Memorial Day: Another Charleston First

Origins of Memorial Day

National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the War Department. Series: American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 – 1918; Record Group 165; National Archives Identifier: 533508

We’ve got another holiday coming up on Monday…Memorial Day. What does it mean to you? Long weekend and cookout? Permission to wear white clothes and the start of summer? Time was, Memorial Day meant watching parades, waving American flags, and buying poppies. These days, many people aren’t quite sure what the holiday is even about, much less aware of its history.

Decoration Day

Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was formerly called, commemorates U.S. men and women who have died while serving in the military. First enacted to honor soldiers of the Civil War, it was expanded after World War I to include all military personnel who died during service. There are many stories as to the actual origin of Decoration Day, with more than two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of the tradition. Waterloo, N.Y., was officially declared the birthplace of Decoration Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May, 1966, but that was nearly one hundred years after its “official” inception after the Civil War.

All of the planned and spontaneous gathering of people during 1860s to remember those that died in the war tapped into the general human need to honor the dead. These services likely contributed to the growing movement that culminated in the proclamation that Decoration Day be observed nationwide by Union Gen. John Logan on May 5, 1868. It was officially observed for the first time on May 30, 1868 when the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery were decorated with springtime flowers. In the South, Confederate Memorial Day took shape on three different dates: on April 26th, the anniversary of General Joseph Johnston’s final surrender to General William T. Sherman; on May 10th in South and North Carolina, the birthday of Stonewall Jackson; and on June 3rd in Virginia, the birthday of Jefferson Davis. Memorial Day is now celebrated on the last Monday in May, and several southern states have kept the additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead.

History Restored

But there’s a local story that nearly got lost to history, and it’s still not widely known. Yale University historian David W. Blight published his research concerning the ‘real’ first Memorial Day in his 2002 book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Charleston Post & Courier’s Brian Hicks wrote a great article on it in 2009, and the event was memorialized by Mayor Riley with a dedicated plaque in 2010. Read the story and pass it on! Eventually, our collective history will be restored to include this amazing event.

Map of Washington Race Course

Robert Knox Sneden, Charleston S.C., A.D. 1864. Library of Congress, American Memory. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/

During the Civil War, captured Union soldiers were held as prisoners at the Washington Race Course (now Hampton Park). Some officers were apparently held in the Clubhouse, but most of the soldiers were kept in an outdoor camp under reportedly deplorable conditions during the last year of the war. At least 257 Union soldiers died here from disease and exposure and were hastily buried in a mass grave.

In the beginning of 1865, Charleston lay in ruin. What the great fire of 1861 destroyed had not been rebuilt; Union bombardment that began in 1863 lasted for over a year and additional fires furthered the city’s destruction. Anticipating Sherman’s army, the Confederates evacuated the city and the mayor surrendered to Union forces on February 18th. By the end of the month, few white residents remained. Thousands of black Charlestonians remained, however, most of them former slaves. In the spring, black Charlestonians held a number of large parades and commemorations celebrating the end of the war. Each one seemed to be larger and larger, growing from a few hundred to 2,000 then to 3,000 people. The largest of these events took place on May 1, 1865.

1865 view of the Union soldiers graves at Washington Race Course

1865 view of the Union soldiers graves at Washington Race Course. Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress

In April, some 28 black workmen went to the former Union POW camp at the race course and over several weeks, cleaned it up. They disinterred the hastily buried Union dead and re-buried them individually in marked graves. They built a fence around the cemetery and whitewashed it; an archway over the entrance read, “Martyrs of the Race Course”. Word spread about this and a commemoration ceremony was planned. Ten thousand people–black residents, white missionaries and teachers, Union soldiers–gathered together to decorate the new graves of these soldiers and to memorialize their war efforts. Ten thousand! (And word was spread without a single cell phone or computer!)

A New York Tribune correspondent described “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

The Procession

According to an article in the May 2, 1865 edition of the Charleston Daily Courier, “The procession was formed shortly after nine o’clock, and made a beautiful appearance, nearly every one present bearing a handsome bouquet of flowers”.

The procession was led by 2,800 singing black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses, followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. All gathered in and around the cemetery’s enclosure and the children’s choir sang patriotic songs and various spirituals before several black ministers read from the scripture. Following the dedication, flowers were placed on the graves. Afterwards, the attendants laid out picnics on the grass of the race course and watched infantry drills and listened to speeches.

During the exercises General Hartwell’s brigade, consisting of the 54th Massachusetts, 104th and 85th, colored regiments, appeared on the ground, and were reviewed by General Hartwell. They marched four abreast around the graves and afterwards went through all the evolutions of the manual. Outside and behind the Race Course a picnic party was present with refreshments. The crowds dispersed, and returned to their homes about dusk.”

Sounds perfect.

Black Infantry of the Union Army

Black Infantry of the Union Army in parade formation, location unknown

David W. Blight wrote, “This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the war had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.” He speaks about this first Memorial Day in this American Experience clip from “Death and the Civil War”.

Dr. Blight was present during the dedication ceremony in Hampton Park in 2010; the marker lies in the central flower bed at the head of the lake.

First Memorial Day in US PlaqueThe soldiers honored in this first Memorial Day were subsequently re-interred in the National Cemeteries in Beaufort and Florence. The grounds of the Washington Race Course hosted the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition in 1901-2. Afterwards, the City of Charleston acquired the land and built one of our favorite parks; the old tracks of the race course were paved and named Mary Murray Blvd. Have you been to Hampton Park lately? The flowers are in their height of glory!

New rentals available

Do you know someone who’s looking for a home near the park to rent or buy? Within easy walking distance of the park, Ginger has a beautiful home for rent in the popular Wagener Terrace neighborhood as well as one in the up-and-coming North Central neighborhood. Lois just represented the buyers in the sale of this home a couple of weeks ago…congratulations to everyone involved! Both of these rentals are just gorgeous. Click below for full listing information and please call Ginger at 843-513-5525 to schedule a showing!

165 Gordon Street
165 Gordon Street in Wagener Terrace (above) was built in 1964 and has been beautifully restored. This 3 bed/2 bath home is just steps away from lovely Lowndes Grove Plantation.

62 Poplar Street (below) is a newly-built 3 bed/3 bath home on a quiet street in North Central that has great lighting and gorgeous hardwood floors. Click to see all of our rentals and please call Ginger at 843-513-5525 to schedule a showing!

62 Poplar Street

For Sale in North Central

Ginger has been managing the property at 79 Grove Street (below), which Lois recently listed on the market for sale. This 3 bed/2 bath home is located in a quiet North Central location, just steps away from Hampton Park. Popular nearby restaurants include local favorites Moe’s Crosstown and The Park Cafe as well as the new highly-acclaimed Rodney Scott BBQ. Call Lois at 843-270-2797 to schedule a showing!

79 Grove Street #5

Charleston Orphan House Part 1: Building the Campus

Postcard of the Charleston Orphan House (undated) as it appeared after the 1850s remodelling. The campus was actually surrounded by an eight-foot high wall with iron gates, not the partial enclosure of the picket fence shown here.

Postcard of the Charleston Orphan House (undated) as it appeared after the 1850s remodelling. The campus was actually surrounded by an eight-foot high wall with iron gates, not the partial enclosure of the picket fence shown here.


 

When you ask native Charlestonians, local history buffs, or architecture fans which ‘lost’ building they lament the most, many of them answer the Charleston Orphan House. The institution itself was a source of pride for the city for many generations and as a municipal endeavor, is another in Charleston’s long list of ‘firsts’. It’s difficult to imagine how such an imposing structure met its demise in the city that founded the nation’s first efforts of historical architectural preservation, but one need only look back on others such as some of Charleston’s finest hotels to realise that demolition was not always preventable, even here. Perhaps you’ve never even heard of the first public, city-run orphan house in the country, or maybe you didn’t realise that it was right here downtown on Calhoun Street for 160 years. Have we piqued your interest yet?

