Category: Historic Charleston
Philip Simmons is a household name among Charleston architecture enthusiasts. As a Lowcountry blacksmith, the renowned artisan spent his life, or 78 years of it, crafting everyday objects like horseshoes, tools, and fireplace pokers — most from his workshop at 30 1/2 Blake Street in downtown Charleston.
Simmons passed away in 2009 at the age of 97 and left his signature everywhere from the Smithsonian to Paris — but especially in Charleston. When he died, the city honored him by tying white ribbons on all of his known works throughout Charleston.
He lived here all his life, and it was on his walks to school that he became intrigued with ironwork, which would change his life. His first apprenticeship with a blacksmith began when he was only 12 years old. His supervisor was the grandson of slaves, and so the skills he learned had been passed down from several generations of African American artisans.
What Simmons is most remembered for are his stunning wrought iron gates and other ornamental work that can be seen throughout Charleston. His gate work began in the early 1940s when he met a businessman named Jack Krawcheck, who commissioned a wrought iron gate for his King Street store. Simmons had to source his materials from scrap iron since the demand for iron during World War II made iron scarce to come by.
But the result was impressive enough for the Krawcheck family to commission more than 30 more iron pieces throughout Simmons’ career. And over the course of the following seven decades, Simmons made a living with his newfound calling, creating over 500 decorative home pieces including iron balconies, window grilles, fences, and gates.
So where can you learn more about Simmons today? His craft continues to be honored in his shop on Blake Street thanks to apprentices and his family — Carlton Simmons (Nephew) and Joseph Pringle (cousin). His home is a museum house with a book shop that opened the year after his passing.
His family and colleagues want to merely fulfill Simmons’ last wish, and that is to make sure his trade is carried on, which is why engineer John Paul Huguley founded the American College of the Building Arts. Simmons was the “inspirational founder,” Huguley told the Post & Courier two years ago. The school restored one of Simmons’ most significant gates, the coiled rattlesnakes at 329 East Bay Street.
The Philip Simmons Foundation also ensures that his legacy lives on via everything from sterling silver jewelry fashioned in shapes inspired Simmons’ memorable works.
But you don’t have to stop in the Blake Street shop or shop for jewelry online to see his handiwork. Take your very own walking tour around the peninsula to behold his works everywhere from the Philip Simmons Garden at 91 Anson Street to the driveway gate of the mansion at 138 Wentworth Street to Simmons’ very first walkway gate at the Krawcheck residence at 313 King Street. Today 313 King houses the gentlemens’ shop Grady Ervin & Co. where the folks are nice enough to direct you to gate behind the store. They also sell a belt that includes this gate design, so shop around while you’re in there! It’s a lovely store.
We’ll talk more about his works you can find around Charleston next week in another post dedicated to #wroughtironwednesday and the late, great Philip Simmons.
Planning a family vacation in Charleston? You’ve made the right choice. Named No. 1 city in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine, this jewel of a city has become a top tourist destination in the United States.
With its reputation for incredible food, pristine beaches, historic buildings, and beautiful parks, you probably know that there is an unending number of things to see and do in the Holy City, but which family-friendly activities should you consider for your next vacation?
To make things easier, we’ve rounded up a list of the best family activities in Charleston that will make your trip unforgettable. Whether you want to get a taste of Colonial history or splash around in the famous Pineapple Fountain, the Holy City is guaranteed to be a hit with the entire family.
Before your family explores the beautiful city of Charleston, make sure to stop by the Visitor Center downtown and pick up a free passport for the kids. They will have a blast collecting stamps at the most popular attractions in the area!
Beat the Heat at the South Carolina Aquarium
Charleston summers can get hot, but you can escape the heat by visiting the South Carolina Aquarium. Though it may be small, it is well-curated, and you should expect to spend a couple hours here to see everything it offers visitors.
Along with some great educational exhibits that the entire family will enjoy, the aquarium also has fun hands-on exhibits, including a touch tank for kids and knowledgeable staff members around to answer all of their questions.
Highlights of the South Carolina Aquarium are the albino alligator and the sea turtle rehabilitation center. And, fair warning—the price of admission may seem a little steep to some, but it is completely worth it if your kids love aquatic animals.
Explore the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
With nine interactive exhibits, there are plenty of ways to play and learn at the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. Located in downtown Charleston next to the Visitor’s Center, the museum is another opportunity to cool down during the hot summer days.
Whether your kids want to be a knight or princess in the museum’s two-story Medieval Castle or maybe even a pirate looking for treasure aboard a pirate ship, they are guaranteed to have a blast at the Children’s Museum.
Parents will love watching your children interact with the many hands-on exhibits and see their creative sides blossom in each of the museum’s themed rooms. If you have little ones, this is a nice way to take a break from the more adult activities in Charleston.
Swim and Play at Folly Beach County Park
Charleston is known for its beautiful beaches, and your trip isn’t complete unless you’ve been to at least one of them. It can be hard to know which one suits your particular needs.
If you’re going with the entire family, then Folly Beach is a favorite for good reason. Located on the west end of Folly Island, Folly Beach County Park is a wonderful place to take the kiddos for a fun day at the beach. Consider getting a Folly Beach vacation rental to take in the entire island!
At this park, you can rest easy knowing that seasonal lifeguards are present. Restrooms are also available at the park, which can be a rarity at the beach.
Need to wipe off the sand and sea after a day of fun in the sun? There are also outdoor showers on site to clean everybody up before they get into the car!
Wander Around the Farmer’s Market
There is nothing quite like the Charleston Farmer’s Market. Voted No. 5 Best Farmer’s Market by Travel + Leisure magazine, the Charleston Farmer’s Market brings in roughly a thousand people each Saturday.
