If you’re a true history buff, you’re sure to be fascinated by the long and rich military history in Charleston. Nearly 350 years old, Charleston has a long and turbulent past. From the arrival of early English settlers in 1670 to the Civil War and beyond, the Holy City has been defending her shores and showing her military might for centuries.
Charleston has played pivotal roles in the nation’s most significant wars, and the city has no shortage of iconic military sites and artifacts to prove it. To put it simply, it’s a military-history-lover’s paradise.
Ready to explore 350 years of military history in Charleston? Although nothing beats visiting the Holy City in person, we’ll give you the rundown of the city’s exciting military history and prepare you for your next Charleston vacation.
Charles Towne Landing
When it comes to exploring Charleston’s vast military history, start from the beginning at Charles Towne Landing. A group of about 120 English settlers arrived here in 1670, and they made the site their first permanent home in the Carolinas.
Located on the west bank of the Ashley River, Charles Towne Landing became a valuable trading post, as well as a village. Originally named for King Charles II of England, the settlement became known as Charleston in the late 1700s after the Revolutionary War.
Today, Charles Towne Landing is a state historic site with numerous attractions for the entire family to enjoy. The Exhibit Hall is where history lovers can learn about the founding of Charleston and how the city came to be, as well as its early history of fending off pirates and marauders.
Other popular attractions at Charles Towne Landing include The Adventure, a floating exhibit and full-scale replica of a 17th-century ship which both adults and kids will enjoy. Visit on the third Sunday of each month and you’ll see 17th-century cannons being fired for demonstrational purposes.
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
You can’t leave Charleston without stopping by Patriots Point. Located in the charming town of Mount Pleasant, this impressive naval museum offers visitors a glimpse into Charleston’s rich maritime history.
Patriots Point Museum is the fourth largest naval museum in the country and the only maritime museum in the state. The museum is perhaps best known for being home to USS Yorktown, a WWII Essex aircraft carrier which participated in the Pacific Offensive against the Japanese in late 1943.
The USS Yorktown was turned into a museum ship in 1975 after being decommissioned in 1970. Although it is the museum’s centerpiece, Patriots Point is also home to two other monumental battleships: the USS Laffey, and the USS Clamagore.
The USS Laffey is the only surviving Sumner-class destroyer in North America. The ship was given the nickname, “The Ship That Would Not Die” after surviving multiple Kamikaze attacks and D-day bombings.
Currently, visitors can also see the USS Clamagore, a GUPPY III Submarine which served for more than 30 years during the Cold War. However, plans are underway to have the vessel sunk off the coast of Florida and turned into an artificial reef.
In addition to these impressive battleships, visitors will find numerous collections worth exploring at Patriots Point. One that should not be missed is the Vietnam Experience Exhibit. This interactive experience honors Vietnam veterans and tells the stories of those in the Brown Water Navy and the Tet Offensive.
Those interested in the Civil War will enjoy a trip to Fort Sumter, the famous sea fort where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Built in 1829 as a coastal garrison, Fort Sumter was still unfinished when Confederate forces fired more than 4,000 shells upon the island fortification on April 12, 1861.
The attack came after President Abraham Lincoln announced plans to resupply Fort Sumter. Confederate General P.T.G. Beauregard initiated the 34-hour bombardment, which resulted in Union forces surrendering on April 13. While little blood was shed during this battle, it marked the beginnings of the deadliest conflict in American history.
Confederate troops held Fort Sumter for nearly four years, fending off bombardments by Union troops. General Beauregard finally abandoned the fort when General William Tecumseh Sherman marched through South Carolina and captured the city of Charleston.
Fort Sumter is only accessible by ferry, but history lovers likely won’t mind the 30-minute ride. A voice-recorded history of Fort Sumter plays gently in the background for the duration of the ride.
Upon arrival, you can explore the grounds and see damage to the fort caused by the second battle at Fort Sumter in 1863. Tours last just over two hours, giving you plenty of time to explore the fort in all her war-ravaged glory.
Fort Moultrie may not be as grand or well-known as Fort Sumter, but history buffs will love it all the same. One of the first forts on Sullivan’s Island, and one of the oldest on the Eastern Seaboard, Fort Moultrie boasts over 170 years of seacoast defense history.
The fort holds significance not only for its important roles in the Revolutionary and Civil War, but also because it’s where South Carolina’s flag originated. The blue flag with its white palmetto tree symbolizes the state’s long history.
On June 28, 1776, Colonel Moultrie and his force of Patriot soldiers stood ready behind a series of unfinished palmetto logs walls, determined to protect the city from incoming British warships. When British forces attacked the fort, it didn’t matter that the log wall was unfinished—the soft palmetto logs absorbed the cannon attacks, allowing colonial forces to fend off the British army.
