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?
The city of Charleston is bursting with culture and history that begs to be explored, but if you venture a little farther outside of Charleston, you’ll unlock an essential piece of Lowcountry history. The plantations near Charleston offer more than lush gardens and stunning architecture. They provide visitors a glimpse into the South’s complicated past, in addition to the old customs and traditions of the Lowcountry.
Whether you’re lucky enough to call Charleston home or you’re merely visiting for a few days, meandering through the Lowcountry’s famous plantations is a must. Take a stroll through the following plantations to experience their undeniable beauty and get a unique look into the intricate history of the South.
As one of the oldest plantations in the South, the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens should not be missed. Founded in 1676 by Thomas and Ann Drayton, this majestic and historical landmark has been occupied by the same family for over 300 years and has witnessed many notable moments in the history of the United States.
However, the plantation’s history isn’t the only thing that draws thousands of tourists to Magnolia each year. The gardens have a rich history of their own, and their luscious beauty makes the Magnolia Plantation one of the top wedding destinations in America.
History of Magnolia Plantation
In 1676, Thomas Drayton and his wife Ann traveled from Barbados to make a life in the new English colony of Charles Towne (later to become Charleston). They built the Magnolia Plantation and a small garden along the banks of the Ashley River, which provided them with immense wealth through the cultivation of rice.
When you take a guided tour of the plantation, you will hear how African Americans brought rice with them to the Lowcountry, transforming the agriculture and economy of Charleston. There are also four slave cabins, where African American slaves lived and worked on the plantation during this time.
The Magnolia Plantation has withstood many difficult times and witnessed prominent events in America’s history. During the Revolutionary War, the Drayton sons would fight as soldiers against the British. Later, the family would undergo hard times when the Civil War broke out and threatened the future of the plantation.
By opening Magnolia Plantation and Gardens to the public in 1870, the Drayton family was able to preserve the plantation and their livelihood.
The Romantic Magnolia Gardens
As the oldest and one of the most famous gardens in America, the Magnolia Gardens are teeming with stunning horticulture. Explore over 100 acres of Romantic-style gardens that offer something special no matter what time of the year you visit.
You can thank Reverend John Grimké Drayton for much of the beauty seen in the Magnolia Gardens today. To make his wife feel more at home after relocating from Philadelphia, he introduced the first azaleas in America and planted the first outdoor variety of camellias as well.
His ministerial career motivated him to recreate the Garden of Eden, and anyone who tours these gardens can see that he did a spectacular job. With its unrivaled beauty and extensive collection of native flora, the gardens are largely what saved the Magnolia Plantation from financial ruin.
Additional Attractions and Tours
After exploring the Drayton house and the gardens, nature-lovers can take a boat or train tour that takes them through the cypress wetland habitat and the location of the old rice fields. On these tours, you’ll get to see plenty of wildlife that call the beautiful Magnolia Plantation home.
In addition to these tours, don’t forget to take the kids to the plantation’s petting zoo and nature center. The zoo contains both domesticated and wild creatures, many of which are native to the state, including the gray fox, beaver and bobcat.
If you’re looking for the perfect combination of natural wildlife and history, Middleton Place should be on your list of places to visit in Charleston. Nestled on the banks of the Ashley River, Middleton Place is home to America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens, abundant wildlife and historic plantation stables.
It’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported back in time at Middleton Place. Costumed craftspeople work on-site, and heritage animal breeds are present in the stable yards. Handcrafted carriages transport visitors around the carefully preserved plantation, providing an authentic experience.
History of Middleton Place
Built in 1705, Henry Middleton came into possession of the house through his marriage to Mary Williams in 1741. Since then, the plantation has remained under the same stewardship for 320 years.
From colonial times to the years following the Civil War, the Middleton family have played significant roles in American history. Many family members were influential political figures, beginning with Henry Middleton, who was the second president of the First Continental Congress. His son Arthur was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Arthur’s son was the governor of South Carolina and the Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia.
William Middleton, an ardent secessionist, signed South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession in 1860. In 1865, the plantation was occupied by Union troops, who burned the main house and northern wing. William lacked the funds for major restorations, and the small restorations that he did manage were upset by the Charleston Earthquake in 1886.