The Market is over 20 years old and has changed significantly over the years. As the Holy City’s tourism industry began to boom, the Market eventually expanded to accommodate the many tourists that visit Charleston each year.
While some farmer’s markets only serve produce from local farmers, the Charleston Farmer’s Market features local artisans as well. Held at Marion Square, you will find beautiful arts and crafts in addition to mouthwatering food and produce.
Live music and performances are always present at the Farmer’s Market, and there are a few fun activities for the kids to partake in as well. In addition to tasting some delicious samples from local vendors, you can take the kids to nearby Marion Square Park to relax or play on its expansive greenspace.
Travel Back in Time at Fort Sumter
History buffs from all over the world travel to Charleston for its many historical sites and buildings. When you have children, getting them excited to see some of these historical places can be challenging. Fortunately, visiting Fort Sumter can be an absolute blast for parents and kids alike.
Fort Sumter can only be accessed by boat, which means that you will need to purchase a ferry ticket to get there. Tour boats leave from two docks—at Liberty Square in Downtown Charleston and Patriot’s Point on the Mt. Pleasant side. If you leave from Liberty Square, your family can explore the interesting exhibits at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center before you board the ferry.
The boat ride includes a 35-minute narration of the Civil War and Fort Sumter. This may not interest the younger kids much, but they will still enjoy the boat ride nonetheless. If they look closely, they will be able to see local wildlife, including dolphins, manatees, and more.
Fort Sumter has a Junior Ranger program, where kids can pick up an activity booklet onsite and begin an educational adventure to earn their Junior Ranger badge. The knowledgeable staff love getting questions from the kids and will tell you all about the history of South Carolina.
Splash in the Fountains at Waterfront Park
Located in the French Quarter of Downtown Charleston, the Waterfront Park is a popular destination for both tourists and locals. This gorgeous park not only offers some breathtaking views of the Charleston Harbor and the Cooper River, but it’s also the perfect place to snap some photos.
There are plenty of fountains along the palm-tree lined path of Waterfront Park, including the famous Pineapple Fountain where the kids can get wet and get a break from the heat. The Grand Fountain is another one that the kids are sure to enjoy.
When everyone is splashed out, you can settle under the shade of a giant oak tree or find a sheltered swing to enjoy the breeze. Grab a bite to eat or some gelato ice cream from Belgian Gelato, then head out onto the pier to see a few bottle-nose dolphins swimming in the harbor.
The Waterfront Park is one of Charleston’s most visited parks for a reason. This family-friendly park is meticulously maintained, and we promise that you won’t regret visiting here, even if it may be difficult to grab a good parking spot!
Walk Through the USS Yorktown
Even if your kids aren’t old enough to appreciate the history of the USS Yorktown, they will love walking through this historic WWII aircraft carrier, which is also the focal point of the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
Named after the Battle of Yorktown during the Revolutionary War, the USS Yorktown is one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during WWII and is now a National Historic Landmark. While parents will find the backstory of the USS Yorktown fascinating, the kids will have a great time exploring the flight deck, seeing the numerous planes, and participating in the museum’s cutting-edge flight simulators.
While the star of the show is, no doubt, the USS Yorktown, the Medal of Honor Museum inside the ship is a well-curated collection. This museum recognizes Medal of Honor recipients from the Civil War up to the present day and tells the stories of the men and women who have received the nation’s highest military honor. As it is the only museum in the nation that honors these esteemed recipients, it is a must-see on your Charleston vacation.
Relax on the Beaches of the Isle of Palms
With miles of beautiful beaches and an endless amount of family-friendly activities, the barrier island of the Isle of Palms is a popular destination for those who want a beach vacation getaway.
Located roughly 12 miles from downtown Charleston, the Isle of Palms is a quaint seaside town that has so much to offer active families. Many choose to get a vacation rental on the Isle of Palms to enjoy the stunning oceanfront views and be close to nearby amenities, including golf courses, tennis courts, biking and walking trails, and more.
Whether your family loves getting out and being active or relaxing on the beach, then you will find no better place to vacation than the Isle of Palms. Here, you can paddleboard on the waterway, enjoy a casual meal or let the kids play on beachfront playground at the county park.
Visit Magnolia Plantation
A trip to one of Charleston’s historical plantations is a staple option for many families. If you’re hesitant to tour a plantation, rest assured that there is plenty of fun available at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.
Founded in 1676, the Magnolia Plantation is not only rich with history but also possessed a distinctive beauty. These Romantic-style gardens have flowers that are in bloom year-round so that you are guaranteed to experience the full beauty of Magnolia Plantation.
While you’re there, don’t forget to take the rice field boat tour that glides along Magnolia’s old flooded rice fields. Rice is no longer grown on the premises, but there is plenty of engaging nature to enjoy, including gators, egrets, and frogs.
The children will also love the petting zoo, which has domesticated creatures that are native to the Lowcountry. Their animal adventures don’t have to stop at the petting zoo. The Zoo & Nature Center has numerous exhibits for them to experience, including a reptile house that features snakes, lizards, and even venomous snakes.
Charleston—Fun for the Entire Family!
If you’re looking for a vacation that is jam-packed with family-friendly activities, then Charleston is the place to be. Well-maintained parks, miles of beaches, delicious cuisine, and interactive history exhibits make the Holy City one of the best places to visit any time of the year.
You’ve seen them — African-American women, men, and children sitting on corners of the City Market, or at Saint Michael’s Church on Broad and Meeting streets, or along Highway 17. No matter the season, 100-degree sun be damned, these folks remain steadfastly focused on their craft: sweetgrass baskets.