Benevolent Charleston

Shortly after Charleston’s incorporation in 1783, the city took it upon itself to care for the poor and homeless children left bereft by the Revolutionary War, a task heretofore assigned to the churches. At first, the city paid to house these “little wanderers” in private homes and boarding schools but this soon proved to be a very expensive endeavor. Plans were made to build an orphanage similar to the recently established private institution down in Savannah–Bethesda, the first orphanage in the United States. In 1790, City Council passed an ordinance establishing an orphanage “for the purpose of supporting and educating poor orphan children and those of poor and disabled parents who are unable to support them.” Until a centralized campus could be built to house the children, a large house on Ellery Street off of Market Street was provided by Mrs. Eliza Pinckney to house the small children. When George Washington came here in May, 1791 on his Presidential Southern Tour, he visited the children there and “expressed great satisfaction at the establishment of such an institution, and invoked a blessing on it and its little inmates.” As these temporary lodgings were located near the Sailors’ Home, exposing the innocent to Lord-knows-what, securing a site and plans for a building became priority number one.

 

C. Drie’s Birdseye View of the City of Charleston, 1872. The massive Charleston Orphan House (15) is set back from and facing Calhoun Street, and the Orphan House Chapel behind it faces Vanderhorst Street. St. Matthews Lutheran Church (41) faces King Street.


 

Several considerations went into securing a site for the new orphan house, not the least of which was size–this was going to be no small endeavor as the intention was for the campus to fulfill all of the residential and educational needs of the children. The large tract on the corner of Boundary (now Calhoun) Street and St. Phillip Street was previously the site of Revolutionary War barracks and could now be used for peacetime purposes. This location would keep the children away from the temptations of the city as well as keep the citizens protected from any mischievous activities of an occasional “wild child”. Funds were raised from public sources as well as private gifts (one man contributed sixteen turkeys and sixteen geese); collections were taken up at nearly every Charleston house of worship. The cornerstone was laid in 1792 by John Huger, the current intendant (mayor) of Charleston and the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Orphan House. As a matter of civic pride, City Council denied the request that the gesture be made by the state governor; the tale that the cornerstone was placed by George Washington himself is just plain silly, clearly the result of someone getting their stories mixed up. The Charleston Orphan House was Charleston through and through from the get-go.

160 Calhoun Street

At the opening ceremonies on October 18, 1794, the crowd was too large to fit into the massive building, so two sets of speeches had to be made so that everyone could hear–one inside and one outside. Charlestonians made generous donations at the ceremony, and did so every year thereafter at the anniversary celebrations. The original building re-used bricks from the old Revolutionary barracks and used wood from the mills of Thomas Bennett, a local merchant who designed and built the structure. Labor was done primarily by Revolutionary War veterans. It stood four stories high with a center block of 40 x 40 feet and two wings, each 65 x 30 feet. Set back from the street to the middle of the block, facing Calhoun Street, it was the largest building at the time in the city and a magnificent source of civic pride. The campus took up nearly a full city block, bounded by Calhoun, St. Philip, and Vanderhorst Streets and the grounds included playing fields and vegetable gardens. Plans for building a wall around the compound were begun even before the building was erected, but several years went by after the Orphan House opened before a wall was finally constructed. Unconfined, children would sometimes leave the campus for days at a time. Charles Lining, chairman of the Board of Commissioners at the time, said that “some of the children of the Orphan House frequently go about the streets and impose upon the citizens by informing them that they are in want of victuals,” (even though the children were reportedly well-fed) and to the horror of the commissioners, neighbors of the Orphan House would believe and then feed them. A lottery was used to raise money shortly thereafter to construct an eight-foot tall wall around the grounds. Part of this wall is still standing and can be seen from Vanderhorst Street on what is now part of the College of Charleston campus.

 

The Charleston Orphan House Chapel (1802) at 13 Vanderhorst Street, photographed in 1940 by C.O. Greene. The building was destroyed in the 1950s. The copula of the Orphan House can be seen behind the chapel. HABS, LOC.


 

Orphan House Chapel

From the beginning, children of the orphanage were expected to engage themselves with teachings of the church in order to develop strong moral convictions. For the first few years, this involved ushering the children around town every Sunday to attend services at alternating churches. This proved to be quite an arduous task–can you imagine a hundred little kids walking in duck-like single file down King or Meeting Street to then be squeezed into church pews and expected not to disturb the service? It didn’t take long to raise donations to build a chapel so that the children could attend services on campus and hear a rotating clergy. Gabriel Manigault, the lauded local amatuer architect, designed the simple Greek Revival building and it was opened for services in 1802; the opening sermon was delivered by Reverend Richard Furman of First Baptist Church. The free-standing building, 65 x 40 feet, was at the rear of the property and faced Vanderhorst Street. It housed three different organs over time; for the one purchased in 1839, the floors of the balcony had to be lowered seven inches to accommodate it: those must have been some mighty fine pipes!

 

A Union soldier stands guard outside of the Orphan House, which was used as a Union hospital during the Civil War. Note the statue of William Pitt inside the wall, which was displayed at this location from 1808-1881. Charleston, SC Orphan Asylum, 1865. Civil War Photograph Collection, LOC.


 

Campus Changes

When the Orphan House was constructed, it was the largest building in the city at the time–larger than the Exchange Building or the Customs House–but because it was charitable institution, it was not designed to have ornate or elaborate detailing. The only decoration was a small cupola, which housed an alarm bell. All of that changed when the building underwent massive renovations from 1853-1855, an expansion necessary in order to house a growing number of children. The new building was designed by Edward C. Jones and Francis D. Lee and it more than doubled the size of the orphanage: the new building enclosed the old one on three sides–the front (south) facade as well as the east and west wings–expanding the space and adding the fine Italianate detailing that most of us associate with the Orphan House today. Most remarkable is the elaborate octagonal structure supporting the belfry, cupola, and the statue Charity (the remains of which can be viewed on display today at the Charleston Museum). The children stayed in the newly constructed Almshouse during the renovation period and were moved back into the orphanage just three days before its 66th anniversary. The celebration and parades were massive that year!

During the Civil War, for their protection the children were removed to a former ladies seminary school in Orangeburg, where they were spared Sherman’s march of destruction although most of the city was destroyed. (After the war ended, that same school campus was purchased for a college for African Americans: Claflin University, est. 1869.) The Charleston Orphan House was utilized as a hospital for Union soldiers while the children were away; when the children returned, life in the Charleston Orphan House–like in the rest of the South–had some significant changes coming. Curious about life inside the Charleston Orphan House and the importance the institution played in the development of the city and some of its most successful citizens? Stay tuned for the next installment!

 

John recently represented the buyers in the sale of 59 Vanderhorst Street.


 

Radcliffeborough

The Radcliffeborough neighborhood is an eclectic and lively area downtown with a mix of architectural styles. Named for Thomas Radcliffe, who purchased and surveyed the land that now makes up the neighborhood, Radcliffeborough is bounded by King, Calhoun, Rutledge and Morris Streets. Close to the College of Charleston, MUSC, and fashionable upper King Street, this is one of the most convenient spots downtown.

John recently represented the buyers of a lovely Charleston single style home in the heart of Radcliffeborough, just a couple of blocks from the former location of the Orphan House Chapel. Congratulations to the fortunate new homeowners…what a beautiful home!

The Making of Lockwood Drive

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The area around present day Lockwood Drive used to be marsh, mudflats, and water. West Point Rice Mill can be seen in the center; Colonial Lake is on the far left. C. Drie. Bird’s Eye View of Charleston, SC. 1872. American Memory LOC .