The following generations dedicated themselves to restoring the plantation and gardens to their original splendor. In the 1920s, the family opened the gardens to the public, and the plantation was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It officially became a National Historic Landmark District in the 1970s.
Life at Middleton Place
The House Museum and Eliza’s House should not be missed during your stroll on the plantation. Both places give visitors a special glimpse into the lives of the Middleton family, the freedmen who served them, and the many enslaved people who worked on the plantation.
The House Museum includes fascinating artifacts donated by the Middletons, including paintings, books, furniture and documents that date back to the 1740s. The house itself is a sight to see, as it is the only portion of the plantation that retains its original structure.
Eliza’s House is a freedmen’s dwelling that depicts the stories of over seven generations of slaves who occupied the plantation’s grounds up until the Civil War. Named after its last occupant, Eliza’s House offers tours to discuss the domestic life of slaves and freed people, in addition to their laborious work out in the rice fields.
Touring the Grounds and Gardens
To experience the beauty and functionality of Middleton Place, seeing the grounds and famous gardens are a must. The plantation’s plentiful land gives visitors the chance to imagine how Middleton Place functioned during the 18th and 19th century. In fact, many of the animal breeds you see at the plantation today were the same ones used to work the land centuries ago.
You can also take a self-guided tour through America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens, which contains centuries-old camellias, azaleas, magnolias and other flora that cover the beautiful grounds.
Situated on the Ashley River about 15 miles south of Charleston, Drayton Hall is the oldest preserved plantation in America, retaining nearly all its original structure and historic landscape. Built in the 1740s, the stunning George Palladian plantation also features a Memorial Arch that represents one of the oldest documented African American cemeteries in the country.
Drayton Hall also happens to be located just down the road from the Magnolia Plantation, making it easy to visit both in a single day if you are feeling ambitious. Whether you dedicate a full day or a half-day, Drayton Hall is a must for those who want to unlock a major piece of African-American and Lowcountry history.
History of Drayton Hall
As the third son in the family, John Drayton knew that inheriting his birthplace at Magnolia Plantations wasn’t likely. The 37-year-old widower decided to purchase property along the scenic Ashley River in the 1730s, where he constructed an elite mansion during the late 1740s.
This architectural masterpiece was inspired by the Renaissance influences of Andrea Palladio and sits on over 630 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. Drayton Hall is the only plantation that wasn’t destroyed during the Revolutionary War, making it a rare gem of the South.
Drayton Hall served as the hub for John Drayton’s enormous plantation empire. He owned over 100 plantations that spanned across South Carolina and Georgia, where thousands of slaves grew rice, cotton and indigo, as well as mining for phosphate.
The profits generated from the phosphate mining largely contributed to the Drayton’s ability to recover from the Civil War. Drayton Hall passed through seven generations of the Drayton family and was acquired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1974. In 1977, it was opened to the public, and many of the Drayton family artifacts can be seen by all.
The African-American Cemetery
In addition to touring the stunning Drayton mansion, the plantation is also home to one of the oldest documented African-American cemeteries in the nation. Dating back to about 1790, the cemetery serves as the final resting place for over 40 people, both freed and enslaved. Some of the graves are named, but most are unknown.
Although touring the cemetery can be a heavy undertaking, it is a necessary stop if you want a true plantation experience. The cemetery grounds have been left in a natural state to comply with the wishes of Richmond Bowens, whose ancestors were enslaved at Drayton Hall. The cemetery and the plantation itself has largely remained unaltered, giving visitors a sense that they have truly stepped back in time.
Venture through the beautiful Spanish-moss-draped live oaks and gorgeous gardens of Boone Hall, and you’ll understand why it’s the most photographed plantation in the country. Located in Mount Pleasant (roughly 10 miles away from Charleston), Boone Hall is also the oldest operating plantation in the Lowcountry and has a thriving modern market.
The enchanting grounds of Boone Hall attract thousands of visitors each year, not only for its spectacular beauty and year-round activities, but also its rich history. Boone Hall’s enthralling exhibits and tours featuring Gullah culture and black history are the best of any American plantation.
History of Boone Hall
Boone Hall Plantation was founded in 1681 when Theophilus Patey was granted 470 acres on Wampacheeoone Creek, otherwise known Boone Hall Creek. It is believed that Patey gave his daughter Elizabeth and her husband Major John Boone about 400 acres as a wedding gift.