An intricate work of art, the sweetgrass basket is a sought-after piece of memorabilia. Tourists visiting the Lowcountry see the baskets woven before their own eyes and are given a glimpse of the history behind them. It’s impossible to come away thinking these sweet-smelling masterpieces (think fresh hay) are anything less than special.
The sweetgrass basket wasn’t always a piece of art – they were made out of necessity. Today, the folks you see crafting them are Gullah, descendants of slaves taken from West Africa and brought to the coast of South Carolina and Georgia in the 1700s to work on plantations. In addition to free labor, plantation owners gained a wealth of knowledge and skills, such as basketry.
So what are the baskets made from? Nowadays, sweetgrass. But the skill was honed in the early days using marsh grass, or also known as bulrush. Using the needly marsh grass, slaves were able to coil extremely sturdy work baskets that came to be known as fanners. Fanners were used in the rice fields for winnowing, the process of tossing hulls about so that the chaff could separate from the rice. Work baskets also held veggies, shellfish, and cotton.
It was in the early 1900s that sweetgrass was employed to weave with, in addition to pine needles and palmetto fronds, which added flexibility and bend to the creations and allowed for more intricate designs, such as loops.
The Evolution of a Basket
You can find sweetgrass grown wild in moist, sandy soils near the sea, hence the aplenty supply in the Lowcountry. In the fall, the grass is a beautiful purple before fading to white.
When it’s time to collect the grass, you simply grab the green grass by the handful, with one foot on the root, and pull it from the ground. Then it’s time to lay the grass out in the sun to dry for three to five days, which is when it shrinks and becomes a more beige color.
On average, a good-sized basket takes 10 hours to weave, not including the time it takes to source and dry the materials. The price on a larger piece? About $350, which isn’t a lot considering the labor that went into creating it. You can also find simpler designs for $40, or elaborate ones for thousands. However if you’re really on a budget, you can always also find a sweetgrass rose, which are not only below $5 but also simply gorgeous little works of art — just like the baskets.
To learn more about this incredible tradition passed down through so many generations and to have a chance to weave a basket yourself, follow basket maker Sarah Edwards-Hammond on Facebook. She frequently conducts basket classes for both adults and children.
Where have you spotted sweetgrass weavers in the Lowcountry?
Charleston’s cobblestone streets are just one of her many charms. Though there are only eight left now, these historic streets were once much more common. It’s believed that the peninsula once contained over ten miles of cobblestone ways. Thankfully our streets now afford us a more smooth ride for the most part, but we’re still proud of the history the endearing cobblestones hold.
Here are a few facts you may not have known about the Holy City’s cobblestone streets:
So how did cobblestones get here in the first place? When the city was first settled, ships would use the stones as weights, weighing the boats down when they didn’t have enough cargo. Once the ships were emptied, off came the stones to make room for exported goods. Naturally, the smooth stones collected onto the wharves, or wharfs.
Anyone who has ever driven down a cobblestone street knows the bumpiness of the ride all too well. But the stones were a more sensible option than Charleston’s once dirt-based, muddy streets. The smoothness of the cobblestones made streets easier to navigate for the transportation mode of the colonial days: horse-and-carriages, and the addition of stones as streets were preferable to what you can imagine — based on the state of the peninsula now when it rains — were streets filled with mud and water when it rained.
Chalmers Street, nestled in the French Quarter, is definitely the most well-known, and photographed, cobblestone street in the city. It’s also long been called Labor Lane, as rumor has it that way-back-when, a ride on the rockiest of roads caused nine-month-pregnant women to go into labor.
Another well-known cobblestone street in the city is called Adger’s Wharf, which is located South of Broad. Running from East Bay Street straight to the water, the bumpy road was a busy dock, originally called Magwood’s Wharf. But its current name came from a 19th-century Irish merchant named James Adger II who came to Charleston via New York in 1802 as a cotton buyer. He later opened a hardware store and established the Adger Line and became one of the country’s wealthiest men. Today Adger’s Wharf makes for a perfectly lovely shortcut to the harbor — and, if you like, to Waterfront Park — from East Bay.
At the bottom of Broad Street, near the Exchange Building, lies Gillon Street, another example of early cobblestone street paving in Charleston. It’s named after Alexander Gillon, who was a famous commodore of the navy of SC during the Revolutionary War. Later on, he founded the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, which today is the oldest Chamber of Commerce in America.
A slightly more secret cobblestone-filled street is Longitude Lane, though it’s actually more of an alley. It’s a beautiful path that leads to a narrow street with a handful of old single-family houses you’ll instantly picture yourself living in — because who is lucky enough to live on sweet little streets such as these?
The employment landscape and wages have both improved over the last few years, allowing for more people to participate in the home-buying process. When the economy is in good working order, as it is now, it creates opportunities in residential real estate, and right now is a potentially lucrative time to sell a home. Houses that show well and are priced correctly have been selling quickly, often at higher prices than asking. New listings were down 2.6% and inventory shrank 16.8% while median sales price was up 3.1%.
Although there is a mounting amount of buyer competition during the annual spring market cycle, buyer demand has not abated, nor is it expected to in the immediate future unless something unpredictable occurs. While strong demand is generally considered a good problem to have, it creates an affordability issue for some buyers, especially first-time buyers. And yet, prices will continue to rise amidst strong demand.
Charleston Market Statistics through April 2017
With Charleston being a foodie destination with a reputation that gets glossier with every new restaurant opening, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with what to try next. We’ve taken the liberty of sifting through all the new restaurants in Charleston this spring and compiling a list of those serving up grub worth your dough.