It’s general knowledge that a lot of Charleston’s peninsula was built on filled land–and it’s not hard to tell where creeks used to flow when we have a good rain at full tide. It wasn’t that long ago, but if you weren’t around it’s hard to imagine the west side of town–from Tradd Street all the way up to the Citadel–was pretty much completely under water. The Ashley River hosted a couple of rice and lumber mills, some wharves, and some pretty nice water-front homes on Gadsden Street. There was no Lockwood, no Halsey, not much of Barre Street to speak of. But after the tidal mill ponds were retired, there came a Municipal Yacht Basin, a seaplane launch site, and a large naval presence–each of which seems a little crazy now. International seaplanes and Navy minecraft? Let’s take a look!

West Point Rice Mill

After the Civil War, production of rice fell to the point where Charleston’s three major rice mills combined forces. The West Point Rice Mill (built 1861-1863) operated sporadically throughout the Civil War and after the turn of the century, but the company was forced to sell off its machinery and maintain the property by renting wharf and warehouse space. In 1926, the 43 acre mill property was sold to the City of Charleston; Mayor Thomas P. Stoney had grand plans to fill the mud flats and extend the 15 year old Murray Boulevard from Tradd Street all the way up to Spring. Those plans were relinquished and in 1930 the US Post Office came up with a better idea: the property was perfect to use as a seaplane base. Right? Apparently not, at least for mail. But James F. Byrnes (builder of Byrnes Downs) thought that Charleston would actually be the best gateway for transatlantic seaplane flights between the US and Germany. Pan American Airways agreed and in 1937, construction of the “James F. Byrnes Trans-Atlantic Seaplane Base” commenced. Wait a minute…people got to Europe on seaplanes? We thought it sounded strange, too. But seaplanes were a preferred way to traverse the Atlantic through the 1930s and Charleston was being forward-thinking.

West Point Rice Mill, 1940. This is the only one of three antebellum rice mills on the peninsula that remains intact. Photo courtesy of HABS, LOC.

West Point Rice Mill, 1940. This is the only one of three antebellum rice mills on the peninsula that remains intact. Photo courtesy of HABS, LOC.

A new road was built to connect the old mill to Calhoun Street and architects were brought in from New York City to plan the refitting of the mill. The first two floors of the West Point Rice Mill building were renovated for use as the Charleston Passenger Station. By 1939, however, it became clear that travelling to war-torn Europe via seaplanes was not viable, so the project was abandoned. After housing the Civilian Conservation Corps for a year, the property was taken over by the United States Navy.

Municipal Yacht Basin

In the meantime, across this small spit of high ground, the New Deal’s Civil Works Administration had taken one of the lumber mills’ partially impounded tidal pools and turned it into a Municipal Yacht Basin. During 1934 the mill pond was dug out by hand, making it larger and deeper, and it was formally opened to the public in March,1935. Within a couple of years, significant improvements were made as it was developed to be part of the seaplane base. Piles were driven to shore up the enlarged basin as it was dredged to add fill to the land closer to the mill, effectively killing two birds with one stone. The US Coast Guard took over use of the basin during World War II, after which it became a popular marina for local boaters. Complaints by some visitors were lodged, however, as the yacht basin had few amenities compared to others on the east coast, and several rounds of improvements were made over the years.

The Municipal Yacht Basin (center) is now Alberta Long Lake. The West Point Mill housed the US Atlantic Fleet Mine Force during the 1950s. Roper Hospital can be seen across Calhoun Street from the yacht basin, flanked by the Tuberculosis Sanitarium on the left and the medical school complex (large red group of buildings) on the right. Postcard from the 1950s retrieved at delcamp.net.

The Municipal Yacht Basin (center) is now Alberta Long Lake. The West Point Mill housed the US Atlantic Fleet Mine Force during the 1950s. Roper Hospital can be seen across Calhoun Street from the yacht basin, flanked by the Tuberculosis Sanitarium on the left and the medical school complex (large red group of buildings) on the right. Postcard from the 1950s retrieved at delcamp.net.

In the late 1950s, hotly contested plans were made to build another street west of Barre next to the yacht basin. Local yachtsmen complained that the new street threatened the success of the yacht basin: “The yachtsmen hold that the use of trash in reclaiming the land for the street has already created one vexing problem and more than likely will create ones in the near future. Right now, these men say, the problem is that of the ever-increasing population of seagulls, who, lured by the prospects of free meals, abound in the yacht basin area…’We have to wash down our decks five and six times a day at times,’ one yachtsman contended.” (N&C 1.05.58) You see, some of the land for the street’s right of way had been settled for some years, but part of it had originally only been filled with sawdust, no doubt from the lumber mill. So, garbage was dumped on top and sprinkled with a little dirt, garbage, dirt, garbage, dirt…you get the picture. Alderman Alfred O. Halsey persisted with the plans, saying, “I just don’t understand why these people get all worked up. There’s just a very small amount of sanitary fill in there.” It may have been a small area to start, but in the end not only was Halsey Boulevard built on landfill, but the areas south and west of there were, too. Can you imagine a whole section of the city hosting hundreds and hundreds of seagulls?

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Top: “Minemen stand special formation in front of headquarters building of US Atlantic Fleet Mine Force during mass reenlistment ceremonies. Charleston, SC” From All Hands (Feb, 1957): The Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin. Bottom: “USN Minecraft Base, Charleston, SC. View of Pier Baker from the Ashley River showing crowded mooring conditions at pier.” The West Point Mill building can be seen behind the ships and Pier Able is just to the north, slightly upriver. Photo undated, courtesy of NavSource.org Naval History.

The Minecraft Fleet was stationed at the West Point Mill property until 1957, and after two years without Naval activity the property reverted back to the City. By this time, the Municipal Yacht Basin was barely navigable with accumulated silt and plans were made to move operations over to the old minecraft base. In the early 1960s, the whole area had a facelift. Access to the yacht basin from the Ashley River was closed off and filled in; much diminished, the old basin is now called the Alberta Long Lake. Lockwood Drive was extended over the filled land down to Broad Street and the City had a fancy new marina. Next time you’re over there, think of all the changes that that area’s been through. Pretty amazing, right?

Naval Minecraft Base

In 1941, the Charleston Area Inshore Control of the Navy moved in to the West Point Rice Mill and by the following year the third and fourth stories had been refitted to house radio rooms and administrative operations. Because of the infill from the yacht basin, there was considerably more land here now than had originally been associated with the mill. The Navy built docks, warehouses, barracks, mess halls, and recreation areas. In 1946, the site became the headquarters for the US Atlantic Fleet Mine Force, known for its ‘wooden ships and iron men’ (craft in the mine fleet were all made of wood and non-magnetic metal to prevent interference with mines). The entire Fleet was housed here in Charleston, including the 6-man 57-foot MSBs (minesweeping boats) that were known as the ‘mighty mites of the splinter fleet’, the MSCs (coastal) and MSOs (ocean-going). Did y’all know we had such a huge Naval presence downtown? Why didn’t you say something?

Lois represented the buyers in the sale of 89 Montagu Street last week.

Lois represented the buyers in the sale of 89 Montagu Street last week.

Presidential Row

The area at the end of Wentworth and Montagu Streets at Lockwood was slated in 1981 to become “Presidential Row”, including eight historic frame houses and four three-unit condo buildings. Seven homes from President Street and one from Spring Street were to be moved from the section of President in the area of Bee and Doughty Streets, lots that the Medical University had bought for expansion. The four oldest homes were moved to the new end of Wentworth (212-218), but we’re not sure what happened to the others. Anyone know?

Lois just represented the buyers of one of the lovely newer homes at the end of Montagu Street. Congratulations to the fortunate new homeowners! We understand the buyers are from Chicago, which was also built on garbage after it burned down…hopefully, y’all will feel right at home!

