Put a Pin in it!

Charleston Woos Vis­i­tors with Sul­try South­ern Charms

Luxe Beat Magazine - - News - By Deb­bie Stone

It’s im­pos­si­ble to be im­mune to the al­lure of Charleston. The city oozes and drips charm, over­whelm­ing your senses with its in­tox­i­cat­ing am­biance, gra­cious South­ern hospi­tal­ity, color­ful his­tory and rich cul­ture. I was pre­pared to like Charleston be­fore my visit, based purely on the con­tin­u­ous travel pub awards it re­ceives for “Amer­ica’s Pret­ti­est Place,” “Amer­ica’s Most Man­nered City” and “#1 U.S. City.” But I was taken aback at the school girl in­fat­u­a­tion I felt once I got there. To say I was be­sot­ted and smit­ten with the place would be an un­der­state­ment. My at­trac­tion to the at­mos­phere and en­vi­ron­ment was in­stant and mag­netic.

Charleston woos vis­i­tors with the rus­tle of Pal­metto fronds in the ocean air and the de­li­cious fra­grance of Mag­no­lia trees. It’s a city set in a gar­den full of cin­na­mon crepe myr­tles and Lady Banks rose vines with stately an­te­bel­lum homes that sit be­hind wrought iron gates and metic­u­lously tended flower boxes. His­tory seeps from the city’s cob­ble­stone streets and the nearly 4,000 pre-civil War dwellings that are pre­served and cher­ished by lo­cal res­i­dents.

The best way to get a han­dle on Charleston’s past is to take Bull­dog Tours’ Charleston Stroll, an in­for­ma­tive and en­ter­tain­ing walk­ing tour, given from the point of view of a lo­cal who will make the town’s his­tory come alive. Your guide will re­gale you with sto­ries dat­ing from 1670 through the Civil War or the “War of North­ern Ag­gres­sion,” as it is com­monly re­ferred to in the South, to the present day. It’s an ad­ven­ture into the past where you’ll learn about the events that shaped this fas­ci­nat­ing city.

Founded as a colony by eight English­men who were given the land by Charles II in ap­pre­ci­a­tion for help­ing him get back on the throne, Charleston was ini­tially dubbed Oys­ter Point due to be­ing built on an oys­ter bank. In the early years, fear of Span­ish in­va­sion caused res­i­dents to build a wall around the city for pro­tec­tion. The me­dieval fortresslike struc­ture lasted for one hun­dred years be­fore it was fi­nally taken down. Dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple were drawn to Charleston, such as the French and the Bri­tish, and each brought their cul­tural tra­di­tions along with them when they ar­rived. There were also pi­rates and sailors who made their way to this coastal set­tle­ment, adding a rough and rogue el­e­ment to the scene. And due to the slave trade, the Africans were part of this eclec­tic mix. Landown­ers at the time viewed the slaves as es­sen­tial, due to the area’s de­pen­dence on an agri­cul­tural econ­omy – an econ­omy that made Charleston the wealth­i­est city in the re­gion. Over time, the town be­came the Sodom and Go­mor­rah of the South, with a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing “party cen­tral.” To­day, Charlesto­ni­ans will tell you that their city is still a lively place that needs no ex­cuse for fes­tiv­ity.

For those who wish to get their dose of lo­cal lore via non-am­bu­la­tory means, there’s the ever-pop­u­lar, horse-drawn Pal­metto Car­riage Tour, where you’ll clip clop along the main streets, tak­ing in the sights of those “Gone with the Wind” times in by­gone style. Among the many build­ings of in­ter­est in this his­tor­i­cal mecca are a num­ber of homes avail­able to tour, such as the Ed­mon­ston-al­ston House, circa 1825, with in­cred­i­ble views of the Charleston Har­bor. It was from this place that Gen­eral P.T. Beau­re­gard watched the bom­bard­ment of Fort Sumter, which sig­naled the start of the Civil War. An orig­i­nal print of the Or­di­nance of Se­ces­sion is among the home’s most no­table an­tiques. An­other stately res­i­dence, the Hey­ward-wash­ing­ton House or “Charleston’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War House,” was owned by Thomas Hey­ward Jr., a signer of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, and fea­tures a lovely for­mal gar­den with plants pop­u­lar in the late 18th cen­tury. One of Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant neo­clas­si­cal dwellings is the Natha­nial Rus­sell House. Built in 1808, the home is adorned with elab­o­rate plas­ter or­na­men­ta­tion and has a stun­ning free-fly­ing stair­case, as well as a jog­gling board. This uniquely Charleston in­ven­tion has been a part of Low­coun­try life since the early 1800s and can still be seen

on porches, pi­az­zas and in gar­dens around the area. It’s sim­i­lar to a rock­ing chair, but in the shape of a bench, and was sup­pos­edly cre­ated for a woman suf­fer­ing from rheuma­tism.

