San Rafael Valley, AZ ~~ Photo by Bill Haas

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Welcome to Charleston, South Carolina, a gem of an American city established on the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers where they empty into the Atlantic Ocean. We'll find Greek Revival, Classic Revival, Colonial, Federal, Italianate, Victorian, Georgian and Art Deco architectural styles here -- classic, timeless and distinctive.

As with the group of women behind Savanna's preservation projects, the impetus for Charleston's preservation efforts started with the National Society of Colonial Dames and Daughters of the American Revolution. And later, the Society for Preservation of Old Buildings was established by Susan Pringle Frost in the 1920's. You want it done, done right and done now? Leave it to the women!
These views from the Charleston Harbor are teasers for the uncommon, incomparable beauty that lies within the city itself.
In 2005, the 8-lane Arthur Ravenal Bridge replaced two existing bridges that were eventually demolished.
Fort Sumpter. Hard to believe a war that wasted so many young lives started on this puny island, originally constructed to protect the City of Charleston! I will admit though, that the fort was CONSIDERABLY larger before the Confederates decimated its ramparts.
The original US Customs House is still in use.
What with earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, several wars and 20th century urban renewal, it's extraordinary how many of Charleston's historic buildings remain. There are almost 3,000 buildings in Charleston that are considered "historic," and the Historic Charleston Foundation has some of the strictest guidelines for preservation of its structures in the country. So said one of the guides on a tour I took. For example, he said in the "historic district" no new construction can be any taller than the tallest church steeple. But as I explored Charleston, it became evident that liberal variances had been awarded, especially in the waterfront area, where new rooftops now block views of the harbor from downtown. Sigh.
A word about porches. First of all, in Charleston, unless you are newly arrived in the city, they're "piazzas" or "verandas" not porches! They are located at the side of homes, not the rear; on any given street, they are located on whatever side of the house takes best advantage of the shade during hot summer months; they have as many levels as the home has stories; and they serve as expanded living quarters for entertaining, guest bedrooms and so on. Repeated along a neighborhood street, it was customary for the house next door to limit the number and size of windows on the walls opposite its own piazza, thus ensuring that the neighbor next door had plenty of privacy.
In homes with piazzas, for me the most interesting detail was the number and placement of doors: you'll usually find two. From the street, you'll see a door on the right or left side of the house. This door opens onto the piazza, not the house. Once inside the street door, you'll find a second door on the piazza that is the true "front entry" door, leading into the house.

Here is a street door that allows entry to the piazza.
In this photo, you can see both the piazza door on the right, and the home's true front door (also black) in the rear.
The Charleston paddy wagon and jail. High seas pirates were incarcerated here in the 1800's. The old jail is now occupied by American College of the Building Arts.
Daniel Jenkins was a freed slave turned minister who stumbled upon several homeless boys and gave them shelter; this led to his eventual establishment of an orphanage for young African-American children. The National Heritage Site below was Jenkins' Orphanage until 1939. Jenkins' secondary claim to fame was hiring Charleston musicians to help create the Jenkins Orphanage Band that became an international sensation and helped finance the orphanage endeavor.
This downtown Marriott Hotel would exceed Charleston's building height restrictions were it not for the fact that this particular steeple (St. Michael's) is not Charleston's tallest!
This is the original Citadel, now a downtown motel.
This photo was taken on the fly and doesn't do justice to its representation of a "single house." A single house is a house turned sideways so its narrow end faces the street, thus allowing houses to be built closer together. In 1680, before automobiles, lots were long and narrow. Traditionally a single house is one room deep but is several rooms wide. It may look small, but it can pack a lot of living area into two or three floors.
The Calhoun Mansion is Charleston's largest (24,000 square feet) residence, built by John C. Calhoun, in 1876 for his newly-wed daughter, is now a "private house" museum.
Charleston's fine iron craftsmanship, among its greatest architectural treasures, appears all over the city in fences, boot scrapes, gates, finials, railings, balconies. I'll be posting a separate entry about Phillip Simmons, Charleston's premier blacksmith.
Charleston's 1886 earthquake (and in the 35 years following, its more than 300 aftershocks) damaged or destroyed hundreds of buildings. As a result, gib plates (or earthquake bolts) became the reinforcement solution of choice. These were long iron rods shoved through walls then anchored on the outside with a washer style device and a large iron nut -- some plain, some fancy and some that employed disguises with decorative plates or covers. These earthquake bolts could be turned and tightened. But it's my understanding there's no real consensus on the effectiveness of the bolts; they may have been a brilliant scheme by some enterprising snake oil salesman, and Charleston citizens will never know if they truly worked until they experience another 6.6 shaker!
St. Michael's Episcopal Church, Charleston's oldest church, has been conducting services since 1761.
Part of the Circular Congregational Church built in 1890.
The rounded structure on the right is the gatehouse entry for the brick building in the rear...
Can't remember what this building me if you know. Though it looks like it might house miscreants, it could simply be the outside entrance to a courtyard and residence behind the gate?
This is one of Charleston's original village water wells; access is now soundly sealed off.
This stone step is a carriage lift -- for short people I'm guessing!
A "Haint Blue" ceiling; stay tuned for the Gullah-Geechie post for a history of Haint Blue ceilings!
Side gardens, on the same side of the house as the piazzas, were plentiful and meticulously maintained -- still are.
Do you know there is a distinction between a cemetery and a graveyard? I didn't -- until I took a mule-driven carriage tour of Charleston! Both are burial grounds for dead people, and the terms are often used interchangeably. But, a graveyard is usually found near a church; a cemetery is located on "private" land, such as a family plot on a farm. This photo is of a church graveyard. Some graveyards were divided: one side for strangers and transient white people, the other side for church members.
Built in 1841, the original Old City Market is still a lively, colorful place to stroll, people watch and shop. It was originally a farmers' market where one went to buy meat, eggs, and fresh produce; now it is a three-block long open air market with stalls selling pottery, food, weavings, jewelry, hand crafted "stuff," and, best of all, sweetgrass baskets.