The Great Conflagration of 1861

Map showing the extent of the December 11, 1861 fire. Courtesy of lowcountrywalkingtours.com.

Map showing the extent of the December 11, 1861 fire. Courtesy of lowcountrywalkingtours.com.

Charleston has suffered through many natural and manmade disasters over the last 300+ years, but the most prolific source of havoc was that blood-thirsty tiger: FIRE. Sized from small to large and far too many to count, Charleston’s fires have reconfigured the city’s built landscape and shaped its future numerous times, especially those known as the great fires: the waterfront fires of 1740 and 1778 as well as the decade of fires in the 1830s– including the devastating Ansonborough fire in 1838. But the mack-daddy of all Charleston fires was the one that left a huge part of the city in ruins for decades–throughout the Civil War and for many years after, it was known as The Burnt District.

The Great Conflagration of 1861

According to most accounts, the fire started sometime before 10 p.m. on December 11, 1861 at the William P. Russell & Company’s Sash and Blind factory at the foot of Hassell Street, on or near the site of the present day Harris Teeter. The source of the blaze is speculated to have been a fire built for warmth or cooking by some slave refugees sheltering beside the factory. The last several days had been mild, but a cold front was coming in from the northeast blowing gale-force winds that spread the fire easily and quickly across the peninsula in a southwesterly direction; it would burn out of control until there was nothing more in its path to destroy. A diary from the time called it a Hurricane of Fire, and indeed it was.

Left: Secession Hall, 1960, flanked by the Circular Congregational Church and by Nicholas Fehenbach's Teetotal Restaurant (Justin A. Shaw via civilwar.org). Right: Bird's Eye View of Meeting Street looking north from atop the Mill's House Hotel, 1865. Photo by George N. Barnard. Library of Congress.

Left: Secession Hall, 1960, flanked by the Circular Congregational Church and by Nicholas Fehenbach’s Teetotal Restaurant (Justin A. Shaw via civilwar.org). Right: Bird’s Eye View of Meeting Street looking north from atop the Mill’s House Hotel, 1865. Photo by George N. Barnard. Library of Congress.

Witnesses were amazed by the speed and intensity of the fire. By midnight, the Circular Church on Meeting Street was burning, and next door the South Carolina Institute Hall was aflame. Less than a year before, 170 delegates had walked upon the stage of the Institute Hall, signed the Ordinance of Secession for South Carolina, and the first state had officially seceded from the Union. Subsequently, Institute Hall was commonly referred to Secession Hall, and some would find it ironic that the two buildings most significant to secession–Secession Hall and St. Andrew’s Hall on Broad Street were both destroyed by a fire accidentally set by slave refugees. But that wasn’t all that was lost: 540 acres had been burned, including more than 575 buildings, leaving hundreds of souls without shelter. But, as they say, it could have been much worse. At least some buildings were saved.

The Mills House Hotel was spared by the fire. Photo by George N. Barnard, 1865. Library of Congress.

The Mills House Hotel was spared by the fire. Photo by George N. Barnard, 1865. Library of Congress.

In November, 1861, Port Royal in Beaufort county had fallen to Federal troops, providing them with a deep-water port from which to attack the entire Confederate coast. General Robert E. Lee travelled to Charleston to assist General Roswell Ripley in strengthening the city against an inevitable attack. According to Daniel J. Crooks, Jr’s Charleston is Burning!: Two Centuries of Fire and Flames, Lee was crossing the Ashley River to the western part of the peninsula when he saw the flames on the eastern side of the city. Unaware of the magnitude of the conflagration, he went to his rooms at the Mills House and entertained guests at dinner. After realizing that they were in the line of fire, Lee and his party were evacuated to the empty town home of the Alston family on the High Battery at 21 East Bay Street. General Ripley stayed behind to oversee the firefighting efforts, which were greatly hampered by the lack of water to draw from as it was low tide. Under his direction, over a dozen houses on Queen Street were demolished with dynamite in order to prevent the fire from advancing to the Roman Catholic Orphan Home at Queen and Logan as well as the block beyond which contained the hospitals, the Medical College, workhouse, and jail. The strategy worked, and according to the Charleston Times, “The Mills House was only saved through almost superhuman exertions and its blacked walls attest the severe trial it had undergone.” Evidently, the hotel staff was able to extinguish flying cinders that landed on the building by hanging out its windows and swatting with wet blankets. Talk about going beyond and above!

Ruins on Queen Street with the Cathedral of Saint John and Saint Finbar in the background on Broad Street. Photo by George N. Barnard, 1865. Library of Congress.

Ruins on Queen Street with the Cathedral of Saint John and Saint Finbar in the background on Broad Street. Photo by George N. Barnard, 1865. Library of Congress.

Architectural obituaries

According to the Charleston Times, “The loss of property has been variously estimated at from five to seven million dollars. Five churches, namely: The Circular, the Cumberland Methodist Church, St. Peter’s Church in Logan Street, St. John’s and St. Finbar’s Cathedral…and the Quaker Meeting House in King Street…St. Andrew’s Hall, Institute Hall, the two Savings Institutions, the Theatre and large Southern Express buildings are all gone.” The Mercury kept a log of the losses and devoted a column in the paper to offer architectural obituaries of some of the grand colonial homes that were lost in the fire, including the ca 1750 Pinckney mansion on East Bay Street, also known as the Governor’s Palace. The Charleston Courier carried an obituary for the Cathedral on Broad Street that had only been completed eight years prior, crowned with a gold cross that rose almost 300 feet in the air. “All of a sudden it was announced that beautiful architectural structure, St. John’s and St. Finbar’s Cathedral, was in flames. The pride of that portion of our city was doomed to destruction, and its beautiful spire soon fell with a terrific crash, sounding high above the noise of the devouring flames.” Unfortunately, many believed the structure to be fireproof and had moved their possessions inside for protection. Doubly-cursed, the Cathedral’s insurance policy had expired a week prior; but in the end the fire bankrupted all but one insurance company, anyway.

In many ways, the Great Fire of 1861 became associated with the Civil War. Some people at the time of the fire–both here and elsewhere–postulated that the fire was indeed ‘part of the war’ as they assumed it was set by Northern sympathizers, although there is no evidence of that whatsoever. Many people who see the post-war photographs of George N. Barnard and others assume that the destruction portrayed in the Burnt District is due primarily to Union bombardment of the city (1863-1865), which it most certainly was not. In fact, the fire probably saved the lives of many Charlestonians who may have otherwise been in their homes during bombardment; instead the shells fell onto what was already in ruin. Because of the War, the area was not rebuilt for many years, several decades in some cases: it took thirty years to begin building a new Circular Church on Meeting Street and a new Cathedral on Broad Street. That’s a long time for a proud city to look such a mess, but look at us now!

161 Tradd Street was built ca 1870 and is currently offered for sale by John Payne.

161 Tradd Street was built ca 1870 and is currently offered for sale by John Payne.

Up from ashes

The Mercury reported, “Horlbeck’s Alley (from Meeting) to King Street is in ruins,” “Church Street, from the corner of Market to Cumberland, is also burned.” Meeting Street, Queen Street, Logan, Broad. And then, “The residences on Tradd Street, from Logan to Savage, on either side, with Greenhill, Limehouse and Council streets are, with one or two exceptions, all in ruins.” Lois Lane Properties currently has two homes in this stretch of Tradd Street listed for sale. John Payne just listed 161 Tradd Street, a Charleston single on the south side between Council and Limehouse streets. This area was re-built fairly quickly after the fire; this dwelling was built around 1870. Please call John at 843.708.0897 to find out more about this fantastic home!

