Charleston, South Carolina

June, 2022

I was on my way north, having just left the home of my friends in the barrier islands of South Carolina after a lovely visit. The scenery along the “Low Country” shoreline is very beautiful. The fluffy clouds change shapes as they hang in the summer sky, and are reflected in the flat, shallow water below.

Along South Carolina highway 170 and SC Hwy 462. There’s not much traffic, but enough that I paid attention when stopping along the road.

People in South Carolina refer to the shore area as the “Low Country.” On one map I checked, an older one, the inland area was labeled the “Backcountry.” When I was in Charleston, I heard a man say he lived “upstate.” At first I thought he must be from New York state, where there are two parts of the state, New York City and Upstate. No, he said, he lived in upstate South Carolina. Since then, I have also heard “Upcountry,” a logical comparison to “Low Country.” “Backcountry” clearly has fallen out of favor.

Ever since I was a kid, watching Disney’s “Swamp Fox” on TV, I have been interested in Charleston, and so the thought of leaving South Carolina without visiting the city for even just a while, wouldn’t let go of me. It was only a couple of hours at most from where I was – and I didn’t know when I would be this close again. After about twenty minutes of half-hearted driving, I gave in, re-calculated my route, made a hotel reservation, and pointed the car in the direction of Charleston.

It was still before noon when I arrived in Charleston. I had reserved a room at the Francis Marion Hotel, which is right downtown across from Marion Square. It’s my favorite kind of hotel, one of those old-style hotels built when train travel was king and room service was plentiful.

This was my room at the Francis Marion Hotel. Anyone who traveled in the 1950s and 1960s will recognize it. It comes with modern conveniences, however, such as wi-fi and small refrigerator.

The lobby is still grand by any definition. In the afternoon, a man played music that was easy to listen to on the baby grand piano in the lobby, where the ceiling is at least two stories high. It was designed for friends to meet and greet and maybe have a cocktail before going to dinner. I loved it.

On the ground floor, below the lobby floor, there was the Swamp Fox restaurant and a Starbucks, a prominent nod to changed times. These flanked a wide entranceway, between the restaurant and the coffee shop, that was once where taxis dropped passengers from the railway station (now the Visitors’ Center about two blocks away.) These days, people can pull up to the curb on King Street, and let the valet staff unload luggage and park the cars.

Across Calhoun Street from the Francis Marion Hotel is the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, a museum of the College of Charleston.

The concierge desk was unoccupied, but a variety of pamphlets and flyers were laid out on the table, allowing visitors to choose anything that attracted their interest. With so much of the day in front of me, I sat down with a map and a small guide-pamphlet and coffee to check out the sights to be seen.

The city was founded in 1670 on a peninsula formed by two of three rivers that begin in the Backcountry (or Upstate) – the Ashley and the Cooper. The Wando River joins in at the end as the three rivers converge to form the Charleston harbor.

The city was called Charles Town in honor of King Charles II, who granted the charter establishing the settlement. The name gradually morphed into Charlestown, but the city was never incorporated until 1783 (after the Revolution) and it was then officially named “Charleston.”

Colonial Charles Town’s government was handled directly by a colonial legislature and a governor sent by Parliament. Election districts were organized by Anglican parishes, and some social services were managed by the Anglican wardens and vestries of both St. Michael’s and St. Philip’s. At that time, St. Philip’s was the name of the church at “Four Corners.”

It was June 30th in South Carolina when I arrived, and between the temperature and the humidity, the afternoon was growing warmer by the minute. Clouds were gathering overhead. When the valet staff offered me an umbrella on my way out, I accepted.

Charleston turns out to be a relaxed kind of place to visit. Unlike some cities, Charleston is not filled with dramatic kinds of “must-see” sights with frazzled tourists waiting in long lines, at least, not in late June. Instead, history-minded citizens have preserved the areas that have been lived in by real people from the founding of the colony, through the Revolution, the War of 1812, and Civil War, and these buildings are still living and breathing today.