Sorghum & Salt, 186 Coming Street Downtown
Sorghum & Salt opened in April, and this spot has already racked up a reputation among locals – not bad for a restaurant in its infancy.The menu changes, but as of now you can stop in and choose from their Garden and Grains, Meat and Fish, or Larger Plates menus, all of which are reasonably priced. We can’t vouch for everything, but you can rest assured that the Collard Green Tagliatelle with Shrimp Sausage – Calabrian Chili – Collards and Bread Crumbs — phew, that’s a mouthful, in more ways than one — is a meal to remember.
Rodney Scott’s BBQ, 1011 King Street Downtown
If you haven’t been here yet, you’re doing yourself no favors. Scott’s slow-pulled pork, chicken, and ribs alone will make you moan (that reaction is actually their claim to fame) but you have to also try the fried catfish sandwich — not to mention the fixings. Take your pick of fresh-cut fries, cornbread, hushpuppies, cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, mac ‘n’ cheese, greens, perlo rice, and, yes, of course, grits.
Benny Ravello’s, 520 King Street Downtown
Love the Mt. Pleasant Benny Palmetto’s? Then you’ll also dig the new downtown sister restaurant Benny Ravello’s, which hit King Street in mid-April. Serving up slices bigger than your hand, Benny’s is in the former George Loan Co. pawn shop and has been operating off the same menu as its predecessor — except this time no beer and wine. But you’ll forget all about your thirst for alcohol once you get a taste of some of the best pie in town.
Workshop Charleston, 1503 King Street Downtown
The hottest of hot spots right now is Workshop — an upscale food court that, after less than a month in business, is the talk of the town already. Workshop boasts minimalist decor and maximum flavor. Choose food from Pink Bellies (featuring Thai Phi’s Animal Style Burger), JD Loves Cheese (coming to you from Cynthia Wong, the baker over at Butcher & Bee), or Kite Noodles (Korean food from Jonathan Ory). John Lewis of Lewis BBQ has also taken up residence with his Tex/Mex concept called Juan Luis. There’s also pizza by Slice Co. and Bad Wolf Coffee (also from Ory). The food court seats 100, so grab a seat soon to test the waters for yourself.
Martha Lou’s No. 2, 2000-Q McMillan Ave North Charleston
Morrison Street’s soul food institution Martha Lou’s has long been a favorite among locals, but a mention by the New York Times in 2011 gave the restaurant an extra, and welcomed, boost. In April, the 87-year-old proprietor opened a second locale in North Charleston, officially called Martha Lou’s No. 2 Love and Happiness Catering, where they’re serving all the faves — fried chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese, green beans — every day of the week.
What new Charleston restaurant has caught your attention?
Each spring, thousands visit the city of Charleston to partake in the Spoleto Festival USA, one of America’s biggest performing arts festivals. For 17 days and nights, this festival delights the Holy City with the best artistic performances with more than 150 performers from around the world.
Opera, theater, dance, jazz—the Spoleto Festival USA has it all, and the lineup is more diverse than ever in its 41st year. From highly-anticipated fan favorites to up-and-coming productions, this year promises to be even better than the last, which is incredible, considering that last year’s sales were record-breaking.
If you plan to attend this year’s festivities, then understanding the full vision of the event is essential. Spoleto’s rich history and dedication to the arts are inspiring and allow you to fully appreciate the talented performances that come to town every year.
In this insider’s guide, we will give you the scoop on the history of the Spoleto Festival USA and highlight some of the must-see premieres this year. Whether you are a Charleston local or an out-of-town attendee, consider this your go-to guide for festival this year.
The History of Spoleto Festival USA
Since 1977, the Spoleto Festival USA has been captivating audiences in Charleston and enriching an already vibrant community. First founded by Pulitzer-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, the three-week event was originally intended to be an American counterpart to the Festival of Two Worlds in the small town of Spoleto, Italy.
The founders wanted a city that would mimic the small-town charm of Spoleto, Italy, while also providing enough theaters and accommodations to host the festival. They found their ideal location in Charleston, a city that is known for its picturesque neighborhoods and historic charm.
The Holy City’s abundance of churches, theaters, and early dedication to the performing arts made it the perfect setting for the festival. In addition, the city’s vibrant community and small-town atmosphere were similar to the small Italian town, which further cemented the founder’s decision to make Charleston the home of the festival.
The Mission of the Spoleto Festival
Since its beginning in 1977, the Spoleto Festival has been committed to showcasing only the best artistic performances and supporting young artists, helping them foster their passion for the arts in all forms. It also brings a significant impact on Charleston’s economy and regularly invests in both local businesses and the community.
Dedication to Young Artists
Spoleto has supported young artists since its inception and encourages them to pair up with more experienced performers so that they can learn new skills. The festival offers many exciting opportunities for blossoming artists to advance their careers, including auditioning for the seat in the Spoleto Festival Orchestra or the Westminster Choir.
Giving Back to the Local Community
Spoleto’s mission also gives back to the city that it has called home for over 40 years. Though the event brings international fame and economic success, the festival also directly invests in the local community.
Spoleto has not only played a key role in preserving historical landmarks, such as the Dock Street Theatre and the Middleton-Pinckney House, but it also continues to educate the local community through programs that help inspire a deeper appreciation for the performing arts. Most notably, their Open Stage Door program distributes complimentary tickets to community-based organizations so that they may be part of the Spoleto experience.
Historical Charleston Theatres, Churches, and Event Spaces
Charleston boasts many elegant theatres and churches that serve as the venues for the 17-day festival. These prominent event spaces not only provide the lowcountry with a place to view world-class performances but, also offer a glimpse into the history of Charleston.
