Handsome Hues

One of the most noteworthy aspects of scenic #Charleston is the palette of dazzling colors found throughout the historic city. Shades of orange, raspberry, blue, mustard, green, canary and more are displayed on numerous facades all over town, and I explain how coloring methods changed over the years on my walking tours.. Although coloring buildings was popular going back to ancient times, these were typically basic earth tones derived from iron oxides. By the late 18th century, color schemes changed dramatically with new methods of creating pigments, and became a popular feature of the Adam style the swept America by the early 1800’s. Scottish historical architects Robert and James Adam fostered new methods of brightening and beautifying building interiors with such concepts as full-length windows and massive plaster ceiling medallions, but also promoted vibrant colors inside and out to show off the structure. Many of the old colors faded in Charleston for years after the Civil War, but as the restoration movement boomed in the late 20th century, the famed former pigments became all the rage again, and today, Charleston offers one of the most colorful streetscapes of any city in the world. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Historic Building Colors”

Battery Basics

This 19th century painting shows the area known in #Charleston as the High Battery. I take my group walking tours here everyday, and explain that the area was mostly marshes and sand flats facing Charleston Harbor in the early days of the city. A Charleston dredging project in the 1830’s filled waterfront areas to create lots for the houses now known as Battery Row, but it wasn’t until the raised sea wall promenade was finished in 1854 that the are became free of constant tidal action. The name originally came from an historic cannon battery that was located at this spot in the early years of the city, and the quarter-mile walkway was built about 14 feet above low tide, which added the “high”. In fact, the painting is incorrect in that the sea wall is substantially higher than the lots behind it. The area just inside the High Battery was a carriageway for nearly 70 years, and now is a roadway for a steady stream of driving sightseeing visitors. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”High Battery”

Joyous Jessamine

One of the pleasant hues bursting forth in #Charleston this time of year is our state flower, Gelsemium Sempervirens, better known as Yellow Jessamine or Carolina Jasmine. It is a vine that we see most often on my walking tours adorning a gate, wall, or other plants with larger trunks, and some large trees become very decorative with its golden yellow trumpet-shaped blooms. The flower is a good source of nectar for native insects, but the leaves and stem can be toxic to humans, so it is better observed than anything else. So many of the colorful plants in bloom in late winter here in Charleston are not native, such as Camellia Japonica, Indica Azalea, and Loropetalum Chinense, which, as their Latin names suggest are Asian in origin. So it is always a welcome sight to see the state bloom as a reminder of our colorful gardening past.

Painting Perfection?

On my walking tours of historic #Charleston, SC, I often take groups past 8 Legare Street, where I grew up. Although the house is no longer owned by my family, it does have lots of family memories, such as in the picture I show people of my brothers and me from long. long ago. My mother was a very frugal women, and did not hire contractors when she had five sons to do the job. Here we are painting the stucco wall in front of the house back when I was about 10 years old, and that’s me with the hat in the foreground doing my best Tom Sawyer imitation. Needless to say, more of the paint went on us, the sidewalk, and any other kids passing by than on the wall itself, but it is one of those cherished memories of growing up in old Charleston.  <img.src=”Charleston Memories” alt=”Boyhood Chores”

Bending Bricks

I am often asked on the walking tour of historic #Charleston, SC, as to what the large pillars adorning so many grand buildings are made of. And when I explain that in most cases, they are brick covered with stucco, I am often asked how could historic artisans create the rounded circumference of the pillar with bricks that are typically rectangular. The answer is the shape in which they were molded into casts. By creating wedge shapes, the bricks can be laid in a rounded face, and pillars could also be tapered by making the molds slightly smaller. This method dates back to the ancient Greeks, who tapered brick and stucco columns to create an optical illusion that the roof line of the building was farther away, and you can see this technique applied throughout historic buildings in our scenic city everyday.  <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”rounding bricks”

Taft Tale

We typically pass by this 18th century row house on my walking tour of historic #Charleston, and I enjoy telling visitors the story about a former resident of the building, Helen Taft. She was wife of President William Howard Taft, and went by the nickname “Nellie”. The couple came to Charleston on several occasions in the early 1900’s, and became good friends with a number of local citizens. After her husband’s death in 1930, Nellie briefly lived in Charleston at this residence on Tradd Street. She and her husband had been know for lavish social events before and during the era of Prohibition, and taking a drink was very much in the Taft protocol regardless of the law of the land. The story related to me by an older man whose parents were part of the Taft inner circle here in Charleston was that when she had a dinner party during the Prohibition years, she would simply call down to the Charleston police headquarters and tell the sergeant how many cases of confiscated bootleg whiskey she needed and they would send police cars to the house with boxes full. Here’s to you, Nellie! <img.src=”Charleston Folklore” alt=”Mrs. Taft’s Tippling”

