Historic Heightening

On my walking tours of historic #Charleston, I have recently been taking visitors past this 1830’s house on Water Street, where a very unusual transformation is currently taking place. The house was built in a low elevation area that was filled from Vandrhorst Creek, that once flowed from Charleston Harbor inland to the center of the city peninsula. Like many older Charleston structures built in former wetlands, the old house has suffered from flooding when high tides and heavy rain cause the old creek to become wet all over again. The current owners decided enough was enough, and are having the historic house raised 8 feet. To do this, the structure ‘s foundation was exposed, and contractors found that the old house had been built on a “raft” – a matrix of cypress and cedar planks beneath the ground above the water table, intended to keep it from sinking into the soft ground. The raft was built in layers, and is several feet thick, requiring augers to cut holes through for 75 cylindrical steel supports that will be cork-screwed down eighty feet to the hard clay marl. The grand old house will soon have a new life higher above the street and any flooding waters, and will be a landmark for the fascinating ingenuity used to build in the colonial and antebellum eras. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”House Raising”

Absent Architecture

On my walking tours of historic #Charleston, we usually pass the First Scot Presbyterian Church on Meeting Street, which was consecrated in 1814, making it the fifth oldest in the peninsular city. What is striking about the church is what it is missing, as is the case of the three famous Charleston churches designed by Scottish brothers James and John Gordon – First Scots, 2nd Presbyterian Church (1811) and the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul (1816). None of the three has a true steeple, and are capped instead with bell towers without a spire. The Gordon brothers were master builders, but were not trained in architecture, and did not have the skills to design a towering steeple. It’s not a bad look, these bell towers, and all three churches are handsome and historic, but none pierces the sky as well as so many other steeples in our famous “Holy City”. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”First Scots Church”

Gargantuan Gateway

The towering outline of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge enthralls those who enter the city of #Charleston on this route across the Cooper River. Completed in 2005 five, the 3-mile long cable-stay bridge stands as a remarkable achievement in engineering efficiency and aesthetic appeal. The huge twin tower stand 575 feet high, with a road span over the main harbor channel extending more than 1500 feet. Beneath the bridge, ships also enter the port city, including giant container vessels more than 1200 feet long. The panoramic view from the walking and biking lanes high over fabled Charleston Harbor is one of the most impressive in a city know for its scenic charm, and I recommend that anyone who visits Charleston should take a few hours to walk the bridge. The easiest way is to drive or take the water taxi to Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, and walk the highest portion of the bridge over the Cooper, then return without crossing all the way to the Charleston peninsula. It’s a very rewarding walk that will generate some aerobic exercise as well. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”The Arthur Ravenel Bridge”

Picturesque Protection

With the coming of the Fall season in coastal #South Carolina, we see the city of Charleston come alive with fluttering wings. Butterflies of various species abound this time of year – Fritillaries, Sulphurs, Swallowtails and Monarchs – showing off their truly amazing colors that serve a special purpose that is nature’s way of perpetuating the species. Not only do the bright colors attract male and female butterflies to join bodies in mating, the patterns on the scaly wings warn off potential predators. Features on the wings that look much like eyes or claws send a signal to birds and other predators that the fluttering wings are a potential danger, and amazingly, these delicate creatures are mostly left alone to probe flowers for nectar and offer us a dazzling Autumn show. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Butterfly wing patterns”

Lantern Longevity

On my walking tours of scenic and historic #Charleston, we often enter St. Michael’s Anglican Church. The structure is the oldest house of worship in the “Holy City” and whose 186 foot steeple is a wondrous sight day or night. This classic Palladian-style steeple has all the correct vertical parts of its English forerunners – a tower, a belfry, a clock, a lantern and a spire. At night, visitors to the city can see a more dramatic representation of the storied lantern look, and it was lights like this that were lit 24 hours a day in historic times to provide a beacon to overlook the city as well as a guiding point for ships entering Charleston Harbor. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Steeple Lantern”

Classic Crossing

The oldest functioning bridge in the city of #Charleston is the Ashley River Memorial Bridge, completed in 1922 in honor of local veterans who fought in World War I. The Ashley had been spanned as earlier as 1807, but its early bridges had lots of bad luck, with the initial bridge burned during the Civil War, and an 1880’s replacement that was struck by boats so many times, the Corps of Engineers listed it as a hazard to navigation. The 1922 bridge was the first really modern bridge in Charleston, with bascules that could be raised for ships to pass, a much better arrangement than its swing bridge predecessor. But alas, the new bridge continued the bad luck tradition, and was struck by a ship in 1956, twisting the west bascule so badly that it took weeks before it could be lowered and the bridge reopened for traffic. These days, I prefer boating beneath the old structure rather than driving across – it still has the classic look of the tower cupolas, and it seems safer from the water. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Ashley River Memorial Bridge”

Seriously Social

On our walking tour of historic #Charleston, SC, I typically take guests past local sites that are home to some of the city’s most traditional societies, such as the plaque pictured, which is on Chalmers Street. The Deutsche Freundlische Gesellschaft, known in English as the German Friendly Society, was created in 1766, as most societies in the city, to help those in need. German immigrants had flocked to Charleston in the colonial period to escape hardship and wars in Europe, but many came with little more than the clothes on their backs, so other Germans were very willing to help as “friends” to the immigrants. Over the years, the society has become largely social in nature, with festive events and meetings, but still provides help for the indigent. <img.src=”Charleston Culture” alt=”The German Friendly Society”

Celebrated Ceramics

In the early colonial period here in #Charleston, fine earthenware and porcelain ceramics were largely imported from England, where skilled artisans had perfected the dazzling plates, bowls, cups and saucers that adorned the fine homes. But as Charleston grew and became a source of great wealth, it attracted artisans to immigrate and establish the Holy City as a home for such skills as well. The soil strata beneath our coastal city is abundant with clays of varying types which proved ideal for casting into decorative shapes. With the advent of slip-casting molds by the 19th century, as well as new techniques in coloring glazes with tin ash and other compounds, Charleston’s earthenware became highly sought after. Classic patterns included the very popular Chinoiserie motifs that are still eye-catching today, and one of the best selections can be found at the Shops of Historic Charleston Foundation at both the City Market and 108 Meeting Street, where I begin my walking tour. <img.src=”Charleston Furnishings” alt=”Elegant Earthenware”