John Boone was one of the original settlers of the South Carolina colony and held several prestigious positions, including tax assessor and highway commissioner. The exact date of his death is unknown, but the will he created in 1711 left a third of the estate to his wife and divided the rest divided amongst his five children.
The plantation remained in the Boone family until 1811, when the property was sold to Thomas A. Vardell for $12,000. Boone Hall would have many owners, some of them leaving lasting impressions on the plantation.
When Henry and John Horlbeck came into possession of Boone Hall in 1817, the brothers would begin planting the famous Avenue of Oaks. The brothers were in the brick business, and many buildings in downtown Charleston feature their bricks, including Stephen’s Episcopal Church and St John’s Lutheran Church.
Boone Hall was purchased by Harris and Nancy McRae in 1955 and opened to the public in 1959. Now owned by William McRae, the historic grounds of the plantation can be toured by the public, while the other half of the plantation is used to produce crops such as strawberries, peaches, tomatoes and more.
Gullah Culture and Black History
What sets Boone Hall apart from other plantations is its amazing exhibits and performances featuring Gullah culture and black history.
Their Black History in America exhibit offers visitors the chance to take in educational and entertaining performances that take place in the nine original slave cabins, each built between 1790 and 1810.
Boone Hall is also the only plantation to feature live presentations from contemporary Gullah people who share their unique story and culture with visitors. Taking in a performance at the Gullah Theater is an experience that you won’t soon forget.
Boone Hall Farms Market and U-Pick Operations
Boone Hall has been providing crops and produce for the Lowcountry since the 17th century when John Boone first inherited the land, making it the oldest operating plantation in the nation. Their continued success has allowed them to establish Boone Hall Farms Market, which officially opened in 2006, and the Boone Hall Farms U-Pick fields.
Boone Hall Farms Market features reasonably priced produce that is always fresh and local. Taking part in the U-Pick fields is a fun activity that you can do with the entire family, and you’ll take home a juicy basket of produce that you harvested in these historic farm.
The plantations surrounding Charleston, SC offer stately, historic homes, lush gardens, and an abundance of learning opportunities about early American life. If you’re planning a trip to Charleston, visit a historic plantation site for a rewarding experience that your whole family will enjoy.
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?
If you’re from around here, chances are you’re pretty familiar with the Charleston joggling board. But at the inaugural High Water Festival last month, there were more than few out-of-towners who found themselves wondering about the funny-looking black “benches” situated in the shade around the food trucks. Sitting beneath oak trees with a Roti Rolls snack or a Diggity Doughnuts treat, a lot of folks were curious about the bouncing boards, so we thought we’d offer a little history lesson on how the Charleston joggling board came to be.
Charlestonians have long been acquainted with joggling boards. Found throughout the Lowcountry — in parks, outside buildings, on front porches — the joggling board is actually the brainchild of a family in Scotland. According to the Old Charleston Joggling Board Co., the first joggling board was built in Sumter County outside of Stateburg, South Carolina back in 1803, specifically at the Acton Plantation.
As the story goes, Mrs. Benjamin Kinloch Huger was suffering from severe rheumatism when she wrote to her family at Gilmerton Estate in Scotland, conveying that her condition left her unable to get any sort of exercise. The family responded with an idea — the joggling board — a 10-to-16-foot board that can jiggle. Sending a model for her to try, they suggested she sit on the board, bouncing gently as a form of exercise. Mrs. Huger sent the model to the plantation’s carpenter, and soon she was enjoying the benefits of the board, which sinks as weight shifts to the middle and can swing from side to side.
By the mid-1800s, joggling boards had caught on and become a full-on craze, filling piazzas, porches, and gardens throughout the Lowcountry. But after World War II, good-enough timber became difficult to come by and the fashionable benches began to fade. Fast-forward to the 1960s when Charlestonian Thomas Thornhill began constructing them again in his home for friends before eventually founding his own company. In the 1970s, his Old Charleston Joggling Board Company began to produce them again for the public — and the rest is history!
These days, you’re likely to run into one at any given point in Charleston, and they’ve particularly grown in popularity at weddings in recent years. And joggling boards have always been popular with kids, as there’s something super playful about them, and of course they’ve always been great for rocking babies.