To find history alive in Charleston, I needed only to cross King Street and enter Marion Square, named for General Francis Marion, fondly remembered here as the Swamp Fox. Some of us (okay, maybe just me) remember the “Swamp Fox” show on TV. We watched Francis Marion harass the British during the Revolution, only to disappear into the swamps along the Low country region after their guerilla-style attacks.

The fountain has a number of animal sculptures around it, representative of the native fauna, I would guess. A fox, beaver, a pair of otters, and a heron are among them.
The square had garden areas near the corners, with lush plantings typical of southern gardens, which have good soil and a lot of moisture.
Most of the square was open lawn used for gatherings, both historical and modern. On Saturdays from April through November there is a farmers’ market here.

Marion Square was an important location in colonial and early American Charleston. King Street was originally the highway into “Charles Town,” and was called the Broad Path. At the time of the American Revolution, the town gates stood across the Broad Path, almost in front of the Francis Marion Hotel. The gates later became part of the “Horn-Work,” a line of defense that stretched from the Ashley River across the peninsula to the Cooper River. The threat came not from Native Americans, but from the Spanish in Florida and the pirates who roamed the Caribbean. Charles Town’s culture came as much from Barbados as from England or France.

At the north side of the square, between Tobacco and Hutson Streets, was a line of warehouses for the storage and inspection of tobacco, prior to being exported. These buildings were partly replaced by an arsenal after an attempted slave uprising in 1822. The arsenal acquired the name “Citadel,” and the square became known as the “Citadel Green.” By 1842, the buildings were occupied by the South Carolina Military Academy, then converted to county offices in 1937. The sign where I read this information was erected in 1941, so I’m not sure what happened in the last eighty-one years, but according to the present-day street map, the arsenal building is still there and so is Tobacco Street, except it’s closed to vehicle traffic. There are hotels where the warehouses once were.

The Visitors’ Center is well worth a visit. It’s located about a block and a half north of Tobacco Street and Marion Square. It has retained the appearance of the train station downtown, a long – very long – brick building with a small parking lot on one side and a cavernous bus shelter on the other side. The city buses go through a nearby connection on Meeting Street, and there are some private tour buses that depart from the Visitors’ Center. There are friendly staff to help visitors find places and arrange tours, plus a plethora of brochures and directories for various activities and resources in Charleston.

In addition to tourist resources, there are also about a dozen displays that show the general history of the city, beginning with the Native Americans, the Spanish, the English and French, then the Gullah, and continues through the early 20th century. Not a deep dive, but enough to help visitors become acquainted with Charleston.

Near the Visitors’ Center is the Joseph Manigault House, built 1803. The Manigault family was descended from French Huguenots who escaped from religious persecution in the late 1600s by coming to South Carolina. The house showcases the lifestyle of a wealthy rice planter and merchant family, along with the enslaved African Americans who lived there.

This is the rear of the house where there were originally buildings that helped support the household, such as a stable, kitchen, carriage house, and privy. At the time the house was built, this area was outside of the crowded city, but has the same boundaries today as it had then. It was a town house. Manigault would have ridden to the fields a distance away from here to keep an eye on his plantation.
The “front yard” of the house, with the entrance for visitors. The house had a well for water. As the area became filled with wells and privies, disease became a problem. Rich people built cisterns to catch rainwater and prevent contamination from privies. Others hoped for the best until sewers were built.
As an example of the crowded work yard, the view from the head of the table in the elegant dining room to the outside would have been the carriage house. The symmetry of the architecture was so important during the Federalist era, that the door in the center of the photo is fake – it is there only to balance the functioning door on the opposite side of the fireplace.
The imported porcelain with the Manigault crest is displayed on the sideboard in the dining room.
The drawing room with a piano-forte and harp for musical entertainment. Both of these doors open into the upstairs hallway.
A view as a visitor approaching the entrance. The house front had two porches “stacked.” (You can just see the edge of them on the right.) This was common in the warm, humid climate of the south to capture the breezes.
A house next door, not a historical site, shows a style, imported from Barbados, of the multiple-story porches and rooms. The gable of the house was placed facing the street to allow residents to open up the broad side of the house to capture breezes without sacrificing privacy.
Looking south along King Street.

