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 Civil War, 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  totally filled.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


St. Michael’s and St.Philip’s congregations have returned to the Anglican fold, along with the historic Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul, one of the most interesting structures on the Charleston peninsula. Consecrated as St. Paul’s Church in 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. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt= “Planters Church”

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, which is prohibited under Section 1 of the US Constitution.

“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.”

We Worship Washington

IMG_2485The shadow of George Washington still looms in grand fashion over historic   Charleston. The first Washington presence in the city was actually George’s cousin William, who came to South Carolina to fight the British during the Revolution. William was crucial to the victory here, and fell in love with Charlestonian Jane Elliott, whom he married and lived here happily after the war. George made his visit here in May of 1791, on his tour of Southern states after his election. Charleston adored George, but George was less impressed with Charleston’s streets, and mentioned in his diary that the thoroughfares here were “like sand”. Washington was feted at the Old Exchange, where he was seated between local ladies known for their whit and good looks, and apparently the father of our country held his own with charm and intelligence to match his military record.

Today, we have #Washington Square, aka Washington Park, which the statue in the picture dominates, and which we see each day on the Charleston Footprints Tour. We also have a Washington Street near the waterfront, and the Village of Washington, a post-Revolutionary suburb near Hampton Park. One of Charleston’s most fabled organizations is the Washington Light Infantry, a military unit established in 1807, which has fought with distinction both for and against the United States, and whose towering obelisk is the central focus of Washington Square.

On President’s day here in Charleston, we tend to favor the great George, a fellow-Southerner who won our respect and our hearts, as well as helping win our liberty. <img src=”Statue George Washington” alt=” Charleston SC”>

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.