Angelic Adornment

One of the most interesting interiors in historic #Charleston is that of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church on Hasell Street. Although the church is named after the Biblical story of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to announce that she would mother the Messiah, it’s most noticeable painted image is that of another biblical concept of the Assumption – when at Mary’s death, angels took her body to heaven. The scene of the Assumption was painted on the church ceiling after the building was completed in 1839, and according to church records was rendered by Italian artist Caesare Porte. The church is filled with remarkable painted images and has been my family’s church since it was completed. I spent many a Sunday morning in our family pew as a child, looking up at Mary surrounded by the angels’ faces, and in my youth always wondered if she were up there looking down at me.  <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”St. Mary’s Church”

Memorable Memorials

I typically take the walking tour into at least on of the historic #Charleston graveyards. Visitors to Charleston are usually very interested by the variety of unusual burial markers that often have a story of their own. This stone is from the Circular Congregational Church, which has the oldest grave markers found in the city, with some dating to the 1690’s. Fortunately for posterity, the style then was to carve images and memorials in slate, which has proven to be the most durable of all burial materials. Because the slate and the slate carvers where largely from New England, such as William Codner of Boston, whose signature can be found on slates in this church graveyard. The procedure was to mail an epitaph to an artisan like Codner, and have the stone delivered with the finished wording and symbols. Some of the old spelling is interesting, as well as images such as this skull with wings, a “soul effigy” representing the immortal memory of the departed Mrs. Peronneau. Unusual images were common including fallen trees, broken flowers and sunken ships suggesting lives cut short <img.src=”Charleston Folklore” alt=”Graveyard markers”

Amazing Azaleas

There is probably no image that better captures historic #Charleston, SC than that of blooming azaleas in the Spring. This native of India (Indica Azalea) is a member of the Rhododendron Family, and was not planted in landscape settings until 1843. Rev. John Grimke Drayton had inherited Magnolia Plantation before the Civil War, and turned its former rice fields into lush gardens. His prized showcase bloom was the azalea, so radiant with its creamy whites and blazing pinks and reds on star-shaped petals. I take my walking tours past numerous public and private displays of azaleas, which grow best under the canopy of larger trees, benefitting from mottled sunlight. The shrubs can easily grow as high as six feet, and seem to explode with vibrant color this time of year.  <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Azalea Flowers”

Staggered Steeple

The 200-foot steeple of St. Philip’s Anglican Church has endured natural and man-made assaults on its structural integrity. It is one of the most remarkable buildings in a city known for its classical architecture, and I often take my walking tour visitors inside the famous historic church. The biggest stress came from the 1886 earthquake, when tremors estimated at 7.3 on the (later invented) Richter scale caused the edifice great damage and the fear was that it would soon collapse. The entire portico section Church Street disintegrated into the street, and massive wooden beams propped up the steeple until missing sections could be rebuilt. All was well until the 1990’s when a public parking garage was built down the street, and heavy piling caused the steeple to crack and list once more. Modern engineers came in in 1996 and reinforced the steeple, as well as adding replacement bells for those that were donated to the Confederacy for melting down as cannon during the Civil War. So today, the grand old 1840’s-era steeple stands strong over the historic city.

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”