A block further up Tradd, across from the top of Greenhill Street is 140 Tradd, listed for sale by Ruthie Smythe. A leading building and contractor at the time, John Kenny, lived at 142 Tradd Street, a three-story masonry building that likely survived the fire. He built the three-story wood dwelling at 138 Tradd before 1870, leaving the lot at 140 empty and divided between the two properties. He also constructed the three side-hall-plan dwellings at 132-136 Tradd from 1882-1885. The lots were divided and sold after 1902 and the current dwelling at 140 Tradd was built in 1904. This is a must-see! Please call Ruthie at 843.729.1290 to schedule a showing.

140 Tradd Street was built in 1904 and is currently offered for sale by Ruthie Smythe.

140 Tradd Street was built in 1904 and is currently offered for sale by Ruthie Smythe.

Charleston’s Christmas Connection

Poinsettia variations patented by the Eckes family. Image: US Patent & Trademark Office.

Poinsettia variations patented by the Eckes family. Image: US Patent & Trademark Office.

We give them, we get them, we try to keep them going through the holiday season. Those little potted plants of red and cream and green have come to symbolize Christmas more than any other plant, but why? And what do they have to do with Charleston?

La Flor de la Nochebuena

Native to Mexico, where is is known as La Flor de la Nochebuena (Flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve), the Poinsettia is scientifically known as Euphorbia pulcherrima. Cultivation of poinsettias has been traced back to the Aztecs, who used the leaves to create reddish-purple dyes for fabrics and the white sticky sap to for medicinal purposes, including to help control fever. It’s actually a small tropical tree: in the wild or planted in tropical climates, the poinsettia can reach heights of twelve feet with leaves measuring six to eight inches across. The Poinsettia blooms only in December and has been used to decorate churches as part of religious ceremonies for centuries.

There are many stories and legends associated with the Christmas connection of Poinsettias. Here’s one common version in case you’ve never heard the story:
“Mexican legend tells the story of a poor child on the way to church on Christmas Eve. As was the custom in the village, everyone would bring gifts to lay at the feet of the Baby Jesus near the altar. the little child felt ashamed to not have a gift to give, but went to church anyway. On the way there, an angel told the little one to pick some dried weeds that were growing on the side of the road and use them as a gift. The young child did as told, and upon reaching the church, laid the weeds down next to the other precious gifts. As the little child did so, the weeds turned into beautiful flowers.” (From the blog neicyisms.com.)

Joel Poinsett sculpture in downtown Greenville, SC. Photo: GreenvilleDailyPhoto.com.

Joel Poinsett sculpture in downtown Greenville, SC. Photo: GreenvilleDailyPhoto.com.

Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett

The Poinsettia is named after Charleston-born Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, a physician, statesman, and amatuer botanist, who first introdued the plant to this country and whose death is memorialized by National Poinsettia Day on December 12th. As the first United States ambassador to Mexico, he discovered a shrub with brilliant red leaves growing along the side of the road in Taxco, Mexico, in December, 1828. He sent cuttings back to South Carolina, where he continued to study and breed this unusual plant. (The flowers, by the way, are the tiny white-yellow buds in the center of the plant surrounded by colored leaves, or bracts.) Many botanists at the time considered it a weed but it soon gained acceptance here as a holiday plant, despite its short bloom time. It wasn’t until the 1960s that horticulturists were able to successfully breed specimens that bloomed for more than a few days, and now they are the highest selling flowering potted plant by far (the Easter Lily runs a distant second). The Paul Ecke Ranch in Southern California produced the majority of Poinsettias for nearly a century, having a virtual monopoly on the industry as they owned patents on over a hundred varieties featuring an array of colors and foliage shapes. Red is still the most popular color, although the cream-colored ones are very pretty as well; if you thought those blue-colored Poinsettias look rather suspect–well, that’s a designer color created with dyes…surprise, surprise.

Left: William Harvey House (ca 1757) at 110 Broad Street, Charleston (photographer Charles N. Bayless, 1933, HABS, LOC). Right: Summer home of Joel & Mary Poinsett in Greenville County, no longer standing (William B. Coxe Collection, Greenville County Historical Society).

Left: William Harvey House (ca 1757) at 110 Broad Street, Charleston (photographer Charles N. Bayless, 1933, HABS, LOC). Right: Summer home of Joel & Mary Poinsett in Greenville County, no longer standing (William B. Coxe Collection, Greenville County Historical Society).

A Great Statesman

In 1830, Poinsett returned to Charleston where he later married Mary Izard Pringle (1780-1857). The Izards were the second owners of the stately William Harvey House at 110 Broad Street; Ralph Stead Izard sold the home in 1837 to his aunt Mary and her husband Joel Poinsett, where they lived for many years (above, left). Joel Poinsett also had a plantation on the PeeDee near Georgetown and the couple made summer homes in the Upstate outside of Greenville (above, right). Throughout his life, Poinsett was an eternal public servant. Not only was he ambassador to several countries, he served in the South Carolina legislature as well as the United States Congress and was appointed Secretary of War. He was responsible for building the oldest bridge in South Carolina–and possibly the southeast–on the road leading from Columbia to Saluda Mountain. The stone Poinsett Bridge in Greenville County is famous for its Gothic arch; it is listed on the National Register and is part of the Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve. The “weird and beautiful” Poinsett State Park in the High Hills of Santee in Sumter County, best known for its botanical oddities, is named for Dr. Poinsett as well. It was built in the 1930s by the Civil Conservation Corps and was just this year listed on the National Register. Both of these places would be great options for a holiday hike…who’s in?

Poinsett Bridge, SC Route 42. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, 1986. HAER, LOC.

Poinsett Bridge, SC Route 42. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, 1986. HAER, LOC.

Coney Island of the South

Fatty Arbuckle rides The Whip at Luna Park, Coney Island.

Fatty Arbuckle rides The Whip at Luna Park, Coney Island.

It’s no secret that Charleston has made the top of the list time and again as a great place to visit. What with our hospitality, history, and charm (among other things), that should come as no surprise. But would you be surprised to learn that the earliest efforts to draw tourists to the area actually revolved around colorful carousels and Ferris wheels? Read on about how the Isle of Palms got its start as the “Coney Island of the South”!

The foresight of Dr. Lawrence

According to local historian Suzannah Smith Miles in her book, The Islands: Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms, An Illustrated History, Dr. Joseph S. Lawrence was a Beaufort-born soldier who fought in the Confederate War before heading up north to hone his business acumen. In 1896, he came to Charleston with financial backing from wealthy northerners to look for potential investments that could help grow the depressed economy here. Keep in mind that the area was both economically as well as physically devastated at the time, by the War and Reconstruction, as well as from natural disasters such as fire, cyclones, and the earthquake. Dr. Lawrence was taken by boat to what was then known as Long Island (formerly Hunting Island) by local elite and James Island planter W. Wallace Lawton, who had spent childhood days hunting and fishing on the undeveloped island that was now for sale. Dr. Lawrence saw the potential of the wild island as a premier island resort and immediately began the immense undertaking of not only establishing the resort, but most importantly building a safe and reliable transportation system to get visitors there.

Seashore Railroad trolley car on Sullivan's Island, ca. 1899. Photo SCE&G.

Seashore Railroad trolley car on Sullivan’s Island, ca. 1899. Photo SCE&G.

If you build it, they will come.

The Long Island Development Company bought Long Island in November, 1897 and shortly renamed it the more euphonious Isle of Palms (sometimes pronounced Isle of Parm, depending on where one was from). Dr. Lawrence, along with others, had already established the Consolidated Railway, Gas, & Electric Company and created a city-wide electric streetcar system. They subsequently created an offshoot called the Charleston and Seashore Railroad Company to build a line that ran from Mt. Pleasant over Cove Inlet to Sullivan’s Island, down the length of Sullivan’s Island over Breach Inlet and into the Isle of Palms.

