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Classy Storm Drain Cover Downtown Charleston

One Example of Hundreds of Elegant Old Homes in Charleston, This One Displays Ornate Iron Work and a Marble Parquet Walkway in Front

Recently we drove to South Carolina from mid-state New Hampshire. It was a two-day trip each way, a total of 2274 miles, about 90 gallons of gas and approximately 40 hours of driving, round trip.

Some of the Elaborate Architectural Detail that Abounds in Charleston

My oldest son has lived just outside Charleston, for four years now, and he’s been good about coming home whenever he can. It was time to journey to him.

As I have never been more south in the US than Connecticut, this was a real eye opener for me. We drove through farm country in Pennsylvania and Virginia, much of which reminded me of parts of New England.

Ominous Weather on the Way South

Long stretches of highway mysteriously sprouted shredded tires. We drove through sun and rain, light and dark. We stopped only when necessary and listened to books on tape both ways, a wonderful accompaniment to hours spent inside a car. Pat had planned out routes that were as direct but also interesting as possible, to make the trip relatively painless. All in the name of ‘enjoying the journey’. A cooler full of sandwiches and cold drinks made eating on the road easy.

Ashley Marina Next to our Hotel

We arrived in Charleston mid-afternoon on a Sunday, impatient to stretch our legs and enjoy the nice weather. Once we checked in at the hotel, we set off for the historic downtown area. Our hotel overlooked the Ashley Marina, on the Ashley River on the western side of the peninsula that makes up Charleston. The downtown district was on the eastrtn side of that peninsula, bordering the Cooper River. Not knowing any better and wanting to enjoy the water view, we chose the coastal route, following the waterfront around the southern point of Charleston. Along our walking route, we passed several pockets of wildlife sanctuaries and spotted many interesting water birds; loons, pelicans and egrets.

As we wandered and explored we were amazed at all the gorgeous mansions that lined much of the coastal route. Those majestic homes were mostly brick and stone with elegant porches and graceful architectural details. Each one was immaculate. Frequently, these homes are painted in pastel shades, reminding me in this way, of houses in Ireland. One such section is affectionately called Rainbow Row.

Houses Known Collectively as Rainbow Row

Most homes in Charleston stand shoulder to shoulder and all have beautiful small gardens in front, usually surrounded by wrought iron fencing and gates. We later learned that most of the homes in these elegant waterfront neighborhoods date from the height of the plantation days, when the planters would move their families into Charleston where they could escape the mosquito ridden backwater areas in the heat of the summer. The social season in Charleston coincided with this annual migration. Sadly, many of these fine home are only used occasionally now but they are maintained in the best of condition; trophy homes apparently for today’s rich and famous. It is wonderful they have been preserved.

Live Oaks with Spanish Moss in one Waterfront Charleston Park

One of Many Interesting Charleston Park Statues

As we walked along the waterfront, we watched ships and boats of all descriptions, sailing up and down the river. The day was warm but a stiff breeze kept us cool. We passed many parks and green spaces as we approached the commercial district. We were amazed over and over again at how clean and nearly sparkling everything appeared to be. Fountains flowed and Palmetto trees bent in the wind. The vegetation was very green and lush and the ground was litter-free.

Omnipresent Palmetto Trees and South Carolina Breeze

One feature I found interesting was the inclusion of a couple of shallow public wading pools, with fountains, intended for foot wading. Nearby benches encouraged warm shoppers and tourists to take off shoes and cool their heels in the crystal clear water therein. Charleston has won many ‘Best City’ awards over the years; it is easy to understand why!

Pineapple Wading Fountain and Pool

When we reached the downtown area, we left the coast walk and meandered up and down the well-ordered, cobble-paved streets, ogling all the stone and brick buildings. Here again, nearly all the buildings are old and well-kept Streets are lined with Palmetto trees and hanging flower baskets. Window boxes, container and strip gardens are tucked into every available space. Alleys, cobbled and gated, contained miniature shady refuges, with bistro sets, shrubbery and other intriguing elements. Old Fashioned gaslights adorned many homes and public buildings and were on day and night. A sense of well-preserved history was everywhere.

Intriguing Charleston Alleyway

Plaques on fences and buildings educated us about the centuries of rich history all around us. It was fun to window shop and check out the interesting signs and architecture. We learned that many round, square and octagonal shaped medallions on buildings are actually hurricane/earthquake bolts. These run evenly spaced along the fronts of many buildings and stretch the width and breadth of the structure, to secure it during destabilizing environmental conditions. Apparently this community has survived many earthquakes and hurricanes during its colorful history.