Ad­di­tional his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant build­ings in town in­clude the old Dock Street The­atre, Amer­ica’s First The­atre, the Old Ex­change and Provost Dun­geon and the Pow­der Mag­a­zine. The lat­ter is the old­est pub­lic ed­i­fice in the Caroli­nas and once stored the fire­power cru­cial for de­fend­ing Charleston. You’ll also no­tice dozens of churches in the city, as well as hear their bells, which ex­plains an­other one of Charleston’s monikers: “The Holy City.” On famed Meet­ing Street, there’s St. Michael’s Church, the old­est church in Charleston. The ground floor con­sists of pri­vate pews that must be bought by a fam­ily to sit within, com­plete with their own sep­a­rate door. On the se­cond floor, there are open pews for those of more mod­est means. St. Phillip’s Epis­co­pal Church, on Church Street, has had an ac­tive con­gre­ga­tion since the found­ing of Charleston, and the French Huguenot Church, also with an ac­tive con­gre­ga­tion, has an an­nual ser­vice con­ducted in French. At the his­toric Cir­cu­lar Con­gre­ga­tion Church, vis­i­tors can ex­pe­ri­ence the sounds that de­fine Charleston, in­clud­ing gospel, Gersh­win, jazz, Civil War camp songs and light clas­sics in the crowd-pleas­ing pro­duc­tion, “The Sound of Charleston.” If you’re a mu­seum-goer, you might want to pop into the Old Slave Mart Mu­seum or the Postal Mu­seum. Make City Hall an­other one of your stops if only to take a peek in­side the coun­cil cham­bers where por­traits of fa­mous folks line the walls, in­clud­ing one of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton that will make you chuckle upon closer ex­am­i­na­tion. Spend some time am­bling along The Bat­tery, where an­tique can­nons line up and face out to sea, as if ready to de­fend Charleston at a mo­ment’s no­tice. Cre­ated as the first line of the city’s de­fense, The Bat­tery is now a pop­u­lar river­front park. Its sea­wall prom­e­nade of­fers great views of Fort Sumter, Cas­tle Pinck­ney and Sul­li­van’s Is­land Light­house, as well as some of the most lav­ish houses in the en­tire city. These ar­chi­tec­tural gems with their mas­sive col­umns and spa­cious ve­ran­das were built by 18th cen­tury plan­ta­tion own­ers as sum­mer re­treats from the op­pres­sive in­land heat. You’ll note that a few of

the his­toric houses have finials on their walls, which are ac­tu­ally the ends of earth­quake bolts that run through the build­ing. They were put in after the 1886 earth­quake, which de­stroyed half of down­town Charleston. The bolts are there to keep the house to­gether, ready for the next seis­mic erup­tion.

Other homes dis­play the Charleston Sin­gle House style of ar­chi­tec­ture, dis­tinc­tive for be­ing one-room-wide with the nar­row end of the build­ing fac­ing the street. Two-story ve­ran­das, called “pi­az­zas” stretch down the long side. Such res­i­dences were well-suited to the hot, hu­mid lo­cal cli­mate, as they of­fered wel­come cross-ven­ti­la­tion in the days be­fore air con­di­tion­ing. You’ll prob­a­bly also ob­serve that some of the houses in Charleston are painted a spe­cific shade of blue, called “Haint Blue,” to con­fuse evil spir­its or “haints’ and keep them at bay. One of the most pho­tographed streets in town is Rain­bow Row, dubbed as such for the ex­te­rior pas­tel col­ors of the houses. The cot­ton candy hues are said to have rep­re­sented the items sold in the ground floor stores and ware­houses of the late 1800s style build­ings. Pink was for pork, green was for veg­gies, yel­low for grains and blue sig­ni­fied seafood. It’s a vir­tual rain­bow that elic­its the wellde­served oohs and aahs from the many lookie-loos.

A pop­u­lar at­trac­tion for vis­i­tors is

the City Mar­ket, the old­est pub­lic mar­ket in the coun­try. Orig­i­nally a meat mar­ket, the mostly open-air venue is now home to an ar­ray of ar­ti­sans sell­ing unique Low­coun­try crafts such as sweet­grass bas­kets made by the Gul­lah peo­ple, de­scen­dants of plan­ta­tion slaves in South Carolina and Ge­or­gia. These beau­ti­fully crafted coiled bas­kets are an ex­am­ple of African cul­tural her­itage trans­ported across the At­lantic by en­slaved Africans, who used them dur­ing the plant­ing and har­vest­ing of rice and cot­ton. The craft is handed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion and is usu­ally learned dur­ing child­hood. It re­quires enor­mous pa­tience and cre­ativ­ity, as there are no set pat­terns, re­quir­ing each artist to de­velop his/her own style. You can watch the Gul­lah women and men weave the bas­kets as you walk through the mar­ket.

When you’ve shopped till you dropped and your stom­ach re­minds you that it needs nour­ish­ment, you’ll be in for a treat. Food takes star billing in Charleston, a city with over 150 restau­rants and nu­mer­ous award-win­ning chefs. It can be over­whelm­ing, how­ever, when it

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