|Cunard Queen Victoria's Exotic Voyage 2018
Discovering South America Part 14
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Charleston is a historic city on a peninsula between the estuaries of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. The first English settlers arrived here in 1670 and Charles Town was established on its present site in 1680. Prosperity was based on rice and cotton crops, and the slave trade.
The original schedule had allowed for an afternoon arrival amd then to depart in the evening of the following day. However there was some disappointment about missing the port of Hamilton, Bermuda on the outward journey and the timing of the visit to Charleston was changed so that an extra stop there could be made on our return. In consequence the arrival in Charleston would be earlier, at lunchtime. As the Queen Victoria approached the small manmade island of Fort Sumter passed on the port side. It was here on 12 April 1861 that the first shots of the Civil War were fired by Confederate forces. After a 34 hour bombardment the Union forces surrendered and the Confederacy held the island for the next 4 years. We were joined by two fast armed boats of the US Coastguard to escort us to the berth complete with machine gun and gunner on the front, as you can see in the picture there was a belt of ammunition loaded and bullets visible - not the most friendly welcome. There was a close view of Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum on the starboard side, with a fine view of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and the destroyer USS Laffley . There is also a submarine, USS Clamagore. The deck of the USS Yorktown had many vintage military aircraft and there were 11 listed on the Flight Deck. Visiting is best done by ferry or taxi because it is 3 miles north of town and on the opposite side of the harbour.
It was fine and sunny weather and the Queen Victoria had admiring glances from the Waterfront Park. It was perfect for a walking tour of the delightful historic district. The inspiration for our walking tour was from https://www.thecitysidewalks.com/blog/self-guided-walking-tours-of-charleston. Turning south before the US Custom House the stroll along Concord Street led to the Waterfront Park and water taxi pier. The park contained the famous pineapple fountain. White egret searched the shallows for prey, all within sight of the Queen Victoria.
Our walking tour of historic houses began after turning along South Adgers Walk and seeing the pretty pastel houses called Rainbow Row which are in East Bay Street. The walk covered the triangular area at the bottom of the peninsula, bounded by Tradd Sreet in the north and East Bay Street, East Battery and Murray Boulevard along the ocean. There were many roads named after old wharves between the Cruise ship terminal and the old Redan at Tradd Street These were all within the old walled city of Charleston which continued to the Granville Bastion underneath the building of the Historic Charleston Foundation and along Meeting Street to the west and Cumberland Street (next to Market Street) in the north.
There are many interesting historic houses along East Battery which was named for the cannon deployed there during the war of 1812 and was constructed beyond East Bay Street and next to the seawall protecting the top of the peninsula.
The Edmonston-Alston House was one of the first houses built once the wetlands had been filled in, and was open to visit. It was built in 1825 by Charles Edmondston from the Shetland Islands and local wharf owner and merchant, on land previously a portion of Fort Mechanic. He was forced to sell in 1838 and Charles Alston, a wealthy rice plantation owner, bought the house. His desendants still live in the house. It was not allowed to take photographs inside. The house has three storeys. It was one of the first to be piped for gas after its introduction in 1846 and there is a gas chandelier in the Front Hall made in Philadelphia. The first floor has a Parlour with Dining Room opposite including Hester Bateman Silver. When entertaining the dining table, dated 1815, which was normally downstairs in a multiple use room was carried up by their slaves and extended so it could seat 26 and the piazza doors thrown open to catch the sea breezes and provide a dramatic backdrop for formal gatherings. The Alstons visited Europe and brought back many interesting items and pieces of furniture. Upstairs, the library has a collection of some 2000 books and a hunting rifle made in 1850 by James Purdey, for the Alston's son, Charles. The East Drawing Room has English Regency furniture dated 1820, and there is a pianoforte and harp from the same period. The West Drawing Room includes a pastel painting of Charles Alston's daughter Susan Pringle Alston who died in the house in 1921. This floor gives access to the piazza from where there is a glimpse of the carriage house and stable, and the kitchen which is separate but joined to the main house. Separate Kitchens were common, to reduce the risk of fire, and were often combined with the slaves quarters in this case we were told there were about 16 slaves looking after the house and family when they were in residence. The majority of these houses belonged to Plantaion owners and other buisnessmen and the ground floor was where business visitors were received and social diversions took place on the floors above, this house was no exception.
Just a short walk would have led to the White Point Gardens but the walking tour suggested this was a good area to take a zigzag detour inland, along Atlantic Street and Church Street where it was possible to visit the Heyward-Washington House. Built in 1772 this house is much older than those in East Battery because Church Street was in the middle of the original walled town. It is a Georgian-style double house with central entrance door on the road. It was the town house of the lawyer and patriot Thomas Heyward Jnr., one of South Carolina's four signers of the Declaration of Independence. The house contains examples of historic Charlestone-made furniture and is proud of the Holmes bookcase. George Washington stayed here in 1791 having rented the house for his visit to the area. There is a pretty garden to the back of the property where there is also a 1740s kitchen building predating the house. It has the distinction of being the first historic house museum, first opened to visit in 1930.