Although the fort was badly battered after the attack, it was a decisive victory for the troops and a stunning display of bravery. The fort was named for the brave colonel, and the state officially adopted a blue flag with a white palmetto tree in his honor.
Fort Moultrie isn’t large, but it’s still an important piece of American history that shouldn’t be missed!
As the first combat submarine to sink a warship (the Housatonic) the H.L. Hunley had a short, yet successful career in the Civil War. However, the deaths of the Hunley crew continues to capture our interest more than 150 years later.
The 40-foot long Confederate submarine was raised from the ocean in 2000 and can now be viewed at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston. In addition to the impressive submarine, you can also see salvaged artifacts from the Hunley and learn more about the eight-man crew.
While the deaths of the crew have long remained a mystery, recent breakthroughs have uncovered new insight. According to researchers at Duke, it was the blast wave from the torpedo fired by the ship that caused the immediate deaths of the crew.
Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
One of South Carolina’s most historic buildings, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon has served multiple functions over the years. Perhaps most notably, the cellar of the building was used as a Provost dungeon by British forces during the American Revolution, and it held pirates in the early 18th century.
Now a museum, the building has more history outside of its dungeon. The great hall in the building was the place where the South Carolina Convention ratified the United States Constitution in 1788. George Washington held several meetings here, and the Old Exchange has served various functions in major wars, such as the Civil War and World War II.
For a deeper look inside South Carolina’s colonial military history, walk through The Powder Magazine in Downtown Charleston’s French Quarter neighborhood. Originally used to store gunpowder, The Powder Magazine was built in 1713 and is the state’s oldest surviving building.
When South Carolina was a British colony, it didn’t have the luxury of a standing army or navy. Charles Towne was surrounded by walls guarded by 100 cannons. The gunpowder was stored in The Powder Magazine, arming the city with much-needed protection.
Although the building itself has an incredible amount of history, there are historical treasures to be found inside the museum as well. With interesting military artifacts, interactive exhibits, and models of the original walled city, both adults and kids will enjoy visiting The Powder Magazine.
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall Plantation is steeped in history. Founded in 1681, this working plantation is one of the oldest in America, and it has weathered some of the nation’s most turbulent moments in history.
One of the most popular attractions at Boone Hall is Slave Street, which features nine pre-Revolutionary War slave cottages, built of brick and well-preserved. These brick cottages were home to skilled slaves, including cooks and house slaves.
Boone Hall has various exhibits, including “Black History in America,” which chronicles the struggle of African-Americans over the centuries. Their “Exploring the Gullah Culture” performance tells a powerful story and features the unique culture adopted by African slaves in South Carolina.
The Charleston Museum
Founded in 1773, The Charleston Museum is the oldest museums in the United States.
As one might expect from a long-standing museum, it boasts many eclectic artifacts and cultural objects of interest, including military relics. British and other foreign ships brought countless treasures to Charleston, sparking curiosity from those who view them.
“The Armory” exhibit will surely be of interest to military history buffs. This permanent exhibit features weaponry dating back to 1750 and up to the 20th century. Explore the exhibit, and you’ll discover Revolutionary War and Civil War-era swords, along with weaponry and equipment from WWI and II.
White Point Garden
White Point Garden is not only a great place to take in views of the Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter. The 5.7-acre park is also home to striking monuments and interesting military relics.
Located at the tip of the Charleston peninsula, White Point Garden is situated at the end of the Battery, Charleston’s defensive seawall and promenade. Memorials commemorating the city’s most prominent figures are scattered throughout the park, including the infamous pirate, Stede Bonnet, and celebrated general William Moultrie.
Stroll through the park, and you’ll also encounter numerous real Revolutionary and Civil War-era cannons and one replica It has become something of a game for visitors to try to guess which cannon is the imposter.
If you have enough time, consider stopping by The Citadel, Charleston’s historic military college. Graduates from this notable military college have fought in every American war since the Mexican War of 1846.
There is a museum located on its campus, which offers a deeper look inside The Citadel’s long and storied history. Visitors can learn about the founding of the school in the 1800s, in addition to the many notable alumni who have passed through its ranks.
Of course, be sure to visit on a Friday to catch its afternoon dress parade. Watch as cadets march in formation as drums and bagpipes fill the air, continuing one of its long-held military traditions.
Why read about American history when you can witness it for yourself? Charleston has no shortage of local reenactments for spectators to watch, from the early pirate years to the Civil War and beyond.
If you’re visiting Charleston in April, you can’t miss Legare Farm’s annual Battle of Charleston Reenactment. Head down to John’s Island to watch locals recreate Charleston’s most significant moments in military history through the centuries.
Whether you’re a Revolutionary War aficionado or you’re interested in the city’s more recent military operations, there is something for every kind of history lover in Charleston. The Holy City has such a long and rich history that it is impossible to cover it all in a single trip.
