Lots of people who make a trip to visit historic Charleston are interested in seeing Civil War sites. We do have harbor forts that are very popular, but one fascinating structure that most don’t know about is the old District Jail on Magazine Street. Built back in the early 1800’s to resemble a towering castle, the imposing structure has a long history of suffering prisoners. In 1864, in the last stages of the Civil War when Confederate prison camps were being threatened by invading northern troops, hundreds of Federal prisoners were sent by train to Charleston and kept at the old district jail. There were so many that there wasn’t room for them in the structure, and many camped in tents outside.
Many tourists visiting Charleston are fascinated by the city’s extensive maritime history, and some of the best things to do is some kind of boat trip in Charleston harbor. From 1740 to 1773, there were more than 300 ships built in local shipyards, most of them 20 tons or less. The most popular designs were schooners and sloops, whose “fore and aft” rigging was more practical than square-rigged to allow more maneuverability along the coast and in rivers. There were some larger brigantines built that combines fore-and aft with square rigging, and numerous plantation barges that carried goods to remote coastal areas. The age of steam ships and railroads in the 1800’s essentially brought local shipbuilding to an end, but there is one place where you can still find some of these colonial vessels, but you’ll need scuba gear – along the Cooper River Underwater Heritage Trail, where a number of small ships and boats are marked with plaques on the bottom where they eventually came to rest. By the way, the most complete and best illustrated study of shipping in Charleston is Priestley Coker’s “Charleston’s Maritime Heritage – 1670-1865”.
I wanted to devote this post to the captivating color found throughout Charleston in its architecture, gardens, wildlife, and landscapes. Aesthetic beauty has both an inspiring and a calming effect, and the opportunity to immerse ourselves in this picturesque palette perhaps explains the traditional unhurried nature of Charlestonians, compelling so many to visit and embrace the abundance on display each day, while inspiring one of our own known for visual portrayals of the city to say long ago, “The slower measure which we tread has brought many to visit us who have run the race too rapidly.” Visitors can find this on every street and every blocks of the historic city, as wonderful courtyards and gardens show you the hue that has made us such a destination.
The streetcar on rails was a common sight in Charleston years ago. The first streetcar company opened in 1861, but things didn’t get rolling until 18 miles of track was laid in larger streets by 1866, and passengers could climb aboard vehicles that were pulled by horse or the occasional mule. A number of groups got in the act, such as the Charleston & Seashore Railroad company that carried passengers from ferry landings in Mount Pleasant to Sullivan’s Island, and the stops along the way gave the island the “station” names it still has today. The term trolley wasn’t used until cars were electrified in 1897, but were better known to Charlestonians as “iron donkeys”. They were propelled by current from overhead wires that the car could attach to with a boom, and there were many instances of startled horse carts from the snapping sparks on the wires. In 1910, the new Charleston Consolidated Railway and Lighting Company extended lines for picnics at Magnolia Cemetery, any by 1910 there were 40 miles of trolley tracks, which on wider streets such as Broad and Meeting, there were two sets going in either direction, and at the end of the line, a turning loop to swing around. Each car typically had a brakeman, who controlled speed and stops, and a conductor who took tickets, which in 1910 cost 7 cents.