Among the most charming details in historic #Charleston are its wonderful wrought iron gates. There are gates dating as early as the 1720’s done in the fashion of working iron by hammer and anvil into delicately decorative shapes. Wrought is a metal that is made up of iron, iron silicates and carbon. The carbon content of wrought iron is much lower than in other forms of iron and steel and the silicates are higher, which allows for a combination of elasticity and strength. All wrought iron in Charleston was imported, and the most sought-after form in the 19th century ws Swedish bar iron, forged in Swedish mills with a process that gave the iron considerable durability. Wrought iron was so strong, in fact, that during the Civil War, cannon barrels made of cast iron were strengthened by heating wrought iron rings that were placed over the cannon barrel and cooled to seal a powerful layer to keep the cannon from bursting during firing. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Wrought Iron”
The synagogue Brith Sholom Beth Israel on Rutledge Avenue in #Charleston is a 20th century structure, but embodies centuries of Orthodox Ashkenazic tradition. The temple’s origins go back to the arrival of the first Jews from Eastern Europe in Charleston during the 1840’s and by 1854, the congregation of Brith Sholom was established. Historically, Charleston was a city of religious freedom, and the first Jews, who were Sephardic, arrived in the 1690’s. The original synagogue was built in 1874 on St. Philip Street and although no longer standing, the current temple features many of its sacred aspects, including the Aron Kodesh (Ark) with its Corinthian columns, the tablets of the Ten Commandments above the Aron Kodesh, and the columns throughout the sanctuary supporting the women’s gallery. As more Ashkenazic Jews arrived in the early 20th century, there were tensions between those who had lived in Charleston for many years and those who arrived from countries such as Poland, Prussia and Lithuania. These newer immigrants formed a separate Orthodox congregation in 1911, Beth Israel, which built the current structure. Eventually, Orthodox followers came together and combined the two congregations, and in doing so have the distinction as being the oldest Orthodox congregation in continuous existence in America.
In 1880, the old United States military arsenal in #Charleston was conveyed to Rev. Anthony Toomer Porter for use as a school. What had formerly housed weapons and ordnance would be a new home to the Holy Trinity Church Institute, for teaching young men. Porter, who had served as a Confederate chaplain during the Civil War, pulled off an amazing feat in having his request to possess the old arsenal, which had been seized by Confederates in 1860, approved by the General of the U.S. Army, none other than William Tecumseh Sherman. Porter’s remarkable persuasiveness got a hundred-year lease for one dollar, far less in treasure and blood than Charlestonians hd sacrificed in taking similar federal installations during the war. Porter converted most of the old arsenal buildings into classrooms, but selected one building for use as St. Timothy’s Chapel. Today, very little of the old campus exists other than St. Timothy’s, which stands as a reminder of the determined man for whom the school would eventually be known as Porter Military Academy, and eventually merging with Gaud School for boys into the current Porter-Gaud School, which moved from the location in 1966. <img.src=”Charleston History ” alt=”St. Timothy’s Chapel”
There are still those who insist the crescent in the #SouthCarolina flag is based on the moon. There is simply no evidence of any kind whatsoever to back that up. On the other hand, I have found considerable and verifiable evidence that the crescent comes from the Gorget, the crescent-shaped throat piece from the old knights’ armor that became a symbol of military rank throughout Europe. It is a fact that King George II was very fond of the gorget and presented replications in gold and silver to military officers, and many a historic painting shows this symbol worn like a necklace by military officers. One of the biggest admirers of King George II was William Bull II of Charleston, who was appointed Lt. Governor four times while South Carolina was a Royal colony. Bull’s own family crest includes the Gorget and the Gauntlet, both symbols of protection and power in the world of heraldry. Bull created the uniforms of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment militia in the 1760’s, and the caps worn by the soldiers had the crescent shape like a smile with points turned upward. Bull also commissioned William Moultrie as an officer in the 2nd South Carolina, and in Moultrie’s memoirs, he points out that a flag was created in 1775 for the Regiment, and that the crescent was based on the uniform. That flag became the basis for the state flag officially created in 1861, whose original design had the points of the crescent pointing up, and was changed in the late 1800’s to the current design. So by sheer linear logic, there is an almost undeniable case that the crescent is the Gorget. We often see different versions of the old flag on my walking tour, as many Charlestonians like to fly historic flags from porches and gates.<img.src=”Charleston Military History” alt=”The Flag Crescent”
One of the more stunning plants whose color graces historic #Charleston each year is the Lycoris Radiata. This perennial is native to Japan, and was introduced to America in the 1850’s and thrives in warm Southern climates. The flower contains toxins that are potentially harmful and to the Japanese, it became a symbol of death, which is especially ironic considering that the blooms are prevalent in Charleston graveyards. Another irony is that because it re-emerges from bulbs year after year, that among its notable nicknames is Resurrection Lily. Most Charlestonians call it Red Spider Lily because of its dramatically protruding stamens, but because it also comes up typically in September, it is also known as Hurricane Lily. Like many plants in the Amaryllis family, the Lycoris Radiata blooms on top of an empty stalk after foliage has died away to expose its radiant color, and for that, the flowers are also known as Naked Ladies. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Hurricane Lilies”
Johann August Wilhelm Iusti was a German-born immigrant to #Charleston in the 1830’s. He went by his second name, August, which is literally translated as “venerable”, appropriate considering one of his works is still among the most admired sights in the historic city. Iusti’s wrought iron gates at St. Michael’s Church are incredibly well-detailed and made exquisitely in slender fashion that shows the artistic touch that he obviously had with hammer on anvil. Done around 1840, the gates still bear Iusti’s name in the iron overthrow. But sadly, there are no records of other gates that he did, living in Charleston until 1895. Perhaps the answer lies in an invention he was credited with by the U.S. Patent office for a mechanical rain conductor, which in that day were made out of decorative iron. Many of these still exist on historic houses today, and maybe they are part of Iusti’s legacy. We walk past St. Michael’s each day on my walking tour, and it is easy to see Iusti’s work, as well as his name wrought in the gate overthrow.