Heckled Hext

The Hext tenement on Tradd Street has one of the great ironic histories here in #Charleston. The 18th century two house that we often pass on the Charleston Footprints Walking Tour has been beautifully restored and its grounds exquisitely manicured, and passing crowds are very impressed and take pictures of the building out of the inherent attraction it seems to convey. What a startling contrast to passing crowds in 1765. That was the year the Stamp Act was passed by British Parliament placing a tax on anything made of paper in the American colonies. To each colony, the British sent boxes of stamps that would be affixed to taxed items, as well as assigning local tax collector to oversee the process. The collector in Charleston was George Saxby, and his residence was at the Hext tenement. And after a series of events that led to mass protest and calls for independence, a crowd of Charleston residents marched on Saxby’s house and ransacked the building looking for him and the stamps, neither of which were there. How ironic that a building so reviled then is considered to be so esteemed today. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Hext tenement and the Stamp Act”

Scintillating Symmetry

The gardens of historic #Charleston are blooming this time of year with the fabulous blooms of the Camellia Japonica, and each day on the Charleston Footprints Walking Tour, we pass by the natural beauty throughout this scenic city. This asian shrub was introduced to America by French botanist Andre Michaux here in Charleston in 1786, and has been a winter favorite ever since. What is striking about camellias blooms besides color is their noticeable symmetry in the growth of the petals. The exactness of the growing blooms in relation to each other has been described as part of the “golden ratio” so cherished by the ancient Greeks in their architecture, and so evident throughout nature. Look at sea shells, pine cones, flower petals and even hurricanes, and the spiral shape is in the same proportion in each succeeding layer from the inner core. This is replicated throughout Greek architecture with similar proportions in height, width, and details of buildings. The Greeks considered this the perfect ratio in the shape of any object, and that perfection recreates itself in Charleston every year.  <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”The Golden Ratio”

Lost Light

One of the most intriguing stories in historic #Charleston is that of the Morris Island Lighthouse, built in 1876. The 161-foot lighthouse was decommissioned in 1962, but has stood, remarkably, against tides and winds ever since. As land eroded around the lighthouse, it became surrounded by water at high tide, and fears that it might collapse led to a “save the light” movement that has bolstered its base. The great irony here is that there is no light to save. The Morris Island light had been equipped with a Fresnel Lens, invented by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel in the early 1800’s. The unique feature of the lens is that it uses vast layers of glass crystals in a myriad of layers to both reflect and refract light, a principle known as catadiotropic, and could capture more light from a light source in order to project it farther, in this case about 20 miles. The lens installed at Morris Island stands nearly 8 feet high and weighs well over a ton, but it doesn’t stand on Morris Island. Years after the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1962, and erosion seems to make its collapse imminent, the big lens was extracted and moved to the 1875 Hunting Island Lighthouse near Beaufort, which is the only lighthouse open to the public in South Carolina today. Fortunately, visitors don’t have to scale it’s 167 steps to see the sense, which stands just inside the ground floor entrance. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Morris Island Lighthouse”

Roman Relic

The striking architecture of Market Hall is one of the best-known and least-understood in historic #Charleston. The building was opened in 1841, and designed by the prolific Charleston-born architect and engineer, Edward Brickell White. The 1840’s in America was a time of when architecture was greatly influenced by ancient Greek and Roman concepts, and Market Hall is strictly Roman in nature. Its dramatic portico is the four-columned “tetra” style favored by Romans, the columns are plain Tuscan, and the area behind the columns, the proneos, is the exact width of the cella, or building facade, also in keeping with ancient Rome. The ornate frieze below the roof eaves is the most misunderstood and incorrectly-explained part of the building. Tourists are repeatedly told that the images of ram and ox heads were there to show slaves that the building was a meat market. Well, the slaves, free blacks and everyone else knew where the meat market was, in the sheds behind the big building, where fish and vegetables were also sold. No, the frieze images are examples of bucrania, which is Latin for ox skull. Such images were commonly found on ancient Roman temples, where oxen and other animals were sacrificed to the gods. Market Hall is in effect, a replica of an ancient Roman temple, whose style has long been misrepresented and misunderstood. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Market Hall”