Fun Signs

After an extensive walking overview of this area, we consulted a map and chose a route back to the hotel in the evening that passed an Irish pub where we had dinner and then continued on through yet another neighborhood of gracious old homes. We were surprised how many of these homes were over 200 years old. Many had ivy growing all over front garden walls and some had marble parquet sidewalks in front, replacing the normal cobblestones or brick walkways. Some even had gracefully curving single or double staircases leading invitingly to the second story entrances. Apparently, this area has also seen its share of coastal flooding.

Ivy Between Each Step

Marble Parquet Walkway

We were surprised to learn that originally, Charleston was a walled city, one of only a few in America. None of that wall remains today however. It is also nicknamed the Holy City for the amazing number of churches that abound there, beautiful buildings, stone and brick masterpieces.

A Couple of Charleston’s Unique Churches

We quickly adopted a routine of taking day trips off the peninsula in the mornings in the car and then returning to the hotel and walking across the city (about 3 miles each way) to the historic downtown areas in the afternoons, then returning back across the city by a different route to our hotel each evening. The weather was warm but breezy everyday. We had a little light rain but nothing we couldn’t walk in. We tried to take a different set of streets to cross Charleston as often as we could, in this way; we experienced a variety of elegant neighborhoods.

Elegant House Details, with Owl

This city has withstood military occupation, sieges and pirate attacks, on top of dramatic weather challenges. One would never know it to look at the orderly streets and parks today.

Battery Park Artillery

On Monday, we connected up with Gabriel and took a ferry from Patriot Points, to Fort Sumter. I was interested to learn, the ‘land’ that Fort Sumter is built upon, was entirely created from chunks of New England granite, floated down the coast to this South Carolina Harbor for the purpose of creating an island to build the fort upon.

Fort Sumter Seen From the Water

Fort Sumter was rich with military history and famous for being the site of the ‘first shot fired during the civil war’. I had to laugh at a sign stating no heads or other body parts were to be placed in cannons! A nearby park ranger assured me the sign would not be there if it weren’t an issue! Gives tourists a bad name…

Inside Fort Sumter

Remains of Officer’s Quarters at the Fort

Patriots Point is a Naval and Maritime museum on the waterfront. There are many restored treasures there, including a Naval aircraft carrier with planes, a Naval destroyer, a submarine, a Vietnam support base and many other relevant military exhibits.

Aircraft Carrier USS Yorktown, One of Many Exhibits at Patriots Point Museum

As the week continued, we participated in a walking ghost tour, including graveyards, hanging grounds and an old jail where pirates were held prisoner. We discovered more Irish pubs, open market places and waterfront restaurants.

One of Charleston’s Historic Cemeteries

We took a harbor ghost and pirate tour, where we watched the sun set over Charleston from our vantage point on the Cooper River. The timing was fortunate in that there were some tall ships in the harbor at that time.

Ghostly Ships in the Harbor

We toured nearby Charles Towne Landing with Beth and Gabriel one day. The Landing is the site of the first permanent European settlement in the Carolinas. It contains many interesting exhibits including a beautifully recreated ketch (small sailing vessel used for commercial coastal navigation), a restored plantation home and a wildlife preserve on the extensive grounds.

Historic Ketch, a Small Sailing Vessel

Recreated Garden and Small Dwelling at Charles Towne Landing

This is where I saw my first southern alligator in a natural environment. My son assures me they are prevalent on golf courses and in neighborhoods with streams and ponds in the vicinity. No one leaves his or her dogs and cats out at night.

Seriously !

We visited the Southend Smokehouse and Brewery, located in a history-laden former cotton warehouse on what was once the docks of old Charleston. Interestingly, Charleston was partially created when sections were filled in, moving the waterfront outward as time went on, much like Boston’s Back Bay region.

Pulled Pork Sandwich and Smoked Veggies

We rounded the week out with a bus and old home tour in one of Charleston’s most historic areas. Altogether, it was a very relaxed and inspiring trip. We packed a lot into a week, walked many miles and learned untold new things.

Palmetto from Below

Fox Squirrel

We discovered Palmetto trees, fox squirrels and Confederate jasmine, to name a few. Everyone we met was friendly and helpful. The entire city was clean and full of flowers. The food was awesome and there is endless history to explore. There is still much to see in the Charleston area and we’ve already decided to check out some plantations and large gardens on our next trip!

Sundown Over Charleston from the Harbor