Here is a list of beloved Spoleto venues and some notable performances taking place around town.
Charleston Gaillard Center
The recently renovated Charleston Gaillard Center will once again host Spoleto’s featured opera this year, an extravagant production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Dates for the performance are May 26 and June 1, 4, 8.
The Gaillard Center will also present the Westminster Choir, Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra’s performance of Mozart’s Great Mass.
Last, don’t miss a special, one-night-only performance by American roots musician Rhiannon Giddens on June 9th at Gaillard Center!
Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul
Conducted by Joe Miller, the Westminster Choir performs at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul. This fan favorite is considered one of the most-loved traditions of the festival.
College of Charleston Cistern Yard
Performances at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard this year include Terrance Blanchard, featuring the E-Collective, on June 3rd for a one-night only performance. Multi-Grammy winner Terry Blanchard and the E-Collective create a perfect ensemble that combines jazz, funk, rock, R&B, and blues music.
College of Charleston Sottile Theatre
Israeli dance company L-E-V, is set to perform OCD Love at the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre on June 2, 3, and 4. Led by choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, the production explores love through the lens of obsessive compulsive disorders.
Monchichi, the duet that blends hip-hop with contemporary dance, will also be performing at Sottile Theatre on May 26-28.
Dock Street Theatre
The historic Dock Street Theatre will host the Druid production of Waiting for Godot, which begins on May 25. It will also host the American premiere of Antonio Vivaldi’s opera Farnace, which begins May 27.
Notable Premieres and Fan Favorites
From the very beginning, Spoleto has encouraged artists from all backgrounds and ages to participate and explore their creativity to its fullest. As a result, each year brings a remarkably diverse lineup that relies on both traditional and contemporary performances to delight audiences.
Those who attend Spoleto regularly will recognize a few reoccurring performances, but there is always excitement surrounding new premieres. If you are attending the event this year, here are the anticipated performances premiering at Spoleto:
New York tapper Ayodele Casel’s world premiere, While I Have the Floor, explores identity, language, communication, and artistic legacy. Casel will also be participating in the popular “Conversations With” program, an intimate conversation with participating artists who open up about their creative processes and the experience at Spoleto.
Cinema and Sound
Fans will welcome back acclaimed pianist Stephen Prutsman, who performs the original scores for the world premiere of Cinema and Sound. The program blends silent film and a live soundtrack for a particularly innovative performance at the Woolfe Street Playhouse.
The U.S. premiere of Antonio Vivaldi’s most popular 18th-century opera, Farnace, is a highly-anticipated performance this year. Produced by Garry Hynes, the mythical Roman war drama will star Anthony Roth Costanzo, a legendary countertenor.
An opera full of dark comedy and seduction, the U.S. premiere of Royal Opera House’s Quartett will be sure to captivate audiences. Composed by Luca Francesconi, conducted by John Kennedy, and directed by John Fulljames, you won’t want to miss this performance at the Memminger Auditorium.
Over the years, many regular attendees of Spoleto have their favorites events that they look forward to attending every year. Last year’s Porgy and Bess was an enormous hit in Charleston and was a signature performance of the 40th anniversary of Spoleto.
Performances aside, there are also activities and events that Spoleto fans love to attend. Here are other favorites that will please all ages and backgrounds:
The “Conversation With” program gives audiences a chance to hear from the visiting artists and get an inside glimpse into their creative thought processes. The artists will be interviewed by CBS correspondent Martha Teichner, and each presentation lasts for approximately an hour. Fans will get to hear from their favorite artists, including director Garry Hynes and pianist Stephen Prutsman.
The sessions are free as long as attendees register in advance.
Fans of Spoleto not only get to watch artistic performances, but they can join in themselves. With the “Master Classes” program, the performing artists teach both experienced and beginners dancers the art of their craft.
This year’s classes are being led by Company Wang Ramirez, L-E-V, Company Class with Gallim Dance, and Hillel Kogan. Get tickets while you can!
Held in the Simons Center Recital Hall at College of Charleston, Jazz Talks gives audiences the chance to listen to an intimate conversation between notable jazz musicians. This year’s discussions will include the following:
Fud at 100: A Centennial Celebration: Charleston mayor John Tecklenburg discusses the legacy of his great-uncle Joseph “Fud” Livingston alongside historian Karen Chandler and music critic Larry Blumenfeld on May 28.
Trumpeting Truth – A Conversation with Terence Blanchard: Larry Blumenfeld will return to discuss arts, advocacy, and social justice issues with Grammy-winning trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard.
These events are free if you register in advance.
Spoleto Finale at Middleton Place
Of course, no one should miss Spoleto’s grand finale across the Ashley River at the historic Middleton Place. Attendants will get access to the full lineup of local and regional bands, headlined by breakout band The Revivalists. Additionally, ticket holders will also get to explore the beautiful gardens and refined lodgings of one of Charleston’s treasured National Historic Landmarks.
The Piccolo Spoleto Festival
Charleston’s existing dedication to the performing arts is one of the reasons why Spoleto Festival USA founders chose the city to host this yearly event. It isn’t surprising, then, that the Piccolo Spoleto was created to offer even more cultural opportunities.
What Is Piccolo Spoleto?
In 1979, Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. launched the Piccolo Spoleto Festival to highlight Charleston’s local performing artists. While the main venues feature artists on a national and international level, this series gives attention to regional, less known artists. Plus, most of the events are free and family-friendly!
The festival runs concurrently with its parent event, which means that everyone can easily fit some of these popular Piccolo events into their schedule.