If you’re like most visitors, planning another Charleston vacation will be on your to-do-list before you even leave the city. That’s because people can’t help but fall in love with everything Charleston has to offer, from the award-winning cuisine to world-class golf—and, of course, her beautifully preserved architecture and history.
For your next Charleston vacation, live like a local and rent a vacation house on the beach. That way, you can explore the city’s storied history by day and relax at night listening to the gentle surf of the Lowcountry.
There’s so much about Charleston we can take pride in, like its beauty, charm, and history. And speaking of history, Charleston is credited with many of our nation’s firsts, like the first museum, and first theater. Want to learn more? Here are five firsts that Charleston can take all the credit for, and they’re five more things you can be proud of as a Charlestonian.
America’s First Woman Editor and Publisher, Elizabeth Timothy
You need to know her name: Elizabeth Timothy. One of the world’s first female journalists, she was also the first female newspaper editor and publisher. Of course in addition she also took on the role of being a mom and homemaker — a juggle the modern woman knows all too well. She was also a widow. In other words, she’s like a real life superhero. She immigrated tjo America with her French Huguenot family in 1731, arriving in Philadelphia from London. The family eventually moved to Charleston (then Charles Towne) so her father could take over the South Carolina Gazette. When her father passed away at an early age, none of his sons were old enough to take over but Elizabeth was — she had six kids by the time she became a partner. Although — the paper’s publisher had to be listed as a male, her brother Peter, who was 13, even though she in fact was the publisher. As publisher and editor she certainly had a large role in shaping the city and was inducted into the SC Press Association Hall of Fame in 1973. The South Carolina Gazette lived on Vendue Range, where there is now a plaque there on the bay recognizing her. She was inducted into the SC Business Hall of Fame in 2000.
America’s First Theater, Dock Street Theater
The Dock Street Theater is America’s first theater and where America’s first opera was performed. The theater opened in 1736 with The Recruiting Officer. About 64 years later, the theater turned into Planters Hotel, where Planter’s Punch was invented, and the hotel remained there until almost a 100 years. Dear old Dock Street was reconstructed in 1936. Today it’s a beloved local treasure showing theatre favorites and originals fro traveling companies during special times like our annual Spoleto Festival.
First Municipal College, College of Charleston
Established in 1770, the College of Charleston is the oldest municipal college in the nation. It’s also the 13th oldest institution of higher education in the country. Chartered in 1785, CofC’s founders include three (at that time) future signers of the Declaration of Independence — Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward — as well as three future signers of the US Constitution: John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Today the college continues to carry out its original mission, which is to “encourage and institute youth in the several branches of liberal education.”
America’s First Submarine, H.L. Hunley
The H.L. Hunley is a hand-cranked Confederate submarine that torpedoed the USS Housatonic in the Charleston Harbor on Feb. 14 1864, during the Civil War, making it the first submarine to sink a warship. With it being the first combat submarine to sink an enemy warship, that move altered naval warfare from that point forward, demonstrating the advantages, and the dangers, of undersea warfare. Invented by Horace Lawson Hunley, the Hunley was nearly 40 feet long and was built in Mobile, Alabama. The beast was discovered in the sea in 1995 and on Aug. 8, 2000 it was raised out of the ocean, just 3.5 nautical miles from Sullivan’s Island outside the entrance to Charleston Harbor, where a crowd of proud Charlestonians and history buffs loudly applauded.
America’s First Museum, Charleston Museum
Located on Meeting Street, the Charleston Museum was founded in 1773. It was inspired by the British Museum and established by the Charleston Library Society the day before the American Revolution. Oddly enough the museum didn’t open to the public until 1824 but closed again due to the Civil War. Although the original collections are widely varied and even include Egyptian artifacts, its main focus is still on the South Carolina Lowcountry. The collections include materials from natural history, historical material culture and both documentary and photographic resources.
There is a a long list of Charleston firsts, and these five only scratch the surface. Check back soon for another post with more information about trailblazers in our historic city.
Allow a guide to take you through the cobblestone streets and historic neighborhoods, taste award-winning Lowcountry cuisine and brewpubs, or experience the chills of Charleston’s historic buildings reputed to be haunted by infamous ghosts. No matter what adventure you seek, the Holy City has a walking tour that will help you experience it. Lace up your walking shoes and prepare to be dazzled by this enchanting town.
Here is your insider’s guide to Charleston’s best walking tours.
Take a Stroll Through Charleston’s History
The best history walking tours will give you a healthy mix of traditional site and treasures that are slightly off the beaten path. Consider these tours to best immerse yourself in the Holy City’s past and present.
Charleston Footprints Walking Tour
If you’re a fan of architecture and history, you will enjoy going on this 2-hour walking adventure through historic downtown Charleston. The tour is led by Michael Trouche, a seventh-generation Charlestonian, who is extremely knowledgeable in all things related to the Holy City.
