Visitors to Charleston who join my walking tours of the historic city are enjoying the first blooms of the Magnolia Grandiflora, or Southern Magnolia. These grand trees add greatly to scenic gardens and houses around our coastal city, and the blooms have a subtle, but distinctive aroma reminiscent of linen. The big white blooms are often used as centerpieces in historic houses, featuring their large, puffy white petals and colorful interior carpels. It is a wonderful experience to press the face into a fresh Magnolia bloom and enjoy its fresh fragrance.
Here is a visitor who came into my garden today, our state butterfly, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The species is common throughout the Southeast, and is one of the most eye-catching butterflies, not only because of its vibrant color, but the fact that it is typically much larger than most other butterflies that live in or migrate through this area. This particular creature had a wing span of nearly 6 inches, and when it first flew past my face, I though it was a bird. They love the plant Lantana, which does very well in gardens around Charleston.
I take my walking tours down to scenic White Point Garden, where we get to see the Keokuk gun on display – a cannon that fought for both sides during the Civil War. The gun was aboard the US warship Keokuk firing at Charleston’s defenders in Fort Sumter when it was sunk by cannon fire and sank in shallow water with its gun turrets exposed. Charleston engineers pried open the turrets and retrieved the gun, mounting it to fire back on the fleet it with which it came.
Touring by walking in scenic, historic Charleston SC is a wonderful thing for visitors to do who want the best experience during their stay. This architecture-rich, waterfront city blends the beauty of the pristine South Carolina coast with the amazing character of a storied past. Now that we are officially in Spring, blooms will be bursting forth in gardens and landscapes all around the city, adding an eye-pleasing luster to wrought iron gates, classic steeples, charming parks, cobblestone streets and moss-covered oaks.
People who visit historic Charleston are often told things that simply are not true, such as the oft-repeated story about 27 East Battery. People are told that it’s called “The Compromise House”, with the explanation that the alternating squared and rounded details were agreed to by a couple living there as a compromise because “he wanted square and she wanted round”. That is pure nonsense. There are other houses in Charleston with very similar contrasting Renaissance Revival details, such as over at 68 Meeting Street, which also features that alternating squared and rounded look. Neither house had these built originally, by the way, as in both cases, the details were Victorian-era additions.
I have written two books about Charleston – The Charm of Charleston and Charleston, Yesterday and Today – which include the history, architecture, legends, gardens and gates, and wildlife that are unique to this city. Both are coffee table books with plenty of pictures and illustrations from past and present. A good place to find them is the Historic Charleston Foundation gift shop at 108 Meeting Street where I begin my walking tours.
This is the old central police station at Vanderhorst and St. Philip streets was built in 1905 in a castellated style to appear more imposing to those who saw it. In truth, the city police department was understaffed in the early 1900’s, and a big, scary police station perhaps made up for the lack of real authority. According to reliable stories from old-timers now dead, the station was notorious for the storage and resale of confiscated alcohol during prohibition. The city yearbooks say that many gallons were “flushed down the drains” of the station, when it was common knowledge that much of the stuff went out the back door. The building was demolished after the police station was moved to it current location in 1974.
Charleston was among ports all over the South subject to a Federal military blockade during the Civil War to cut off supplies to the Confederate forces. The South countered with elusive ships built to be difficult to see, hear or catch, that took out supplies of cotton overseas and returned with munitions, medicines and food. Despite dozens of warships guarding Charleston harbor day and night, thousands of blockade-running voyages got through, right up until the last day of the war.
Harnessing wind energy is nothing new in Charleston, and it began here literally as a Dutch treat. Timber was a big industry in colonial Charleston, but the hand-powered saw pits made for slow, grueling work. Coastal sea breezes were a potential source of power, but finding a way to tap into it meant seeking help from 4500 miles away. Dutch windmill engineers were first hired and sailed to Charleston in 1713 to build a wind sawmill at the foot of the peninsula, and in the ensuing years, skilled artisans such as Jonathan Lucas and David Cannon copied the intricate technology, as a number of wind sawmills and wind rice mills cropped up along the coast by the turn of the 19th century.
Some visitors to Charleston are being told that the stone blocks they often see on historic sidewalks were for selling slaves. This is absolutely not true. These are mounting blocks, which equestrians have used for centuries to get astride a high horse. They were also known as “upping stones” and the Charleston newspapers throughout the 1700’s and 1800’s feature advertisements by stone cutters such as Robert Givan, who made his from sandstone, which is easily shaped. All of the pictures below are historic mounting blocks found in Northern cities, including one in front of a church, so the slave sale narrative is easily contradicted. Riders still use stone blocks to mount, so the blocks can still serve a purpose. Real slave sales long ago typically involved a higher platform made of wood, and although there are images of them in places such as the Old Slave Mart Museum on Chalmers Street, I doubt that any still exist.