We recently spent a week in Charleston at the Charleston Maritime Center in the heart of the historic waterfront.
Charleston Maritime Center is on the Cooper River
“Doin’ the Charleston” was the name of the tour we took to get an overview of the city and its history from Marvin its loqacious, charming driver/guide.
Meet Marvin in the straw hat holding court on the Battery
Marvin is a Charleston native who gave us the “Southern” view of the “War between the States”. You see, here in the South, and Charleston is its epitome, there was no Civil War. To admit there there was a “civil war” would make the Southerners “uncivil” and that will not do.
Our tour with Marvin explored all aspects of Charleston’s history starting with the Revolutionary War and George Washington’s visit to the city after its successful conclusion. Apparently, the City of Charleston hired a noted portrait artist, named Trumbull to paint a portrait of Washington in honor of his visit. The portrait produced by Trumbull showed Washington in battle and did not acknowledge Charleston, so the city refused to accept it. Since a large commission was involved, Trumbull did another portrait at the behest of the city. The second portrait portrayed Washington in a very statesman-like pose, but the horse was turned around with tail raised as only a horse can do just before. . .well you can guess. . .and under the horse’s rump was the City of Charleston. Having seen the portrait, we can attest that Trumbull got the last laugh.
In fact, the house where Washington slept during that visit is now a museum. The Hayward-Washington House from the pre-Revolutionary period is an imposing three story brick home in the Federalist style with a formal garden in back and a separate building for the kitchen, laundry and housing servants.
This is a view of the house where Washington slept from the formal garden. . .
but from the house you barely see the secondary dwelling. . .
where servants. . .make that slaves. . .prepared meals and did laundry.
Charleston, with its large natural harbor has been an important strategic location in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and of course the Civil War (OK, I’m a Yankee at heart and refuse to call it the War Between the States).
A short ferry ride takes you to FortSumter, occupying most of a small island at the entrance to the harbor. We visited Fort Sumter with friends Beverly & David Kennedy.
Fort Sumter appears so small to be important as a defensive position.
On the way to Fort Sumter. . .Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil
The fortress manned by the Federal government at the time of South Carolina’s secession in 1861 prompted the first shots fired in the Civil War. Today, FortSumter is a national monument that bears flags from every occupation and the tattered Stars & Stripes that flew over it at the time of its surrender to the South are preserved in museums.
We saw cannons that defended the Fort. . .
and one of the remnants of an original flag that flew over it when the Civil War commenced.
At the time of the Civil War, residents of Charleston viewed the military action from the roofs of stately homes lining the “Battery” on the south end of the peninsula. The Battery was a defensive line of artillery that protected the city. Today you can walk along the sea wall that was previously occupied by cannons.
The citizens of Charleston watched the war from their roofs and piazzas.
The Citadel was the South’s equivalent of West Point during the Civil War. While the Citadel still exists as an exclusive boy’s school, it has a new campus and the former Citadel and its parade ground are is an upscale hotel and city park respectively.
West Point graduated the great generals of the Civil War. . .but the South produced the Citadel.
The steeples of Charleston are impressive and dot the flat skyline.
Charleston makes a stunning backdrop for a pleasure boat. . .
I was particularly intrigued by a LutheranChurch that faces the old parade grounds of the Citadel and the interesting sign at the cemetary of another.
This is St. Matthews German Evangelical Lutheran Church. . . I didn’t know Lutherans were “evangelical”.
St. Phillips Church on the other hand. . .
has a very spiritual invitation to offer.
Seaside parks now line the shore, with fountains that provide cooling relief in the hot summer months and Charleston is filled with hidden and public gardens which are bursting to life with color in the spring.
Shaded walks and fountains are inviting
but secret gardens. . .
offer brilliant flowers against lush boxwood. . .
she love me., or not, daisies. . .
and Charleston’s famous magnolias.
Charleston architecture is very formal, neo-classical and rigidly balanced. Faux doors are incorporated into rooms to create balance where none exists, except in the architect’s mind. Floor plans of historic buildings show two halves of a building to be a mirror image. If there is a rounded façade on one side of the building, the other will have the same. A prime example is the CustomsBuilding which has elaborate steps and columns on both the front and back of the building. Although, I’m not really sure which is the front.
The front or the back. . . of the Customs House.
Oh yes, and in Charleston they do not have porches, they have piazzas. And the piazzas often have faux entry doors that open onto what we Northerners would call a “porch” that then has a formal entry door off the piazza. Are you confused yet?
This is the upper piazza. . .not porch on a lovely Charleston house. Note the elaborate detail.
Each floor of the house has a piazza, but faux front doors add privacy to the first floor. . .
which you can see from this view. . .note the sky blue “piazza” ceiling and the “real” front door.
A large fleet of tall ships make Charleston their home, and several were docked at the CharlestonMaritimeCenter while we were berthed there. One in particular was a Swedish training ship that kept its sailors (many of them young women) very busy repairing rigging.
Charleston tall ships. . .
include training ships like this Swedish square rigger docked at the Maritime Center. . .
with sailors at work on the rigging.
Patriots’ Point was directly across from the MaritimeCenter with the retired aircraft carrier, Yorktown as its primary attraction.
This a view of the Yorktown taken from the Ft. Sumter ferry.
Getting around Charleston is very easy. You have your choice of carriages or trolleys. We opted for the FREE trolleys.
There are private carriage tours. . .
group carriage tours. . .
or the FREE and reliable green trollies.
Fine restaurants abound, particularly in the French Quarter—yes, French Huguenots escaping religious persecution in France occupied Charleston in Colonial times. We highly recommend Pearlz Oyster House on East Bay Street—the sliders stacked with three fried oysters are delicious.
Vendue Street in the French Quarter is lined with inns.
Most of Charleston is not more than three stories. There is a row of townhomes called “Rainbow Row” for its sherbet-like pastel fronts.
A small peak at Rainbow Row
As for souveniers, I am partial to baskets and these are very authentic.
Sweetgrass baskets are available on Market Street.
One final word about Charleston. The women are very SOUTHERN. By that I mean they wear tailored dresses and high heels all day, everyday and are for the most part slender, with long blonde hair. Well, almost all.
Charleston rocks! BTW she has yellow finger nails as well as tri color hair, but I love the leopard leggings!
One final note. The 1920′s dance craze, the Charleston, has its roots here with a Black minister, an orphanage he founded and its band, but you have to come and take Marvin’s Doin’ the Charleston tour to find out the details.