That a railroad company should build or buy a park at the end of its lines was popular in large American cities at the end of the 19th century, and they typically grew from picnic spots to include regular entertainment, dance halls, and mechanical entertainment. Pretty soon, electric trolley lines were going to seaside resorts like Atlantic City and Coney Island, where dedicated amusement parks were built alongside popular bathing spots. Striking while the iron was hot, it took less than six months for Dr. Lawrence’s consortium to construct a state-of-the-art electric trolley line that included two trestle bridges, institute a new ferry service from Charleston to Mt. Pleasant, build new roads on the Isle of Palms, as well as a dance pavilion, bathhouses, and boardwalks; a grand hotel was already under construction by the time the resort opened on July 27, 1898 and mechanical amusement was just around the corner. What excitement!

Early postcard of the Ferris wheel on the Isle of Palms, erected in 1898.

Early postcard of the Ferris wheel on the Isle of Palms, erected in 1898.

Mechanical Amusements

The resort was a resounding success, with the Seashore Railroad porting 60,000 passengers to and from the island in just the first month after opening. Can you imagine that? Isle of Palms was quickly recognized as one of the best resorts on the east coast, but Dr. Lawrence knew that to continue to compete with the likes of Coney Island and Atlantic City he would need to provide additional amusements, preferably those mechanical in nature.

The original Ferris wheel was erected in the medway as a special attraction for the Chicago World’s Fair (1893) and was readily replicated for use in other amusement parks. Folklore has it that this original Ferris wheel was the one bought by Dr. Lawrence and rebuilt on Isle of Palms, but this has proved to be a myth (oh, well). The Isle of Palms Ferris wheel came from Atlantic City and was appropriately sized for the island at 120 feet in diameter with 12 cars. It was lit by more than five hundred lights and could be seen from the harbor as well as the city. What a sight that must have been!

Gravity Steeplechase Racecourse on Isle of Palms, ca. 1901, Charleston Museum.

Gravity Steeplechase Racecourse on Isle of Palms, ca. 1901, Charleston Museum.

Coney Island of the South

The News & Courier ran this headline in October, 1898 to announce the amusements coming shortly to the Isle of Palms, including an electric carousel and a steeplechase purchased from Coney Island. Electric carousels were coming into their heyday, but the Gravity Steeplechase was quite the novel thrill. Did y’all know about these? Attributed to Coney Island’s George Tilyou, the mechanical horserace was meant to capitalize on the popularity of horse racing at the time; indeed, it was so lucrative at Coney Island the ride was referred to as “The Mint.” Riders mounted life-sized 500-pound mechanical horses that were set into steel guides over a course of wooden planks. Six of these horses were mounted on parallel tracks that curved around and up and down dips and hurdles along the length of the course. The horses were gravity-driven, so the momentum generated by each dip would propel riders up the hurdles. Unlike in real horseracing where lighter jockeys are preferable, in the Gravity Steeplechase the heavier the load, the faster you go. Giddy up!

By the following summer, the grand three-story Hotel Seashore was completed on a rise behind the pavilion. As the resort was intended to appeal to persons of every means, the first and second floors of the hotel were furnished in heavy mahogany and the less-expensive third floor rooms in respectable oak; those that wished to merely have a day at the beach or an evening of dancing still had access to the other fine facilities. Dr. Lawrence had successfully constructed a true People’s Playground–a “source of pleasure and profit to the entire community”–before passing away later that summer. As Ms. Miles noted, the year and half that he devoted to his project, creating the Isle of Palms and linking the islands with the mainland and the city, forever changed the dynamics east of the Cooper. Thank you for your vision, Dr. Lawrence.

9 Sand Dune Ln

Isle of Palms today

No longer the Coney Island of the South (that’s okay), Isle of Palms is best known for its laid-back lifestyle and gorgeous beaches, with amusements in the form of golf and tennis these days. A short drive to Mt. Pleasant and Charleston, the island is a very desireable place to live and real estate has been booming. At the moment, there are over fifty properties for sale on the island. Interested in the area? Ruthie‘s been involved in multiple real estate transactions on our beaches in the last few years. Having a family beach house on the Isle of Palms keeps her in touch with everything that goes on over there, so please give her a call at 843.729.1290 if you have any questions about property on the island or other beaches in our area. Congratulations, Ruthie, on your recent closing representing the sellers at 9 Sand Dune Lane!

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Photograph by George Brich, Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. Photograph caption dated November 19, 1962 reads, 'Little Laurie, 4 1/2, learns everything about Thanksgiving from setting the table to its meaning.'

We are grateful that our lives are filled with meeting wonderful people like you.

 

May your home be filled with bountiful blessings on Thanksgiving and always. 

Photograph by George Brich, Valley Times Collection, Los Angeles Public Library. Photograph caption dated November 19, 1962 reads, ‘Little Laurie, 4 1/2, learns everything about Thanksgiving from setting the table to its meaning.’

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!


Charleston’s Bolt and Ties that Bind

Earthquake bolts in Charleston can be seen in many different designs.

Earthquake bolts in Charleston can be seen in many different designs.

A couple of weeks ago marked the 130th anniversary of Charleston’s Great Earthquake of 1886. It was the largest earthquake to hit the southeastern United States and with a magnitude of 7.3, it devastated Charleston leaving its built environment forever changed. Like side-facing piazzas and distinctive ironwork, earthquake bolts are considered one of the features of Charleston architecture that make it so unique. But these stabilizing tie-rods did not actually originate in Charleston, and even in the Lowcountry they were used prior to the Great Shock. You’re likely aware of the iron plates seen on numerous buildings around town, but how much do you really know about these so-called earthquake bolts?

Tie Rod Reinforcement

Various forms of iron reinforcement of masonry buildings evolved in Europe, dating all the way back to Greek and Roman architecture. Known as simply reinforcing rods elsewhere, the “modern” form of the technology had been in use for a couple of hundred years in Europe and America before Charleston’s earthquake struck. Early American examples mimicked the Dutch short wall anchors, called stays, as part of the original building construction and used large exterior gib plates shaped to spell out the building’s construction date. Here in the colonial South, the most common gib plate form was in the shape of an “S” and was used as early as 1714 when iron reinforcing rods were installed on the gable ends of Mulberry Plantation‘s main house as part of its original construction. Berkeley County’s Mulberry is one of the oldest brick dwellings to survive in South Carolina, and the third oldest plantation house. Damage to the dwelling during the 1886 earthquake resulted in the installation of additional rods and bolts; this time, the gib plates used were the all-too-familiar nine-inch-round iron plates. It is believed that Mulberry is the only structure that has both types of bolts: the original 1714 plates used for reinforcement during construction as well as those installed in 1886 to repair earthquake damage. Pretty cool, huh? Another example of colonial-era reinforcing rods can be seen in the circa 1713 Old Powder Magazine on Cumberland Street, where cast iron rods were capped with giant X-shaped gib plates in the 1740s.

Mulberry Plantation (top and bottom left): note the "S" shaped bolts from 1714 and the circular gib plates from 1886 on the gable end. The Old Powder Magazine has reinforcing rods with large "X" plates dating from the 1740s (bottom right).

Mulberry Plantation (top and bottom left): note the “S” shaped bolts from 1714 and the circular gib plates from 1886 on the gable end. The Old Powder Magazine has reinforcing rods with large “X” plates dating from the 1740s (bottom right).