The next day, I began my sightseeing by walking in the opposite direction, heading south along King Street. There were a lot of shops on either side of the street, some with well-known names and some that appeared to be local – mostly clothing, gifts, and food, but occasionally a bank or professional service.

Only a couple of blocks along the way however, I was drawn into a side street, Hasell Street, by a couple of more historic-looking buildings that turned out to be St. Mary’s Catholic Church and Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue. St. Mary’s was all locked up, but across the street there was activity. As I read the visitors’ information at the courtyard gate of the synagogue, I realized there was a tour about to start, so I hurried in. Bobbi Cohn, our tour guide, and several others who arrived, very kindly waited for me to finish booking the tour online.

The entrance to the tabernacle. “Hear O Israel: The Lord Our God is the sole Eternal Being. Rebuilt A. M. 5600” (A.M. stands for “anno mundi,” a Latin phrase meaning “year of the world.”)
There was beautiful stained glass throughout the interior.
We watched a video about the history of Jews in Charleston on the screens at the front of the Temple interior. The ark that holds the Torah scrolls is the wooden cabinet at the front. The Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim has four Torah scrolls. Our guide called three of them the “survivors.” One survived the American Revolution, another survived the Civil War, and the third survived the Holocaust. The fourth is a gift from the women’s group to the congregation. It is the newest and easiest to read, according to Bobbi. All of them have been acquired for this Temple.

“Charles Town” was established in 1670. The earliest known mention of a Jew in the English settlement was in 1695. More came, mostly Sephardic Jews who were “attracted by the civil and religious liberty of South Carolina.” (From the KKBE pamphlet) The KKBE was organized formally in 1750, but it was not until 1794 that they dedicated a new synagogue building “described then as the largest in the United States, spacious and elegant, which signified the high degree of social acceptance Charleston Jews enjoyed.” (Op. cit.) This Georgian style synagogue was destroyed in the 1838 Charleston fire, and was replaced in 1840 by the present synagogue, built in the same location. This synagogue is the second oldest in the U.S., and the oldest in continuous use. In 1980, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

This congregation is the birthplace of Reform Judaism in the United States, at least, according to them. Forty-seven KKBE congregants petitioned the trustees of the synagogue for changes to the Sephardic Orthodox liturgy, such as English translation of prayers, and sermons in English, but were denied. The petitioners then resigned from the congregation and organized “The Reformed Society of Israelites.” The Society lasted only nine years, but many of its innovations became part of today’s Reform Judaism, according to the KKBE’s pamphlet about their history. The KKBE is a Reform Jewish congregation today; the Orthodox congregants left and established a different synagogue.

Bobbi also made mention of KKBE members who participated in the American Revolution, the founding of Scottish Rite Masonry in America, and in the Civil War (180 on behalf of South Carolina,) as well as serving, of course, in the U.S. military ongoing. It was a very interesting presentation, and I was glad that I had hit the right moment to join the tour.

This is a painting made of the interior of the KKBE synagogue that burned down in 1838. Before the Reform movement, women sat upstairs in the balcony. Now, congregants all sit on the main floor of the current synagogue.
The lovely side yard of the KKBE synagogue. In the South, one learns to appreciate these cooler pockets of shade!

Leaving the synagogue, I continued on Hasell Street until I reached Meeting Street at the end of the block, and made a right turn. A long block later, I passed the Charleston City Market entrance.

Charleston’s historic City Market entrance. The appearance is deceiving – the market is narrow, but is four city blocks long. Later in the day, by luck, I was at the other end of it when the sky opened and poured rain.