The walk continued along Meeting Street past the First Scottish Presbyterian Church and the Nathaniel Russell House Museum. This house was built in 1808 and is an example of Federal architecture. It is brick built and has an octagonal bay at the back, a wrought iron balcony and a balustraded parapet. There is a spectacular 3 storey staircase inside. The zigzag walk recommenced along Lamboll Street, King Street, Tradd Street, Legare Street, Gibbes Street, Lenwood Avenue, Tradd Street (again), and Savage Street to reach South Battery and Murray Boulevard. After a pleasant stroll along the sea wall we finally reached the White Point Gardens. The Calhoun Mansion Museum is just along Meeting Street but it was too late to visit. It is a Victorian mansion and was completed in 1876 by George W. Williams a wealthy banker and merchant. It has 35 rooms and is the largest building in the city constructed as a single residence. There are high ceilings, elaborate plaster and woodwork, and even a ballroom.
Further along Meeting Street there was the oldest church in the city, St Michael's Episcopal Church. Built in 1761, George Washington worshipped here on his visit in 1791. The spire is 186 ft high. Further along Meeting Street is the distinctive brick Circular Congregational Church. It was then only a few steps to the Market Hall and Sheds. A public market was erected here between 1788 and 1804 and the set of six buildings were completed in 1807. The Market Hall was erected in 1841. It was almost 20.00 and the market was closed but the bars and restaurants nearby were very busy. Our 4.5 hours walking tour had been very interesting and it was a surprise to find so many large houses dating from the 18th and 19th century and all in such good condition.
Commodore Christopher Rynd disembarked and Captain Robert Camby joined to take us to Southampton. The second day was grey and wet. Suitably dressed we set out and passed the monumental US Custom House to explore the area north of The Market. There were lots and lots of craft stalls in the long line of market sheds between East Bay Street and Meeting Street. The free DASH Downtown shuttle 211 went from the Cruise Terminal along Meeting Street to Marion Square and back along King Street but we chose to walk. Meeting Street had rows of pastel coloured three storey buildings with shops on the ground floor, of varied shapes and sizes. Following a disastrous fire in 1877, in 1882 Mayor William A. Courtney established the city's first paid fire department. Courtney Square with its Fire Station is on the site of the park which was erected in 1885 to honour him. The cast iron pavilion was part of that park. Meeting Street has many historic buildings, including the Trinity Methodist Church established 1741, the Noyer Wildhagen House built 1807, the house of the Washington Light Infantry, an ornate brick house dated 1894 and its neighbour, a traditional three storey house. The latter was on the corner looking over Marion Square. The golden Citadel Square Baptist Church also looked onto Marion Square with the Emanuel AME Church behind and the Second Presbyterian Church and Wragg Square gardens next door.
The area now changes from churches to museums. The Joseph Manigault House and the Charleston Museum face each other on the corner and we wished we had purchased a combined ticket when we visited the Heyward-Washington House yesterday. The Joseph Manigault House was built in 1803 and is Federal period architecture. It was the home of a wealthy rice-planting family; the Manigaults descended from french Huguenots who settled in Charleston around 1695. The house has a distinctive large curving central staircase and the restored rooms contain early 19th century pieces from the Museum's collections. The picture was taken from the Gate Temple in the garden in the rain. It was a pity there was not enough time to visit the pretty house or the Charleston Museum which was founded in 1773 although it is now based in a large, modern and boring building. One item of interest was the model of the Civil War Submarine, H. L. Hunley, which was displayed outside. Armed with a spar-mounted torpedo, it became the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship on 17 February 1864. Unfortunately the exploding torpedo also sank the Huntly which was eventually recovered and raised in 2000. It was found this model was similar but slightly longer than the actual vessel. Just opposite and along John Street was the Train Museum and the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry. Turning back along King Street there was the Lutheran Church, the Francis Marion Hotel and Marion Square.
We now plunged into King Street, which is the centre of the main shopping area. The nicest buildings were the Art Deco style building of Kress & Co, presently occupied by H&M, the 1819 Pauline Books and Media shop and the Art Deco Riviera cinema. Much of the shops were Art Deco or older. Finally the library, originally established in 1748, is the oldest cultural institution in the South. We were now at the Four Corners of Law, comprising the Federal Building, the Courthouse, the City Hall and St Michael's Church and were rejoined our route from the previous day. It began to rain hardthe umbrella collapsed and picture taking and our walk waere abruptly ended. There is a lot to see and do in Charleston and our 24hrs had only scratched the surface.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 25th March, 2018