Are you in the mood for some improv? This comedy extravaganza is held each year at Theatre 99 on Meeting Street and features top comedic artists with original performances. Although most Piccolo events are family-friendly, this one is more suited toward adults.
Piccolo Fiction Spotlight
Are you a fan of the written word? The Piccolo Fiction Spotlight invites South Carolina writers to submit their brief short stories for a chance to be published in the Charleston City Paper, broadcast on S.C. Public Radio, and be read in the historic Charleston Music Hall.
The Spotlight Concert Series
The 13-performance program features classical arrangements by The Charleston Renaissance Ensemble, Chamber Music Charleston, and the Charleston Piano Trio with violist Miles Hoffman.
The Sundown Poetry Series
One of the oldest Piccolo Festival series, the Sundown Poetry Series offers local and regional poets the opportunity to gather for free evening readings. After the readings, many authors stay for a Q & A sessions to discuss their work. This event traditionally takes place at Dock Street Courtyard on Church Street.
Ready for Spoleto Festival USA?
If you happen to be in Charleston during the festival, then you should definitely explore some of the amazing artistic performances happening in the Holy City this spring. With over 160 ticketed events, there is something for everyone at Spoleto to enjoy.
67 Warren Street, Downtown Charleston
This Luxurious Queen Anne style home, built in 1878, has undergone a massive renovation throughout the entirety of the home. This charming property features a completely redesigned kitchen, updated bathrooms, fireplaces, HVAC, ceiling fans, electrical wiring, plumbing, new decks, new painting and much more. The main house features a formal living room, formal traditional dining room, as well as a den and a third floor bonus room. The rear of the home consists of TWO Income-Generating, One bed/One bath apartments, both with kitchens, separate entrances & shared washer/dryer. This home ALSO includes an unfinished basement, uncommon in downtown Charleston. This prime location is walking distance to Upper King Street, MUSC, CofC, and Colonial Lake. Off-street parking for 3 cars. Contact Frank Taylor for more information.
Coffee — for most of us it’s an everyday necessity, so where can you find the best cup of coffee in Charleston? Whether you need the perfect place for meeting with your real estate agent, need caffeine on the go, a place to plug in your laptop, or a quiet corner for reading, Charleston’s variety of local coffee houses has you covered — and caffeinated! Here are a few of our favorite neighborhood spots.
Collective Coffee, Mount Pleasant
This upscale, hipster coffee shop is pretty cool indeed with its loft-like, airy space and tasty breakfast (pimento cheese biscuit is life-changing) and snack (avocado toast) items. We love the friendly service here at Collective Coffee along with the ample outdoor seating, community table, comfy corner seating, and plentiful parking, assuring that you and whoever you’re meeting up with will have plenty of places to perch your coffee cups and your cars. Not the cheapest place but they do take pride in preparing your lattes, we can assure you. They’re delicious. The wifi is free, and laptops are welcome here.
Orange Spot, Park Circle North Charleston
For the most adorable coffee experience, head to Park Circle. Orange Spot is nestled in a cute little house and consists of two rooms with plenty of tables, power outlets, cushioned seats, and sunlight. A spacious backyard patio means they can put on events, like mini markets and art openings, since they line their walls with local art. Wifi? Yep, and it’s free. Pro tip: get the the Cha Yen.
Classic Coffee, Avondale, West Ashley
Avondale residents love strolling on foot over to Classic Coffee for their caffeine fix, and it’s perfect for all kinds of situations. There are couches that make for cozy book-reading nooks, plus outdoor tables, a bar with bar stools, and several inside tables for all your meeting-up purposes. We also love their quiches, which come from nearby Wildflour Pastry, in-house roasted coffee, and fruit smoothies. Parking is a pain at times, though, be ye warned.
Normandy Farm, South Windermere, West Ashley
If you really want to feel fancy and French when you hit the coffee shop, make Normandy your new favorite. Visions and smells of fresh-baked breads, tarts, cakes, pies, and more will have you drooling, but the prices will make you stop in your tracks. Normandy, a light-filled space, is the most affordable coffee shop in Charleston — its pour-it-yourself in-house roasted coffee is only a buck-fifty. The only downside of this place is that the bathrooms are in the back, meaning you have to walk through the kitchen to get there. If you’re having lots of coffee, this can make you feel a bit self-conscious, but, really, they don’t mind at all. Oh and there’s free wifi.
Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer
Kudu discourages folks from working on computers by denying guests their wifi password. So save Kudu for those days when you want to meet up with people (friends or clients) or you simply want to sit in their lovely courtyard and enjoy a book al fresco style. They serve coffee by the cafetiere and have a slew of great local craft beer selections. Kudu is also perfect for downtowndwellers; otherwise you’ll be circling the block in search of parking for an eternity.
Starbucks, Multiple Locations
- Starbucks gets a lot of slack for being corporate, and while supporting local is always best, Starbucks isn’t so bad. They treat their employees pretty wonderfully actually, offering benefits to even part-timers. In West Ashley and Mt Pleasant you’ll find Starbucks with drive-thru windows, which is key for busy moms who can’t just unbuckle all three kids and run in and grab a quick coffee. (There is no such thing as a quick coffee when you’re a mom, unless there’s a drive-through!). Plus if you need to do some work on your laptop, at Starbucks you’ll find all you need for that: plenty of outlets, free wifi, lots of two-top tables and community tables. Starbucks is literally made for all of you laptop workers — be it freelancers or students. AND most locations stay open until 9 p.m., while most other places shut down much earlier (5 or 6 p.m.).
What’s your favorite local coffee shop?