Our favorite story about the joggling board perhaps is this one: they were also called courting boards, where flirtations could flourish. In the Victorian era, a gent would sit on one end, the lady on the other. As they bounced, they’d gradually bounce closer together, eventually meeting in the middle.
Traditionally painted “Charleston green,” joggling boards are made of fine Carolina pine, and to this day an invitation to sit upon one is akin to an invitation of friendship.
Little did those out-of-towners know, as they munched on Lowcountry snacks next to complete strangers at Riverfront Park last month, that they were inadvertently participating in a centuries-old tradition and making new friends in the most Southern of ways. Happy Joggling!
Check out Oyster Creek Trading Company for more handcrafted boards.
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.
Charleston, South Carolina is one of the hottest vacation destinations in the country right now. It offers a rich background of American history, world-class dining, and unmatched beauty. While it is tempting to plan a vacation just in the historic downtown, you’re really missing out on a big part of Charleston’s culture if you skip the beach.
You can’t beat restorative time on the beach. Bring a kite or a Frisbee to toss around while you soak up the South Carolina sun. Enjoy the sweet briny waters and the distinct charms of all of the local beaches to really take in the coastal cultures surrounding Charleston and connect to the unique personality of every beach retreat. (more…)
If you’re a long-time Charlestonian, chances are you’ve lived in a Charleston single house at some point in your life. Many visitors have come away remembering this iconic Charleston architecture. Charleston singles are, after all, common throughout the peninsula and beyond. From the mansions South of Broad to modest neighborhoods extending past the crosstown, the Charleston single is part of the city’s makeup and charm.
So what makes up a Charleston single house? Several things, like its long, narrow shape, distinguish the style from others, while the somewhat private porch is often the most favored feature of all. Of course, there’s rhyme and reason to its design, mainly relating to local conditions — namely the city’s hot and humid summers. Yes, even centuries ago, Charleston was known for being muggy on summer days and sultry in the evenings!
Here are a few of the features you’ll find in a Charleston single house and reasons behind their particular design:
1. Long, narrow shape
In order to build a single house, you need only a long, narrow lot, which is how the city was laid out in its early days. The tall, slender homes are typically placed quite closely to the neighboring home, perhaps too close for comfort in some cases. The single house has a narrow side, with the long side of the house – the traditional “front” – being perpendicular to the street. The plain, short facade is what faces the street.
While the house is long and narrow, it is also only one room wide, when viewed from the street — which gives the single house its name! But what the home lacks in width it makes up for in length and height. As mentioned before, the house is quite long, while many Charleston single houses are also several tiers high.
3. The Front Door
What may appear to be a front door — the one facing the street — is only an entrance to the private porch. The actual front door is down the middle of the porch. This was intended to give more privacy to the homeowners during the more modest Victorian period.
4. Interior Layout
Though the architectural form of the single house comes in everything from Federal to Victorian styles, the most consistent feature will always be its interior layout. A front door along the long side of the house leads you into a foyer and stairwell, and there’s a room to the left, usually a bedroom, and to the right — which normally serves as the living room, with the kitchen being on the other side of the living room — an open archway separating the two. The same floor plan is generally repeated upstairs.
Single houses have side porches — oops, pardon, I mean piazzas. Accessible via the aforementioned door on the street-side of the house, the piazza is strategically placed on the long side of the house to increase the odds of catching a cool breeze— definitely a factor to consider in a city that gets so hot and muggy during summers. They are also a pretty sweet spot to enjoy a cup of tea or an afternoon snooze!
If you are looking for a Charleston single to call your own, stop by The Real Estate Studio where our experienced, professional agents are always here to answer questions or show property.
In a city as old as Charleston, it is no surprise we have a few lingering spirits. Here our some of our favorite Holy City haunted tales as well as some events you can enjoy this Halloween season.