A couple of blocks more, at the corner of Meeting and Broad streets, the intersection is known as the “Four Corners of Government.” On each corner stands a building that once represented a level of government: the U.S. Post Office, the County of Charleston Courthouse, Charleston’s City Hall, and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. St. Michael’s is included because in colonial times, before the Constitution gave us separation of church and state, St. Michael’s was used to organize elections and some social services. The “Four Corners of Government” name stuck.

I was interested in St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, which was built in the 1760s, for other reasons. It was not open, and neither was its churchyard, although there are regular hours posted. It was just my bad luck to arrive when I did. Had it been open, I could have seen the cedar pew where George Washington sat during his visit in 1791, and the gravestones of two men who signed the U.S. Constitution on behalf of the State of South Carolina: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Rutledge, not to be confused with his brother, Edward Rutledge, who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Part of the church yard of St. Michael’s, which was all locked up. Two signers of the U.S. Constitution are buried here – Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Rutledge.

I headed down Broad Street, looking for a place to have lunch. Broad Street ends where it intersects East Bay Street, and that’s where the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon building is. That’s its current name. When it was built, it was called the Exchange & Customs Building.

I wasn’t planning to go in – I had seen it listed as a museum in my pamphlet, and my enthusiasm for museums has waned. I’ve seen a lot of them, and I don’t feel the need to look at buttons from George Washington’s uniform or the sword that someone used to fight pirates anymore.

However, I was intrigued by the sign across the front of the building that announced that the Declaration of Independence would be read aloud from the steps of the Exchange Building on July 4th, 2022, just as it had been read from those same steps in 1776. So, I crossed the street, intending to just peer into the entry.

I was greeted by a young man at the door who had diligently memorized and practiced the speech he used to greet visitors. The virtues and highlights of the Exchange simply poured forth from his lips. It included mention of the dungeon tour. The mention of a dungeon piqued my curiosity. I paid admission, skipped the room that held displays of artifacts, found the stairs, and descended into the cellar, now advertised as “The Dungeon.”

Alec, the costumed docent, introduced us to this lowest floor of the old Exchange and Customs House building. The “dungeon” started life as the storeroom for goods that were imported into the colony from Europe and the Caribbean. The Exchange used to be on the waterfront, and goods were unloaded from ships in the harbor, and brought into the storeroom. In the storeroom, there was a clerk who recorded what was brought in and the details necessary for collecting fees and taxes.

Alec the Docent is telling us about the Exchange and Customs House. Millions of bricks were used in the construction of the building. It is no longer on the waterfront because a lot of land was reclaimed from the harbor in the 1800s.
The clerk – and his companion – in the cellar of the Exchange Building.
Kegs of gunpowder had been sealed into a section of the dungeon by the Americans at the beginning of the Revolution. The British took over the building after a 42-day siege, little suspecting that they were sitting on top of powder keg

The building’s use changed suddenly in 1780, when the British took over Charles Town after a 42-day siege during the Revolution. The cellar and sections of the uppermost floor were used as a prison, or “provost.” Until the British abandoned Charles Town in 1782, the provost held Americans accused of treason by the British, along with pirates and other criminals. The dungeon was a dank, dirty, and disease-ridden place. In those times, the word “dungeon” was not an exaggeration.

Up on the top floor these days, however, is an excellent display about South Carolina’s participation in the congresses that produced the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, with some explanation of what the issues were. Slavery is not the only issue discussed – whether or not to include a listing of rights, for instance, is also – but it is pretty straightforward about slavery, acknowledging that the representatives from South Carolina argued strongly to preserve slavery and to prevent interference from the northern colonies.

In a room adjoining the larger hall is a collection of about a dozen portraits of people who played important parts in the Revolution, including the Marquis de Lafayette of France, who played a particularly critical part by bringing soldiers to fight and money for weapons, soldiers, and supplies to America from France. (This prompted American soldiers in WWI to greet the French with cries of “Lafayette, we are here!”)

