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.”
Hailed once as the tallest building in the world, the Washington monument was the brainchild of a Charlestonian who won fame for designing a lunatic asylum. The Washington Monument was designed in 1836 by Charleston-born architect Robert Mills, who had become nationally-heralded for creating imposing classical structures with innovative fireproof concepts, such as our own Fireproof Building and the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum, both finished in 1827. Mills based his original design on the popularity of Roman and Greek styles that were popular at that time, and his version called for a obelisk with surrounding columns at its base. The original design was altered and completed in 1884.<img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Robert Mills”
On my walking tours of historic Charleston, I like to give visitors information from top to bottom, literally. One of the scenic aspects found in many of the older buildings in the city comes from changes made long after they were built. One such common look is the Mansard roof. The high-hipped style of this rood became very popular in the Victorian era – late 1800’s and early 1900’s. That was a time when many residents of Charleston were cash poor after the Civil War and usually could not afford to build new houses. So what they often did was to add a new detail to the house that was already there, and today you’ll see numerous Mansard roofs on buildings that were built many years before that became stylish. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Mansard Roof”
St. Philip’s is the oldest congregation in the city, but not the oldest structure. The original St. Philip’s church was built in 1680, where St. Michael’s stands today, and after the parish was split in two in 1706, a new St. Philip’s was planned on what is now Church Street. The 1723 structure burned in 1835, and the current church was begun the same year.
The grand interior was designed by architect Joseph Hyde, who replicated the Mannerist style of that English architect James Gibbs featured in St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London. The exception details of plasterer Thomas Weaver and wood-joiner William Axson give the church nave a spectacular appearance, and the splendor of processional ceremonies is enhanced by a more recent addition – the 1970’s antiphonal organ, with its horizontal pipes that send sound waves booming across to the chancel and back.
The 198-foot steeple was added in 1848, designed by Edward Brickell White, and all eleven of the original bells were donated to the Confederacy and melted down for cannon. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”St. Philip’s Church”
The lady in the painting is my great-great-great grandmother, Caroline Poincignon Trouche, who was born in 1810, and I would love to have heard her and other Charlestonians from that era speak. As a child I had conversations with a great aunt who was born about the time Caroline died, so I can say with some authority as to what Charlestonians like her sounded like long ago, and it was not like those phony Southern stereotypes in movies or on TV, or in the case of a New Jersey-born tour guide in Savannah, who puts on a fake accent that’s a cross between Gone With The Wind and the Beverley Hillbillies. My great aunt did not “drawl”, nor did Caroline, but spoke much the same as I do now, and anyone living in Charleston today who drawls obviously learned that way of speech from somewhere outside the old city. And by drawl I mean pronunciations like “pay-ohnds” for “pounds”….which you can hear as much in Indiana as anywhere else. The British influence on Charleston speech was very much the standard in what was a well-educated society like Caroline’s French immigrant parents, and this explains what many visitors think is a Canadian accent when we say “house” almost like “hoose” and soften consonant endings in words like “car” very much as English people do today, and many of us still add a “y” sound to certain words such as “cyar” for an automobile and “gyarden” for the place you grow flowers.
Beginning in the 1730’s there were large numbers of Scots and Irish moving to Charleston for more than a century, adding a brogue sound to the mix that is very similar to what I heard in Northern Ireland. They gave some words a double-syllable sound , as well as compressing the vowels in others. Thus “gate” sounded like “gehyet”, “boat” like “bowat” and “door” like “dowah”, while compressing “line” to sound like “loyn”, “fish” like “fush” and “to” like “toe”. What these combinations did would eventually lead to exclusively pronunciations – “Cooper” is pronounced like “look” or “cook”, “Gourdin” is pronounced “goodine”, “Gaillard” is “gilyard”, and “Horry” is “ORE-ee”. And of course “y’all” became the standard for any group of others and shows how badly Charleston speech traditions have been eroded by recent transplants who have largely replaced it with the awful “you guys” that sometimes sounds like “you gice”. Women are not “guys” and “y’all” or “you all” is much more correct and pleasant sounding. <img.src=”Charleston Culture” alt=”Local Accents”
SYMBOLIC SEALS – Our state and city seals are overloaded with Latin and Greek terms and symbols that were so popular in the late 1700’s when they were created. The state seal has the motto “Dum Spiro Spero”, meaning “while I breathe, I hope” and “Animis Opibusque Parati”, “prepared in mind and resources”. The original version featured the Roman goddess of Hope, Spes, holding a scepter of authority topped by the Phrygian cap symbolizing the French revolution and fight for liberty, while holding a laurel wreath symbolic of triumph. Beside her is a Revolutionary soldier, and above them Epheme, Greek goddess of proclamation. A later version has Spes holding a flower, symbolic of the birth of a nation, with a new dawn rising. Instead of the soldier, there is the palmetto tree standing on oak logs, symbolic of the victory on Sullivan’s Island over the British fleet when palmetto logs proved to be the difference, and the dates March 26th, the day we declared independence from England, and July 4th, the birth of our nation. The Latin “Quis Separabit” means “who separates” and “Meliorem Lapsa Locavit” means “better let free”. The state seal we have today incorporates both versions. The Charleston seal, according to the city website, features “a female figure” overlooking the town, to which I say, come on city, grab a mitt and get in the game! If mythical figures were used in the state seal, certainly the same would apply to the city. I strongly believe the woman is Athena, Greek goddess and protector of wisdom, culture, architecture, civilization, and law, and who is depicted historically holding an authoritative scepter as she does in the seal, with the Latin “Aedes Mores Juraque Curat”, meaning “she guards buildings, customs and laws”. The first city seal showed “Corpus Politicum”, meaning “body politic”, and there were several versions of the city seal over the years, evolving in what we have today with the Latin term “Civitatis Regimine Donata”, meaning “given to the rule of the citizens”, and “Carolopolis”, a combination of the Latin “Carolus”, meaning Charles and the Greek “Polis”, meaning town, above Condita A.D. 1670, which is “established year of our Lord 1670”, as well as the symbols of the lamp, books, quill and parchment, indicating culture and civilization, as well as the palm fronds, and ancient symbol of triumph, peace, and eternal life. Great irony, considering all the symbols of freedom, is that when we declared independence from England and were initially a sovereign state, all power was briefly given to John Rutledge, who was nicknamed “dictator” of South Carolina. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Government Seals”