After arriving to Charleston I found out the city has a nickname – “The Holy City.” The name comes from the large amount of churches and the city’s history of religious tolerance. Charleston does have a number of historic churches which are a beautiful sight to see. The oldest church in Charleston is St. Michael’s Episcopal, built in the 1750’s and pictured above. We weren’t able to go inside, but they have box seats common at the time and in one of them, George Washington sat for worship during his visit. In the attached graveyard are graves of two signers of the U.S. Constitution.
I was taken with the pretty Huguenot Church, a French protestant church built in 1845. The Huguenots immigrated to this area in the late 1600’s to escape religious persecution. The church was damaged by shell fire during the Civil War and nearly demolished in the 1886 earthquake. The church continues to hold services but they are only in French one time per year.
St. Phillips Episcopal Church (above) has an interesting history as well. This building was built in 1838 and during the Civil War, the church’s bells were “donated” to the Confederate Army to be cast into cannons. During the War, the church was bombarded ten different times but still stood. From 1893 to 1915 the steeple was used as a beacon to guide ships into the harbor.
Charleston has some unique characteristics which make exploring the city interesting and give it character. I wanted to write about them. To begin with, you can’t walk around the city and not notice that many of the houses are tall, narrow in the front facing the street and long toward the back. Lots laid out in the city in the 1700’s were narrow and long necessitating the “single house” style. The houses are usually just one room wide in front with long porches or verandas on the side of the house. The main front door is in the middle of the porch area and the door seen off the street just goes onto the porch. Above is a picture of a single home built in 1743 that once belonged to a Revolutionary War naval hero.
Charleston is known for hidden courtyards and gardens. It was fun to spot these as we walked down the streets. Some were easier to see than others especially those with open gates like in the picture above – almost an invitation to come on in. I can just imagine sitting at the little wrought iron table in the courtyard. The owner comes out to tell us how nice that we dropped by and brings us tea and pastries. Well, I can only dream.
Since the gate was open, I couldn’t resist checking out the narrow passageway to Pirates Courtyard. The Pirate House was so named because pirates used to hang out here when it was an Inn and trading post. Legend has it that Blackbeard the Pirate stayed here and that an underground tunnel used by pirates to smuggle goods from the waterfront was accessed from this house. I just peeked for a minute, but the brick courtyard looked like a nice place to relax with a few tables and a fountain.
Charleston is known for having lots of wrought iron work which is used for gates, fencing, balconies and around windows. Much of it is decorative and it really adds to the charm of the city. We even saw an authentic iron boot scraper in front of one house. Boot scrapers were once handy when Charleston’s streets weren’t paved. Wrought iron work has been popular in the city since the 1800’s. Above is an example at Washington Square.
The wrought iron gates above lead to the cemetery across the street from St. Michael’s Church. Notable people are buried here including Henry Calhoun, a former Vice President.
It is unlikely to visit Charleston’s historic area and not see sweetgrass baskets for sale along the streets or in Charleston City Market. This basket making originated in West Africa and was brought to this area by slaves. The craft was passed down through slave descendants also known as the Gullah. They are supposedly still made by hand today using marsh grass that thrives in the Lowcountry. The baskets really are beautiful but not inexpensive. I came upon a woman hand weaving a basket and asked if I could take her picture. She said I could if I bought a basket, but I wasn’t prepared to do that so no picture of the weaver for this post.
Another frequent and charming Charleston sight – colorful wooden shutters and flower filled window boxes.
Charleston’s streets are narrow and fun to explore, like the one above. Hey Matt and Emma, do you spot the little red Vespa? With these narrow streets, Charleston is a Vespa city for sure.
As always, thanks for checking in with us. In the next post I plan to write about Magnolia Gardens.