The ties that bind

Earthquake bolts were used to repair brick buildings after earthquakes struck Memphis, Tennessee in 1843 and New Knoxville, Ohio in 1875, but the only seismic-activity prone area where they were specified for new construction in the 19th century was San Francisco (surely you can guess why). In Charleston, tie rods were used primarily to retrofit and reinforce masonry buildings damaged by disasters, like the tornado of 1811 and the hurricane of 1885. Thus, some of the exterior gib plates you see around town may actually belong to tornado rods or hurricane rods, although so many were installed after the the Great Shock that they are invariably called earthquake bolts here. In 1886, about 30% of Charleston’s structures were made of brick, and about 90% were damaged to some degree or another. A week after the earthquake, Henry Kittridge, a New york carpenter and machinist, recommended to Mayor Courtney that iron reinforcing rods be used to save the structures: “Most of the damaged houses in your city can again be drawn into shape and made as strong and reliable as ever, and that, too, without disfigurement, by placing heavy angle iron on the corners, and connecting rods with nuts on the end in such a way as by turning them the displacement will be remedied. These strong rods can remain hidden from sight by ornamental heads to cover them.” By the end of the month, virtually every pre-1886 masonry building in the area was being repaired with the earthquake bolts, some with decorative coverings and many without. Once you notice them as you’re strolling around town, you’ll start seeing them everywhere!

Earthquake bolts on a couple of Lois' listings: 89 Warren Street (left) recently sold and 24 Wentworth Street (right) is currently listed for sale.

Earthquake bolts on a couple of Lois’ listings: 89 Warren Street (left) recently sold and 24 Wentworth Street (right) is currently listed for sale.

Holding strong

At least one local critic claims that Charleston’s earthquake bolts were nothing but a money-making scam for some 1886 bolt-maker, but others agree that they’ve served their purpose in holding together many of our buildings for the last 130 years. Would Charleston’s 1886 earthquake bolts make a difference if another Great Shock came around? That’s a source of debate, and one that’s never been tested. A College of Charleston geologist claims: “One thing we know is that on average, it’s about five hundred years based on geological studies in the Lowcountry between earthquakes of the size of the one of 1886.” So, we’re not holding our breath to find out!

How many earthquake bolts are there in Charleston, anyway? Someone let us know if you get a full count! We can point to several sets on a pair of Lois’ listings at the moment. The recently sold property at 89 Warren Street has the typical round gib plates as well as some rectangular ones with a cruciform feature. The property at 24 Wentworth Street has several sets of round iron gib plates installed in the lovely brick set in the striking Flemish bond pattern. This three-story circa 1840 double-tenement home is one of Ansonborough‘s handsomest. Please call Lois at 843.270.2797 or email her at lois@loislaneproperties.com with any queries or to schedule a showing.

The National Parks, y’all!

Next week, the National Park Service (NPS) is celebrating the centennial of its founding as a new federal bureau with the central task of overseeing and preserving our National Parks. Forty-four years after President Grant created the country’s–and the world’s–first national park, Yellowstone, responsibility for all the parks’ oversight and protection was scattered and dubious. When President Woodrow Wilson signed the act on August 25, 1916, there were 14 national parks and 21 national monuments that needed tending, and finally there was one agency that could do it. This was America’s best idea, and it just got greater and bigger. Now there are over 400 areas that are under the purview of the NPS–the 59 national parks as well as monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, as well as the White House. Busy, busy, busy!

National Park Collage

Clockwise from top L: Kimber & Lois at Yellowstone Nat’l Park, Bill at Yosemite Nat’l Park, Keelin at Grand Canyon Nat’l Park, and Ellery at White River Nat’l Forest (scroll down for more).

#FindYourPark

The initial 14 national parks consisted of vast diverse landscapes, all west of the Mississippi. These were established primarily to protect scenic wonders–soaring cliffs, canyons, glaciers, waterfalls. These were places that were not considered to have huge development potential; they were too severe. Plus, there was a sense of patriotic pride in these natural cathedrals that could rival any of the man-made castles and cathedrals of Europe. They were to be open to the public for everyone to enjoy, not just wealthy recreationalists and game hunters. Protection of living creatures such as the American buffalo in Yellowstone and the giant redwoods in Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks became a priority, and later protection of wildlife in general became a goal. Now our national parks have the incredible goals of protecting natural biodiversity–ecosystems, indigenous flora and fauna, geosystems–while inspiring our awe as well as our imagination of what life was like before cars and computers. As national park advocate and Sierra Club founder John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” Our parks not only tell the American story–they help create it, and we are their only stewards. Have you found your park?

da1c0f8b-6167-4992-83aa-6ab4786a30e69396ff08-31f5-47ec-ac79-f2a61c18db49Just down the road…

The NPS manages half a dozen sites in South Carolina: Ft. Sumter Nat’l Monument (which includes Ft. Moultrie), Charles Pinckney Nat’l Historic Site, Cowpens Nat’l Battlefield, Ninety Six Nat’l Historic Site, King’s Mountain Nat’l Military Park as well as the state’s only national park, Congaree National Park. How many of these sites have y’all visited? If you have a Nat’l Parks Passport, you’ve probably been to most of them since those stamps and stickers are hard to resist! Only 34 states have national parks in them and less than a third of all national parks are east of the Mississippi–so South Carolina should consider itself somewhat special (well, in fairness, we already do!). Earning the designation of national park is not easy to get as it requires acts of Congress, but a Presidential declaration can establish a national monument–if the land is already owned by the federal government. National monuments have historical, cultural or scientific interest while national parks require at least 2,500 acres of land to ensure enough area for recreation and biodiversity. It has not been uncommon for national monuments to be redesignated to national park status–it takes some work but the payoff is, in part, better protection and preservation as well as additional funding. Do y’all know the story of how South Carolina got its own national park?

Planning and exploring Congaree

(L-R) John Cely, Jim Elder, & Dr. James Tanner were instrumental in exploring Congaree Swamp and organizing the movement to preserve it.

Congaree Swamp

Okay, first things first: it’s not really a swamp because it doesn’t have standing water most of the time. It’s actually a floodplain forest that floods about ten times a year, but the local name makes sense. Congaree was named after the Native American tribe that lived in the area; they were decimated by an outbreak of smallpox in the 18th century that was spread by European settlers. While the land was pretty inhospitable, the regular flooding did make the soil rich. There is evidence that some tried to farm the land using dike systems, and ‘mounts’ of earth were built to provide high ground to livestock during big floods. The dense wet forests did provide a somewhat safe haven for many escaped slaves who stayed on there after the war, and there are a number of scary ‘tales’ of the swamp passed down over the generations (sorry, kids, no haint stories today, but if you’re interested, check out Tales of the Congaree by Edward C. L. Adams). After the Civil War, a timber tycoon from Chicago named Francis Beidler bought up hundreds of thousands of acres of dirt-cheap South Carolina timberland. Since getting in and out of the Beidler Tract (the area that is now the national park) proved to be so difficult and dangerous, logging there was abandoned. The river bottom hardwood forest includes tall stands of bald cypress and tupelo in the wetter areas, as well as over 80 other tree species, including sweetgum, various oaks, and giant loblolly pine. Beidler could have sold off his old-growth forests and moved on to where timbering was easier, but he chose instead to hold on to the land, knowing that old-growth timber was being harvested at a rapid clip elsewhere and time would only add value to his land. But his decision to put the land into what some refer to as “timber reserve” status is why we have a national park today.

182abe79-0a22-4520-a163-5daa15ab332cCongaree National Park

The earliest ideas of making the Congaree Swamp a preserve came in the 1950s from Harry R. E. Hampton, who spent a great deal of time in the wet forest as a member of the Cedar Creek Hunt Club. Hampton was an editor at The State newspaper in Columbia and persuaded his friend Peter Manigault at the Post and Courier in Charleston to help him publicize the natural beauty and value of the land. Hampton appealed to various governmental agencies to find ways to have the Beidler Tract preserved as public land. The Southeastern Office of the National Park Service conducted a suitability study, published in 1963, recommending that the area should be “favorably considered” as a national monument for its ecological and geological significance. Throughout the 60s, naturalists studied the ecology and geology of the forest–including many state and national record holding trees–some were calling this the Redwoods of the East! In 1969, Beidler’s descendants began leasing harvesting rights to the forest–remember, this is still private land–and people went nuts!

