tower of the Winds”, which it is not. This style of capital is called the Composite Order, and was patterned after the famous Arch of Septimus Severus in Rome. Rams and Bulls were common motifs in Roman architecture, representing animal sacrifices to the gods. The “Tower of the Winds” comes from a Greek motif near the Acropolis in which the capitals feature a row of acanthus leaves below a row of palm leaves.

The gates to the Mikell house were done by the famous German-born ironsmith Christopher Werner, and are some of the most ornate examples of this talented ironsmith, whose work seems to be forgotten in the recent obsession over the ironwork of modern craftsmen.

Certain trends in conveying Charleston’s history are erroneous and need correcting. One is that the Mikell house is Roman Revival with columns featuring the Composite order, and the other is that the house’s gates were done by the Christopher Werner, who, despite the attention paid to others, was most likely the greatest of all Charleston ironsmiths.

Calhoun’s Moving Grave

IMG_2323John C. Calhoun’s grave in St. Philip’s Episcopal Church western cemetery is the source of many a unique historic legend and mystery. Calhoun, who was born in Abbeville, South Carolina, was buried at St. Philip’s in 1850, despite the fact that he was a Calvinist who attended the Huguenot Church when in Charleston.

Calhoun died in Washington DC, and was initially buried there, but was exhumed and returned to Charleston with a grand funeral parade and was buried in the western, or “stranger’s graveyard”, which got its nickname from a 1760’s decision by the congregation to set aside a section for those who died here while on visits or business – because in those days they didn’t ship the bodies home. This adds to the flavor of a curious incident during the Civil War, when Calhoun’s body was exhumed and placed in an unmarked part of the eastern graveyard as a precaution against desecration by Union troops. Known as the “friendly graveyard”,  from the legend that this part is reserved for members of the congregation born in Charleston, the eastern side would only hold Calhoun until after the war, when, again according to legend, it was decided the man from Abbeville should be in with the “strangers”. In the 1880’s, Calhoun’s body was moved again to its current site and the massive monument that bears his name.

In the 1960’s, there was a rumor that Calhoun had been dug up again, this time by a group called STORCH, “striving to return Calhoun home”, who wanted him to join his wife Floride at her grave site in the upstate.     Probes were made and the grave proved to be undisturbed, but poor old John C. Calhoun may not be completely at rest, considering how much fuss has been made over moving and locating his grave.

Poinsettia A Charleston Name

IMG_2330The #Poinsettia that is such a Christmas tradition gets its name from a Charlestonian – Joel Robert Poinsett. He was a Charleston attorney who was very fond of plants and trees, and created a massive garden in the upper peninsula that became known as Poinsett’s Grove. He was apparently a brilliant man who enjoyed the company of great thinkers, and was known for hosting breakfasts, at which ideas were offered and discussed with great scholarly detail. With a reputation as a scholar, a jurist, an elected congressman, and fluent in various languages, Poinsett became a trusted diplomat, and was appointed by President John Quicy Adams as ambassador to the newly-independent Mexico in 1825.

Poinsett was as interested in Mexican plants as politics, and became enamored of the fiery-red blooming shrub known Flor de Fuego, or Fire Flower, as well as Flor de Noche Buena, or the Christmas Eve Flower. He brought the plant back to his grove and cultivated it as a Christmas ornamental flower, and by the 1840’s, it became known as the Poinsettia. It is pronounced “poyn-Setta” for the benefit those TV football commentators who pronounce the Poinsettia Bowl game with an “eeah”.<img src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Historic Charleston”>

Trouche Family Mystery

IMG_2246This painting is, according to family history, a portrait of my great-great-great-great grandfather and his young son. We know the son’s name was Auguste Paul Trouche, and that he lived from 1803-1846, but sadly, there is

complete mystery as to the older Mr. Trouche’s name and life. According to family stories, the Trouche family arrived in Charleston about 1792, as French immigrants fleeing the uprisings in Saint Domingue in the aftermath of the French Revolution. There is no record of anyone in the city by that name until 1806, when the city directory lists a “Madame Trouche” as a refugee. Perhaps she survived the uprising with her infant son, and Mr. Trouche died in Saint Domingue.

Auguste would become a skilled artists, whose work is still displayed in the Gibbes Museum of Art. According to one of the past museum directors, the artistic skill of Auguste was unlikely to have been learned in Charleston at the time, and the style of his oil landscapes on canvas was very much in vogue in early 19th-century Paris.

This makes me wonder whether the family may have been separated by the events in the Caribbean, and that perhaps Auguste and his father returned to France and the younger man came to America later. There is also the possibility that Auguste’s age is recorded wrong, because the painting seems to be late 18th century with Mr. Trouche’s powdered whig. Another peculiar fact is that when Madam Trouche died in 1843, she was 86 years old, which, if Auguste was really born in 1803, means she would have given birth to him when she was 46 years old, which was very unusual in those days, so perhaps he was her grandson.

Quel mystere!

Majestic Manigault House

IMG_2288The Joseph Manigault House stands majestically as one of Charleston’s most fascinating tourist attractions at the corner of Meeting and John streets in the historic Mazyck-Wraggborough neighborhood – a far cry from the house’s situation a century ago.

Completed in 1803 as a “garden villa” overlooking open meadows in the Charleston peninsula “neck”, the grand Adam-style house was an exquisite design completed by local architect Gabriel Manigault for his brother Joseph, a wealthy rice planter.

Distinctive features of the Adam style, also known as Federal style, is the focus on unusual color, which has been meticulously restored in the house,  open for public visitation as part of the Charleston Museum.  Another noteworthy detail is the sense of spaciousness created by a grand central staircase built in elliptical shape.

Like many Charleston houses, the structure fell on hard times after the War Between the States, deteriorating badly as the surrounding area gave way to factories and rail lines. By 1922, the property was sold to the Standard Oil Company, which turned the grounds into a filling station, and the beautiful Gate Temple entrance was converted into a restroom.

The Depression ended the gas station venture, and in 1933, the house faced possible demolition when the Charleston Museum purchased it in a public auction.

During War World Two, it was leased to the federal government as a women’s USO club.

Today, the house is beautifully restored and displayed, with features that include a stunning garden and an opulent interior that still dazzles visitors year after year.