If there is one thing that Charleston, South Carolina offers in spades, it’s their beautiful and historic churches. Commonly referred to as the “Holy City”, Charleston features some of the oldest churches in the United States, attracting millions of tourists each year who wish to see the gorgeous steeples that dominate its skyline.
The beautiful architecture of these churches is just one of many reasons why people choose to visit and reside in Historic Charleston. The rich stories behind them is equally as captivating, and each of these historic churches has a unique story to tell.
If you plan on visiting or relocating to the Holy City, the stately churches are a must-see. With this insider’s guide, you can explore Charleston’s most significant churches and learn about the history that has shaped the city’s culture to this day.
Why Charleston is Known as the Holy City
Charleston was dubbed the “Holy City” not because it was particularly devout. Rather, the moniker stems from the city’s reputation for practicing religious tolerance—a rarity among the original 13 colonies.
The history of religious freedom traces back to when Charleston was first settled and efforts to craft a constitution began.
Founding and Settlement of Charleston
In 1663, King Charles II gave the Carolina Territory to eight loyalists, who were known as the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. After a few failed attempts at settling the area, the Lords finally managed to settle Charles Town (later to become Charleston) at Albemarle Point in 1670.
Anthony Ashley Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury, was one of the eight original Lords and a pronounced liberal. Cooper was deeply interested in the plans for the new colony and collaborated with his friend and secretary, John Locke, to create the Fundamental Carolina Constitution.
In this constitution, residents of the Carolinas were granted considerable religious freedoms that would come to attract many who wanted to practice their faith in peace. By the mid-18th century, Charleston had become a bustling seaport which attracted many migrants of diverse backgrounds and religions.
This religious diversity led to the creation of many stunning churches that are admired today for their magnificent architecture and distinct accents, as well as their rich history.
Exploring Charleston’s Historic Churches
Many of the historic churches that are scattered throughout Downtown Charleston have survived earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, and more. Despite these hardships, the buildings have remained well-preserved and the fascinating architectural designs can still be admired. From Romanesque pillars to Gothic-inspired styles, each church offers distinctive accents that make them unique.
As you explore Charleston’s historic churches, you will also get the chance to experience the charming neighborhoods located in the Historic District. This guide will walk you through some of the must-see churches that reflect Charleston’s diverse roots and unique culture.
Unitarian Church in Charleston
Stroll along Archdale street and you will find the Unitarian Church, the second oldest church on the city peninsula and the oldest Unitarian church in the South. It was made a National Historic Landmark in 1973 so that others could enjoy its Gothic style beauty for years to come.
A Brief History
Construction of the church first began in 1772 when members of the Circular Congregational Church needed additional space to worship. Construction was halted in 1776, when the Revolutionary War broke out, and the church was used to quarter America militia and later British militia when they occupied the city.
Completed in 1787, the church was later modernized in 1852 by Charleston architect Francis D. Lee, who designed the building in a style that is now referred to as English Perpendicular Gothic Revival. The Charleston Earthquake of 1886 managed to shear off the top of the Unitarian Church, requiring further remodeling by Boston architect Thomas Silloway.
Take in the beautiful painted glass windows and look high above to notice the stunning tray ceiling. Don’t forget to visit the church grounds, which is famous for its wild foliage and quiet sanctuary.
St. Michael’s Episcopal
St. Michael’s is the oldest surviving church building in Charleston. Located at the corner of Broad and Meeting street, it is one of the few city churches in the U.S. that has remained relatively unchanged from its original design.
A Brief History
Built between 1751 and 1761, St. Michael’s Episcopal is located at the site of the original St. Philip’s Episcopal, which moved to Church street to accommodate its growing congregation.
The original architect is unknown, but others have noted that the style is similar to that of English architect, Sir Christopher Wren. With its 186-foot high steeple and grand two-story portico, the church is a majestic sight to see.
The inside of St. Michael’s is equally as captivating, with a beautiful Victorian-style altar and chancel rail of wrought-iron. Although the inside has modern touches, much of the church remains original, including the Ainsworth-Thwaites clock, which may be the oldest functioning colonial clock in America. The cedar wood pews are also original, and President George Washington himself sat in pew No.43 when he worshipped there in 1791.
Near the base of the pulpit, you can see a scar from the Bombardment of Charleston in 1865, in which Union forces targeted St. Michael’s with guns and shells because it harbored Confederate troops.
Also be sure to check out St. Michael’s Churchyard, which is the resting place for notable figures that include two signers of the Constitution and a supreme court justice.
French Huguenot Church
Located in the beautiful French Quarter neighborhood, the French Huguenot Church is another prime example of religious tolerance in the Holy City. Built in 1845, it became a refuge for French Protestants looking to escape religious persecution by the French Catholic Court.
A Brief History
To escape cruel treatment under King Louis XIV, French Huguenots fled to America to settle in the colonies. The English didn’t mind this at all, due to the fact that many of the French refugees brought valuable skills which helped the colonies flourish.
By the late 17th century, the first French Huguenot Church was established on what is now the corner of Church street and Queen street. This church was destroyed to stop the spread of a fire and was later rebuilt in 1800.
In 1844, the church was rebuilt to give it the Gothic Revival style architecture that was popular at the time. Although the Bombardment of Charleston and an earthquake damaged the building, it retains much of its original structure.
Designed by notable architect, Edward Brickell White, the buttresses and pointed arch windows are indicative of the Gothic Revival style, which was the first of its kind in Charleston. When you look inside, ask about the history of the tracker organ, which was purchased in 1845.