In comparison to the fight to save the giant Redwoods, which took some 50 years, the fight to save Congaree’s giant cypress, tupelos, and longleaf pines was relatively quick. In 1972, the Congaree Swamp National Preserve Association launched a highly successful public awareness campaign. In 1975, they held a “Congaree Action Now!” rally in Columbia that drew about 700 people. Literal tree-huggers in South Carolina? Yes, we did. Of course, there were many who were against protecting the land and trees, and not without viable concerns. Since this was private land, efforts to buy and preserve it had to be approved by Congress. Senators Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings were very effective on this: on September 21, 1976 (just a year after the rally), Congress passed the act establishing Congaree Swamp National Monument and a month later, President Ford signed it. But don’t go feeling sorry for the Beidler heirs, y’all–they were compensated with over $30 million dollars and some nice tax credits. In 2003, ‘swamp’ was dropped from its name when it was reassigned as Congaree National Park. The park now has more than two dozen record-breaking trees, and they all want hugs. See y’all at Congaree!

Office in National Parks

Clockwise from top L: John with his father and brother in White River Nat’l Forest, Lois in Bryce Canyon Nat’l Park, Kimber in Yellowstone Nat’l Park, and Bill with his son Jack in Haleakalala Nat’l Park.

Cannonborough/Elliotborough Eateries: A Few Now & Then

Cannonborough ElliotboroughLast week, John closed the sale of a property on Ashe Street in the Cannonborough/Elliotborough Neighborhood. A discussion of the location naturally steered toward all the great places his clients will be able to walk to to enjoy a glass, pint, cup, or plate. Of course the question “What’s coming soon?” was raised, as well as “What restaurants used to be up here?” Curious minds and grumbling bellies want to know!

Corner-store-cum-restaurant

In the latter part of the 19th century, Cannonborough/Elliotborough was home to many tradesmen, craftsmen, and the ubiquitous corner store. Many of these neighborhood stores were in operation throughout the 20th century–and some are still in business as such today, though they’re getting harder to find. The first Cannonborough corner-store-cum-restaurant is Southern-inspired Mediterranean restaurant Lana on the corner of Cannon and Rutledge. In the last decade, restaurateurs looking to get a spot a little further off the beaten path have turned up to Bogard Street, and the allure of corner store space again proved hard to resist. On the corner of Bogard and Ashe Streets is the award-winning Italian eatery Trattoria Lucca and rumor has it that another corner kitchen is heating up. If French cuisine is your favorite, chances are you’ll skip for joy when Perig Goulet (of King Street’s former La Fourchette) opens his new place on the corner of Bogard and Sires Streets. Can’t wait! In the meantime, you can sip a glass and hear some music in the rustic, laid-back, tiny (as the name suggests) Elliotborough Mini Bar at the corner of Bogard and Percy Streets. What a great little spot!

Restaurants on Bogard

Clockwise from top L: Trattoria Lucca, Lana Restaurant, site of coming-soon restaurant at 53 Bogard Street, and Elliotborough Mini Bar.

Something for everyone.

Corner stores aren’t the only things that have been repurposed as eateries up in this eclectic neighborhood–think gas stations or apartments–and in fairness, there are more corners than we can cover here. Cannonborough/Elliotborough now hosts over two dozen spots to grab some victuals that run the gamut from coffee to spirits and Mexican to Vietnamese. Vegetarian or vegan? They’ve got you covered throughout the neighborhood–even at the very end over there at the corner (!) of President and Spring at Gnome. The two latest openings according to local press are definitely welcomed by the neighborhood: at Eclectic Cafe & Vinyl, you can peruse some albums while sipping some wine or a coffee and at Five Loaves Cafe‘s (egads–yet another corner!) new juice bar at Cannon and Coming you can get your yerba mate on. So go forth and nourish yourselves, gosh knows you don’t have to go far!

Everett's Restaurant

Everett’s Restaurant opened in 1951 at 172 Cannon Street.

Cannonborough West

It’s hard to imagine now, what with the Crosstown and MUSC taking up so much space, but residential Cannonborough used to extend all the way to the Ashley River. Water and marshland that once operated a couple of Cannon’s mills was filled in after the Civil War, making room for the construction of houses by middle-and working-class citizens who were primarily Irish and German immigrants as well as freed slaves. In the 1920s, the Ashley Memorial Bridge opened and US Hwy 17 crossed the peninsula, changing the character of the surrounding neighborhoods. In the 1940s, a popular eatery called The Fork opened at the fork in the road between Spring and Cannon Streets, where they converged approaching the bridge. It offered boxed lunches to be picked up on the way out to Folly Beach, and in later years frequently featured live music. The Patio was another popular spot throughout the 50s-70s and used to broadcast live radio from a portable DJ booth for WTMA. But by far the most popular restaurant up there along the western part of Cannonborough was the 1951 colonial-styled Everett’s, and one of the most popular features of Everett’s was the talking mynah bird that sat in a cage outside and endlessly asked, “Do you play golf? Do you play golf? Do you play golf?” Ummm, yes?

KFC

Everett’s Motel and Restaurant and KFC, Spring/Cannon Streets, 1964.

William Deas

Y’all know the story behind the invention of she-crab soup, right? President Taft and his wife were frequent guests of Mayor R. Goodwyn Rhett at his home at 116 Broad Street (now the John Rutledge House Inn) between 1908 and 1912. As legend has it, Rhett’s butler (!) was asked to “dress up” the pale crab soup they usually served, so the butler, William Deas, added some sherry and the orange-colored roe from the female crabs to add color and improve the flavor. Thus, one of Charleston’s most famous delicacies, She Crab Soup, was invented. Deas was chef to a number of prominent Charleston families before being hired by Everitt and Dolly Presson to run the kitchen at Everett’s at 172 Cannon Street (in the area of today’s Hardee’s). Deas brought his signature dish with him, and it was what Everett’s became known for (well, that and the fried chicken). A 1960 pamphlet for the restaurant made sure everyone knew about Deas’ She Crab Soup by declaring, “Sex has slipped into the soup pot, and once the word is out, there’s no telling what will happen in the commercial kitchens of America.” Indeed, the Pressons were so appreciative of what Deas had done for the business that they named a dining room addition after him and installed a mural of his home on Secessionville Creek; Deas worked there until his death in 1961. Everett Presson passed away in 1965, after he had made several additions and expanded to include a motel on the site. Eventually, Everett’s became Dino’s, a kind of mash-up college hangout, beer joint, and Italian Restaurant, and well, we all know what’s up there now. Oh, and just to be clear–when we counted the more than two dozen eateries in today’s Cannonborough/Elliotborough neighborhood, none on our list asked through an intercom whether we wanted to ‘supersize’ anything!

Recent Sales

John Payne recently closed on 109 Smith Street (L) and 36 Ashe Street (R).

Doubling up

So, back to what got us looking at restaurants in Cannonborough/Elliotborough in the first place: John’s closing on Ashe Street near Bogard. Actually, he doubled up this time. These two transactions were simultaneous closings that John coordinated, representing the seller of 109 Smith Street who in turn purchased 36 Ashe Street. These were the fifth and sixth transactions in which John has represented these clients over the last ten years. Congratulations to your clients and way to go, John! The third generation in an esteemed Charleston real estate family, John has a deep knowledge of the trends and traditions of the historic neighborhoods with a specialty in downtown renovation, restoration, and conversion investment properties. Please give him a call at 843.708.0897 or shoot him an email at john@loislaneproperties.com if you need some advice.