Salty Surface

I often get questions by guest on my walking tours about some of the discoloration in the stucco walls of historic buildings here in Charleston. Stucco is a mixture of sand and calcium hydroxide, the latter substance being essentially salt. This allows the stucco to breathe so as not to trap moisture under the wall surface, but can cause problems if there are cracks in the stucco. Exposed crystals of calcium hydroxide will either rect with carbon dioxide from the outside air or dissolve with intruding rain water to form calcium carbonate that creates a discoloration usually in the form of patches and streaks – what is known as efflorescence. Calcium carbonate is not soluble in water, so it will not contribute to any further damage, but just give the stucco exterior a mottled look as in the image below of the old Charleston District Jail. In this case, the salt and sand stucco having worn off over the years has allowed the efflorescence to intrude.

Perfect Pane

When I lead guests on my walking tours, I try to emphasize the visual detail of historic buildings in #Charleston as a clue to either how old they are or what they were used for. And with so much detail in some of the older buildings, sometimes obvious things go unnoticed, such as the differing types of windows. As Charleston was growing in the 1700’s, the double-hung window became a very popular way of lighting up a structure. But because glass at that time what still made by hand, window panes could not be made with any great size or strength, and it was the structure of the muntins that held the glass that gave a window its durability and look. A dead give-away of a pre-1800 structure are the 9 over 9(pane) and 12 over 12 windows, such as this 18th century house on Broad Street. It wasn’t until the advent of rolled glass panes by the 1820’s that bigger and stronger panes emerged, and led to larger windows that were often built floor-to-ceiling to add significantly more light. So I recommend to anyone touring Charleston, observe the number of window panes, and you will likely know from what era the house originates. Modern glass makers are quite capable of reproducing the look of old crown glass, so it is very hard from the sidewalk to tell what is old and what is not. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Nine Over Nine Windows”

Colorful Contribution

One of the classic images each Christmas is the decorative red glow of the Poinsettia, named for #Charleston native Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett, who was well-educated and multi-lingual, was a diplomat by trade who served under several presidents as envoy or ambassador to foreign countries such as Russia, Chile and Mexico. He was also an avid botanist, and at his home in Charleston, he cultivated a variety of plants and trees in what became known as Poinsett’s Grove. While serving as ambassador to Mexico in the 1820’s, he became infatuated with the fiery-colored plant known scientifically as euphorbia pulcherrima, and brought samples back to cultivate in Charleston. The plant was eventually named for Poinsett, and is widely-used as a Christmas decoration today. One other lesser-known Christmas contribution from Poinsett was the fact that he almost single-handedly prevented an American Civil War in December of 1832, when South Carolina was threatening to nullify federal tariffs. It seemed that the state and the Federal government were headed for a military conflict until Poinsett used his connections with the nullifiers and President Andrew Jackson to help create a compromise.  <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”The Poinsettia”

Limited Lockup

People who visit our historic and scenic city often enjoy wandering through narrow alleys and passageways, of which there are several that we see along my walking tours of #Charleston. Among these are Stoll’s Alley, Four Post Alley and the “close” leading from Ropemaker’s Lane to Church Street (pictured here). What is interesting about them, besides their picturesque charm, is that all were initially private property that the public used frequently to walk from one area to another. South Carolina, like many states, has a unique law that states if the public uses a passageway on a regular basis for more than a year without that passage being locked, that it becomes public property. Stoll’s Alley is such a case, and this former private passageway is now public. But at Four Post Alley and the close at Ropermaker’s Lane, owners still lock the gate once each year to keep it in private hands. What is so ironic about locking the gate pictured is that pedestrians can simply walk around it and down the close, yet the formality of locking the gate technically assures it remains private. <img.src=”Charleston Alleys” alt=”Locked Passageways”