Historic #Charleston, SC is famous for its steepled skyline, and features a variety of architectural styles in these that include English Renaissance Revival, Gothic Revival, Georgian Palladian, Romanesque Revival and Richardson Revival. The term steeple comes from Old English “steap”, meaning lofty, and these are indeed, with the highest being the 254-foot version at St. Matthews Lutheran Church. The steeple pictured here is St. Philip’s Anglican Church, and displays all the classic parts of the steeple, which not all in Charleston have. At the base, with the round window, is the Tower, above that the Belfry, where bells ring through the louvers, and above that the Clock, then the Lantern, where lights were typically shown, then at the top, the Spire. We often go inside St. Philip’s on my tour. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Classic Steeples”
One of the most striking features of the classical architecture in #Charleston is the multi-columned portico. Dozens and dozens of magnificent structures are adorned with them, adding greatly to their visual appeal. The appeal has transcended centuries, and was first created by the ancient Greeks and copied later by the Romans, and the term portico comes from the Italian word for porch. Typically two-story in height and featuring four or six columns, the portico gives any building a look of grandeur. It was the beauty of the ancient buildings that inspired Italian architectural historian Andreas Palladio in the 16th century, and he published four books of architecture with intricate details about the classic Greek and Roman designs. These works were later published in 18th century England, and the classical style became all the rage there in the 17 and 1800’s, and thus on to America. Few Americans ever knew of Andreas Palladio, but so many over the years have greatly enjoyed the aesthetic that he revived and stands so grandly throughout Charleston today. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”The Portico”
The third oldest church in historic #Charleston is not one of the grand, towering s structures so commonly shown in images of the city, but a small, simple wooden structure tucked away almost unnoticed on Calhoun Street. Construction on Old Bethel Methodist Church was begun in 1797, by a small congregation located near what was the northern boundary of the city. With only a few dozen congregants that included free blacks and slaves, the tiny wooden structure did not have the same architectural grandeur as other famous houses of worship the city. nor did its membership have any great influence on the issues and politics of the day. it served simply as a house of worship for a sect whose principles were simple in purpose and ritual – charity and service for all with faith in the Gospel. By 1852, he old wooden structure was, in the words of its pastor Rev. C.H. Pritchard, “in a very dilapidated condition, in which our congregations can scarcely worship from its leaky state”, and funds were raised to build a new masonry church in its place. But rather than condemn the older church, the congregation paid for it to be rolled on logs across Calhoun Street to its current location, and donated to the black members of the congregation who, for the first time could freely use the pews throughout the church. In the antebellum slavery era, blacks were not allowed to sit in the pews downstairs, but on crowded benches in upstairs galleries where there was often not enough room. Today, the little wooden frame of Old Bethel is still struggling to stay open with a small congregation, but stands very large as one of the oldest and most cherished churches in our historic city. <img.src=”Charleston Landmarks” alt=”Old Bethel Methodist Church”
The question of safe drinking water was historically a problem in #Charleston. Natural springs were virtually non-existent on the peninsula, so the initial source came from shallow wells. The sand and clay substrata made it easy to find ground water in an city that gets as much as 60 inches of rain each year. But the wells dug typically in backyards within a growing, tightly-packed urban area were very susceptible to bacteria intrusion from the days in which outdoor bathrooms, or privies, allowed waste to be dumped into the same soil strata. People did not understand this completely until science improved by the late 19th century, so up until then, typhoid fever and cholera were constant companions of Charlestonians and killed many over the years. The safest water came from rain funneled into metal attic vats, as well as and masonry pools, called cisterns, which many of the houses still have today. Many cisterns were built in the house basements, but others became a common part of the outdoor urban landscape, and during the Civil War, buildings with the largest reservoirs of rain water were used as soldiers’ hospitals. The concept is still very similar to the landscape pools still gracing houses such as this one on Laurens Street, and although purely an atheistic addition these days, is a reminder of the methods used to gather safe water long ago.