Northside Manners

Window overlooking piazza
The “single house” construction that dominates historic Charleston features houses one room wide that typically stand very close to each other. This creates a common situation that is seen in quite a few locations in the city, where the side piazza is only a short distance from the windows of the house next door.
In north-south situations such as 86-94 Church Street, the piazzas are all on the south side, where the door that opens into the house leads to a hall in which there is a staircase. In these narrow halls, the north-running stair turns halfway on a landing and proceeds south again to the second floor, and usually the landing is lighted by a northside window.
From this landing window, overlooking the open expanse of the piazza next door, there is a natural tendency to linger and look over at what’s going on at the neighbor’s house. Traditionally, Charlestonians would spend many hours on the piazzas on pleasant days – socializing, relaxing, or enjoying time with family.
This made it very easy for overly-inquiring minds to eavesdrop on family secrets, arguments, or romantic interludes that were not meant for the public, and tarnish the city’s reputation for politeness. So, there developed the saying “northside manners”, in which it was considered proper behavior to refrain from listening or viewing from that north staircase window on the south piazza privacy next door.
I do remember in our “side hall” single house on Legare Street, the stair configuration was somewhat different, but the tempting northside windows were there, overlooking the southside piazza at number 10. With seven children in our family who were accustomed to passing information up and down the four-story house at the top of our lungs, it couldn’t have been much fun for those adults trying to have a peaceful cocktail under our watchful eyes and ears.
So I remind myself and others that, should they linger overlooking a southside piazza, please remember your northside manners.

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