St. Philip’s Church
Also located in the French Quartet neighborhood is St. Philip’s Church, the first Anglican church established south of Virginia and one of the tallest buildings in Charleston. The congregation first formed in 1681, making it the oldest congregation in South Carolina.
A Brief History
St. Philip’s was originally built in 1681 at the corner of Meeting street and Broad street (now the present site of St. Michael’s), but a hurricane damaged the fragile wood building. Starting in 1710, the church was rebuilt a few blocks away on Church street, and construction was completed in 1723.
In 1835, a fire burned St. Philip’s to the ground, resulting in the third and present church structure. Designed by architect Joseph Hyde, the church has unique features in both the interior and exterior, such as the three Tuscan porticoes and the beautiful Corinthian arcades inside the church.
Tour hours are given by volunteers and may vary, so it’s best to call ahead if you would like a tour of St. Philip’s Church.
The graveyard across the street from the church contains many notable people, including statesman John C. Calhoun and famous author Dubose Heyward. It’s also a good location to take a photo of St. Philip’s church so that you can capture its impressive steeple.
Circular Congregational Church
Built in 1681, the Circular Congregational Church was the first independent church of Charles Towne and has a long history of standing for political and religious freedom. Considering the hardships that the church has weathered in its past, it has certainly earned its place as a National Historic Landmark.
A Brief History
The Circular Church was founded by Protestant “dissenters” with the original settlement of Charles Towne. These dissenters established a White Meeting House in 1732, which would later be called the Meeting House. The street leading up to it was named Meeting street in its honor.
It was considered an unusual church in the colonial period and a place to express revolutionary ideas and thoughts. Unfortunately, this love of freedom landed some members in exile when the British occupied Charleston in 1780.
Members regrouped after the British evacuated and by 1787, they needed to build a second space to accommodate their growing number. The church decided to replace the Meeting street house and hired architect Robert Mills, who designed a Greek-inspired building that could hold 2,000 worshippers.
In what is referred to as the “glory days” (1820-1860), the Circular Church had many black and white members. After a fire destroyed much of the church, some black members decided to break off and form the Plymouth Congregational Church.
The new meeting house was built in 1890, designed with a Romanesque style that encapsulated the fiercely independent and nonconforming nature of its members.
With its unique circular vestibule and round dome, the Circular Church has many distinct architectural accents that can be admired from outside and within. Pay a visit the burial grounds, which are the oldest in Charleston and contain 18th century gravestones that offer a look into the history of the first settlers and their struggle.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Built in 1891, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church is the oldest AME church in the South and the oldest African American congregation outside of Baltimore. The church is located on Calhoun Street and is not only admired for its Gothic Revival style architecture, but also for its history of persisting in the face of discrimination.
A Brief History
The first congregation formed when free blacks and slaves came together in 1791. In 1816, a dispute over burial grounds caused black members to officially withdraw from Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal church. They decided to form their own congregation and start the Emanuel African Methodist Church, which consisted of 1400 members under the leader of Morris Brown.
Due to laws that prohibited blacks from operating a church without white supervision, Brown and other church leaders were arrested. In 1821, Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s original founders, began to plan a slave rebellion. The slave revolt plot was uncovered by authorities before it could be carried out, and the main organizers (including Vesey) were executed.
The Vesey controversy created animosity throughout the South, and the church was burned to the ground by angry whites. AME members were forced to meet underground until they could rebuild the church after the Civil War.
Pay special attention to the altar, pews, light fixtures, and communion railing—all of which are original features of the AME Church and have not been altered since its creation. Gaze up at the towering steeple that was constructed under Rev. L. Ruffin Nichols after a deadly earthquake in 1886.
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim
Located in Charleston’s Downtown neighborhood on Hassel street is the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). It is the fourth oldest Jewish congregation in the country and the oldest synagogue in continuous use.
A Brief History
Charleston’s reputation for religious tolerance in the late 17th century had attracted many Jewish congregants to the area and by 1749, their numbers had grown enough to create their own congregation, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, (Holy Congregation House of God).
In 1792, an elegant, Georgian style synagogue was constructed, but the great Charleston fire destroyed it in 1838. The synagogue was rebuilt in 1840 on Hasell street in a Greek Revival style and is still in use today.
The KKBE offers walk-in tours led by their knowledgeable docents, who will show you the historic Sanctuary and share their story. The Coming Street Cemetery (located a few blocks away from KKBE) is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the South and is worth touring as well.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Located in Downtown Charleston on Broad Street, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a magnificent, Connecticut tool-chiseled brownstone structure that can’t be missed. This historic church is also home to the Roman Catholic Diocese in Charleston.
A Brief History
In 1821, shortly after taking up his duties as first Bishop of Charleston, Bishop John England decided to purchase land on the corner of Broad street and Friend street (now Legare). The Bishop made plans to build a great cathedral, but did not live to see it completed in 1854.
The first cathedral, built by Brooklyn-based architect Patrick Keely, was a Gothic Revival style structure that could seat 1,200 people. Unfortunately, the Charleston Fire of 1861 destroyed the church, and it wasn’t until 1907 when the doors officially opened once again. The new church was nearly identical to Keely’s design, only slightly bigger.
The vaulted stain-glass windows will amaze you. Look up at the 14-lancet arched Gothic windows that portray the life of Christ and take in the elegant pews carved from Flemish oak. Although plans for a 100-ft spire were never carried out, the steeple is still prominent amongst Charleston’s skyline and makes for a great photo opportunity.
Charleston offers many opportunities to explore our nation’s history and the rich story of tolerance and freedom in this country. The stately churches of Charleston reflect a tapestry of traditions and faiths that weave together to tell the story of this unforgettable southern town.