Very few of those who join my Charleston Footprints walking tours are aware of the signifiant bombardment Charleston experienced during the Civil War. Federal troops besieging the city fired explosive shells into Charleston for nearly two years, one cannon alone firing 6600 shells in a two-month period. Much of the older historic areas were abandoned, as families under attacks moved to safer distances, but many scenic buildings took hits. At the time, the most prominent building in the city was old St. Michael’s Church, whose 186-foot steeple provided Union gunners with an inviting target. So to make it harder to hit and see, the city defenders painted the white steeple a slate gray to make it blend in with the clouds and sky. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”St. Michael’s Church”
Many visitors to Charleston who join my Charleston Footprints walking tour ask about the iron horse head figures protruding from many sidewalks in the historic city. These are tethering posts from the horse and buggy era, to which drivers would tie horses while attending to other business. Electric trolleys came in the 1890’s, and automobiles by the early 20th century, but for most of Charleston’s past, the street traffic was horse-drawn. There were no traffic signals or stop signs until the 1920’s, and before that it was generally understood that at certain intersections, North-South bound horses and wagons had right of way over East-West. There are still horse-drawn wagons taking tourists on rides through scenic Charleston today, but a small reminder of the hoof traffic that once existed. <img.src=”Charleston History” alt=”Tethering Posts”
I tell visitors to Charleston who join my walking tours that many of the historic buildings they see in their travels around the city once had much different uses, and many for which they were not intended originally. Along scenic Ashley Avenue is a pre-Civil War chapel. The building was actually built in the 1820’s as a munitions storage shed for the United States Arsenal, which was located on this spot. After the Civil War, local clergyman Anthony Toomer Porter convinced Federal authorities to give him the property for use as a school for young men, which became Porter Military Academy. Porter changed the shed into St. Luke’s Chapel, which in recent times has been renamed St. Timothy’s Chapel, but no sign of ammunition inside these days. <img.src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”St. Lukes Chapel”
One of the grandest of the many picturesque houses in scenic, historic Charleston is the South Battery structure known as the Villa Margherita. It was built in the 1890’s by Charleston banker Andrew Simonds, who made a fortune after the Civil War in finance and the timber industry. The Victorian-style Villa was a wedding present for Andrew’s bride, who lived through several husbands so that by the time she died, she had acquired an incredible name – Margaret Rose Anthony Julia Josephine Catherine Cornelia Breaux Simonds Gummere Calhoun. She was known as “Daisy”, and after Andrew died, she turned the house into a hotel called the Villa Margherita, the latter name meaning “Daisy” in Italian. The house today is a private residence.
Among the charming qualities that make Charleston such a desirable destination for those touring from all over the world, is the remarkable history of the city. Whether it’s Civil War, architectural or social history, there are considerable reminders in the form of buildings, forts, and museums. Sadly, some of the history has been lost with time and changes, and one of the common sights hundreds of years ago that has disappeared is that of the towering wind mills that dotted the landscape. The prevailing coastal sea breezes became an energy source 300 years ago when Dutch engineers built the first wind mill in Charleston to power a matrix of saws to cut lumber. The same technology was eventually used to winnow and polish rice, and by the late 1700’s, there were windmills up and down the coast. The coming of steam power in the 1820’s spelled the end for the windmills, all of which have disappeared and are today only found in paintings and property records.
Historic Charleston is always awash with vibrant colors, typically from the assortment of lush plants and trees that have made the city’s scenic gardens such a pleasure for those who tour and visit each year. But also this time of year, we begin to have several months of butterfly migrations, and colorful, fluttering wings add a special grace all their own. Butterflies are known scientifically as lepidoptera, a word derived from the Greek lepid, meaning “scales” and ptera, meaning “wings”. Butterflies like the Gulf Fritillary pictured have wings filled with slender scales that absorb sunlight. Not only does the sunlight provide the butterfly with energy, but the scales refract the light into brilliant colors that attract other butterflies for mating, and warn predators that the wings may be poisonous.
When people come to Charleston on vacations in the Summer, they often are looking for a wide variety of attractions and interests as they wander our scenic city. One of the most intriguing visits in historic Charleston is a trip to one of the fabled burial grounds. There are a number of graveyards that are open to the public, such as the Circular Congregational Church burial ground, which features some of the oldest gravestones in the city. Many of these were carved in slate, which is extremely durable, so that many of the inscriptions and markings that are hundreds of years old are still plainly visible. There are a few of the old slates that were shipped from Boston, where inscriptions were made by the famed stone carver William Codner, whose signature can still be found clearly visible.
One of the places that visitors to Charleston enjoy the most, and a site that I take tourists by on my walking tours, is scenic and historic Washington Square. The centerpiece of the park is the obelisk dedicated to the Washington Light Infantry, a military unit created in Charleston after the Revolutionary War. People often remark that it reminds them of the Washington Monument, which is quite an irony, considering that near the obelisk at the northwest border of Washington Square is the 1820’s Fireproof Building. That building and the Washington Monument itself were both designed by Charleston architect Robert Mills. Both the designs are amazingly unique and somewhat similar in their massive construction, the Washington monument made with 80,000 tons of stone and the Fireproof Building made with 850,000 bricks.
Visitors to our scenic city can enjoy blooming plants and trees throughout the year. Our warm, moist sub-tropical climate is ideal for many colorful and exotic species, many of which were brought here over the years from other parts of the world. One in bloodm now is the Lagerstroemia Indica, a bright-blooming Asian tree introduced to America by French botanist Andre Michaux, who moved to Charleston in 1796. Michael had traveled the world in search of picturesque plants and places where they would flourish. The tree became known as “Crepe Myrtle” because of its delicate Summer flowers that resemble crepe paper. But the tree is not a myrtle, which are part of the plant family Myricaceae, and is from a family of plants called Lythraceae, which includes the Pomegranate. The tree typically stays in bloom well into the Fall, making it one of the most attractive as an accent to Charleston’s gardens.
– Tourists visiting historic #Charleston enjoy sightseeing and visiting scenic places as well as hearing stories of unusual events. The building pictured was built as Chareston’s first bank in the 1790’s. Before then, wealth was stored in homes, and credit was issued through private brokers. The new building instantly attracted the attention of robbers, and in 1802, a man named Withers began to tunnel from a drain across the street to get to the vaults in the bank basement. Apparently he was able to work for weeks without being detected, and dug a small tunnel all the way under the street. Eventually, the build up of moved clay and sand became noticeable, and Withers was arrested. He became known as the “ground mole” of Charleston. There are so many stories like these that I enjoy telling to guests taking my walking tours.