There is also a display which has humorous overtones, being that hubris is not confined to any one generation. After George Washington’s visit to Charleston in 1791, the city councilors of Charleston commissioned a painting from the artist John Trumbull of President Washington. The story is told in the display:

The story.
Portrait 1: General George Washington at Trenton. The city leaders rejected this one.
Portrait 2: George Washington at Charleston. This was the replacement.

The Exchange and Customs Building has been a pivotal part of Charleston’s history, and if you visit Charleston, I recommend taking some time out to visit. It’s worth the effort.

The view down North Adgers Wharf, a couple of blocks south of the Exchange and Customs Building, off of East Bay Street.
“Rainbow Row,” a string of pastel-painted row houses on East Bay Street, dating from mid-1700s to mid-1800s, mostly Georgian in style.
Walking down South Adgers Wharf Street, looking at the very picturesque row houses, I found they sported beautiful window boxes of flowers at their summer peak.
Joe Riley Waterfront Park runs along the edge of the harbor, a narrow park that allows public access to fountains and shady seating to watch the world go by.
The only place I had to stand in any line was to get a clear (almost) shot of the Pineapple Fountain. Pineapples were a colonial symbol of welcome and hospitality.
The shade is always welcome on these summer days in Joe Riley Waterfront Park. Past the trees was another fountain for kids (and their grownups) to splash in or run through.

At the end of the waterfront park, I made a stop for gelato and coffee, relaxing, resting, watching the people go by, and just enjoying being alive in Charleston. I didn’t even mind the large raindrops that began to fall – after all, they were nice enough to wait until I had finished my gelato. However, I took the hint and, ditching the rest of my coffee into the bin, I picked up my umbrella and walked west from the park.

Philadelphia Alley

The raindrops were falling faster by the time I reached Philadelphia Alley, a wide path that bisects the block from Queen Street to Cumberland Street, passing behind St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. At one time, the alley, known as Kinloch’s Court, provided access to rental tenements behind Francis Kinloch’s home. The tenements were destroyed in a fire of 1796. The property was sold, but remained derelict for years. After another fire in 1810, the City of Philadelphia “graciously sent financial aid” to help rebuild. The court was reopened in 1811 and renamed to honor the generosity of Philadelphia’s citizens. The plaque in the alley where I got this story notes that the court was further renovated by the City of Charleston in 2005, “Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr.” I’m guessing that’s the Joe Riley of Joe Riley Waterfront Park. There’s no explanation of why Philadelphia was moved to help rebuild the court.

The rain was falling harder – lots harder – and I wrestled the golf-style umbrella open, and I walked further into the alley. The buildings on both sides provided some helpful shelter, but the very air was full of water.

Philadelphia Alley, looking back.

By the time I got to the other end of the alley, the rain had stopped and the sun was reappearing. A short walk brought me to Church Street and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church front.

St. Philip’s Anglican Church congregation began where St. Michael’s Episcopal Church is today, but had moved here by 1723.
Part of the St. Philip’s Churchyard.

Not far from there was the back end of the City Market. It was filled with people, and I had to move with the crowd or not at all. The vendors there were selling mostly crafts, jewelry, some clothing, and some “gift food” items. It was not – that I could see – a farmers’ market.

I took this photo from inside of the City Market which had filled with hundreds of people taking shelter from the afternoon rainstorm. Charleston has several types of tours available, and one of them is in this type of horse-drawn carriage.

On my way back to the hotel I passed this lovely old Art Deco movie theater. It was time for me to be on my way, but I had a lovely, relaxing time in Charleston before having to be serious about getting to my next stop. I hope I will have a chance to return someday.

The old “Riviera” movie theater, now a banquet hall, at the corner of King Street and Market Street, an Art Deco-style relic.

3 thoughts on “Charleston, South Carolina

    1. Sorry this is late!!! Charleston, S.C.should be in all our History Books, thank you for the history lesson!!


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