1. Old Jail
One of the most popular Charleston ghost tales is of Lavinia Fisher who is suspected of still haunting the Old Jail. Lavinia and her husband John owned the Six Mile House right outside of Charleston where weary travelers could stop and spend the night. It is reported that the couple would poison guests and send them to bed over a trap door where they would wait until the traveler was asleep then pull the trap door releasing the bed and the guest. John Peoples was the lucky soul who claims he escaped the twisted couple. By denying Lavinia’s special tea he was able to get out the window after the bed fell through floor and ran to police who after investigation found the bodies of multiple missing people. The couple was found guilty and sentenced to the gallows. In South Carolina at the time, a married women could escape the death penalty, but the judge squashed that plan and and hung John first which made Lavinia a widow and eligible to hang. It’s said that Lavinia wore a wedding dress to her hanging, hoping her beauty and the pity of her state would cause some man in the crowd to swoon, and marry her at the last moment. Unsuccessful, when she realized that wasn’t going to happen, her mood quickly changed. They had to drag her up on the gallows, kicking and screaming.
This 1888 Victorian home now houses a great Southern restaurant, Poogan’s Porch, but it was the former residence of Zoe Amand, a spinster schoolteacher who died on the second floor of the home in 1954. Outside observers and hotel guests at The Mills House across the street have reported seeing her inside the restaurant after it is closed.
122 East Bay Street once imprisoned many pirates and patriots as they were awaiting execution. Prisoners were chained and starved and their moans were heard throughout the dungeon. Staff members to this day have reported hearing these moans as well as eerie footsteps on the upper floors.
At 20 South Battery, several ghosts sightings have been reported at this 1843 inn. Room Eight is said to be the home to the Headless Torso, reputedly a Civil War soldier, a terrifying apparition which moans menacingly. Room Ten has a spirit known as the Gentleman Caller, who is a spectral presence which is fond of ladies who stay in the room, often lightly petting their hair as they sleep.
This building has been around since 1809 and has an incredibly rich history. It began as a theatre that suffered from a fire bringing actors and audience members to their death. The Planter’s Hotel was built on the property shortly after the catastrophe and was then converted back into a theatre we still enjoy today. Performers and spectators alike have claimed to see spirits wandering around and even out on the stage.
See for yourself, check out Dracula, King of the vampires on stage now at the theatre.
Have we sparked your curiosity? Contact Bull Dog Tours for their Ghost & Gaveyards Tour or check out the Old Jail Tour and see the ghost of Lavinia Fisher yourself! Looking for something appropriate for the kiddos? Try Family Fright Nights at Magnolia Planation or The Boone Hall Pumpkin Patch & Maze. Happy Halloween in the Holy City!
It’s National Poetry Month! To celebrate, we’d love to share Dusk, a beautiful piece by DuBose Heyward, whose 1925 novel Porgy later inspired the 1935 Opera Porgy and Bess with music by George Gershwin. Heyward was born in 1885 in Charleston, and it appears from his work that he knew and loved our city well.
Dusk by DuBose Heyward
They tell me she is beautiful, my City,
That she is colorful and quaint, alone
Among the cities. But I, I who have known
Her tenderness, her courage, and her pity,
Have felt her forces mold me, mind and bone,
Life after life, up from her first beginning.
How can I think of her in wood and stone!
To others she has given of her beauty,
Her gardens, and her dim, old, faded ways,
Her laughter, and her happy, drifting hours,
Glad, spendthrift April, squandering her flowers,
The sharp, still wonder of her Autumn days;
Her chimes that shimmer from St. Michael‘s steeple
Across the deep maturity of June,
Like sunlight slanting over open water
Under a high, blue, listless afternoon.
But when the dusk is deep upon the harbor,
She finds me where her rivers meet and speak,
And while the constellations ride the silence
High overhead, her cheek is on my cheek.
I know her in the thrill behind the dark
When sleep brims all her silent thoroughfares.
She is the glamor in the quiet park
That kindles simple things like grass and trees.
Wistful and wanton as her sea-born airs,
Bringer of dim, rich, age-old memories.
Out on the gloom-deep water, when the nights
Are choked with fog, and perilous, and blind,
She is the faith that tends the calling lights.
Hers is the stifled voice of harbor bells
Muffled and broken by the mist and wind.
Hers are the eyes through which I look on life
And find it brave and splendid. And the stir
Of hidden music shaping all my songs,
And these my songs, my all, belong to her.
Get Inspired by Charleston Poetry
Charleston, by Henry Timrod
Poems for Charleston, In Honor of Emanuel AME Church
Modern Works by Charleston Poets