As you explore the cobblestone streets, quaint alleyways, and historic buildings, Trouche will tell you all about the various architectural styles of Charleston’s most significant buildings, from Greek Revival to Georgian styled structures, in addition to the city’s rich history.
Charleston’s Alleys and Hidden Passages
Few cities can boast as long and narrow alleyways and passages as the Holy City. Why not explore them further with a tour dedicated to these romantic, and often hidden, paths?
From Lowcountry Walking Tours, the Charleston’s Alleys and Hidden Passages tour offers visitors the opportunity to see a different side of Charleston—one that can’t be accessed any other way than by foot. It’s also one that tourists frequently overlook.
Exploring Charleston’s hidden passageways is a chance for history buffs to feel as though they have stepped back in time. But, for those who also wish to see the more iconic Charleston sites, don’t worry—this tour will lead you to points of interest including Rainbow Row, the Heyward-Washington House museum, and more.
Charleston Pirate Tours
Was the infamous Blackbeard really born in the Charleston area? Why did he blockade Charleston? You can find these answers by taking a Charleston Pirate Tour.
The Charleston Pirate Tour is an absolute blast for the entire family. Led by guides dressed in pirate garb and live parrots, this tour takes you to historical sites while delving deep into Charleston’s piratical past. If you’re staying in a beach vacation rental, you will have a newfound appreciation of Charleston’s calm waters and pristine beaches.
Explore Charleston’s Thriving Food Scene
Do you consider yourself a foodie? If so, then you are in for a treat. From traditional Lowcountry fare to innovative cuisine from award-winning restaurants, the Holy City’s rich culinary offerings are sure to delight your taste buds. With so many choices, it’s hard to pick the right one. Here are some top recommendations to get you started.
Charleston Culinary Tours
This local tour company is one of the best for foodies and offers five unique tours: Downtown Charleston Culinary Tour, Upper King Street Culinary Tour, Chefs’ Kitchen Tour, Farm-to-Table Experience, and Mixology Tour.
Each tour provides elements of Charleston’s rich history while highlighting local cuisine and cocktails. Whether this is a family outing or a date, you will have a blast sampling the broad range of Charleston’s cuisine.
Consider taking the Farm-to-Table Experience tour, which walks you through the Charleston farmer’s market to pick out fresh ingredients and provide you with a multi-course meal using ingredients just purchased at the market.
The Original Pub Tour of Charleston
Up for a pub crawl? Pub Tour Charleston offers two walking pub tours that take guests to some of Charleston’s finest drinking establishments.
The Original Pub Tour will take you to Charleston’s most historic pubs and taverns, in addition to some newer, trendy places. Your guide will entertain you with tales of the Lowcountry as you sip on Southern cocktails and visit local microbreweries.
Savor the Flavors of Charleston
Bulldog Tours offers excursions that are great for first-time visitors to Charleston who want to try traditional Charleston cuisine and a few favorite local restaurants. If this is your second visit to the Holy City, the Upper King Street tour showcases the innovative and ever-changing culinary scene of Charleston.
Named the Savor the Flavor of Upper King Street, this tour explores a different area of Charleston, but the pub scene is just as exciting and delicious. This tour is ideal for those who want to experience the city’s trendier and more modern taverns and pubs.
Discover Charleston’s Haunted History
With Charleston’s long and occasionally violent history, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Holy City is full of places that are reportedly haunted. If you enjoy hearing the frightening tales of restless spirits, then a Charleston ghost tour will be right up your alley.
Ashley on the Cooper Walking Tours
Are you up for solving a Charleston murder? Take the Murder Walk Tour, and you and your group will retrace the steps of a killer through the Holy City to solve the crime. If you are visiting family or friends in Charleston, this is a tour that natives and tourists can enjoy together.
Ashley on the Cooper also offers a Macabre Ghost Tour that is fun for both kids and adults. Your tour guides will take you through hauntingly beautiful places in Charleston, all the while telling you about the fascinating and sometimes creepy events that have taken place on the gas-lit streets of Charleston.
These tales aren’t stories made up by the tour guides; they are actual events that have taken place in Charleston. Though you won’t be scared silly, the tour guides don’t leave out the gore and horror that pervade Charleston’s long history.
Pleasing Terrors Ghost Tour
Provided by Old Charleston Tours, the Pleasing Terrors Ghost Tours is Charleston’s most acclaimed ghost tour. This tour is led by Mike Brown, an experienced guide who knows his historical information and is excellent at bringing his stories to life. Brown also mixes in some of his own experiences, giving a native’s perspective on Charleston’s haunted places.
The Pleasing Terrors Ghost Tour is roughly 90 minutes long and, while you may not be able to go inside these haunted places, Mike Brown brings props and an iPad full of pictures to make you feel as though you are actually inside these ghostly haunts.
Ghosts & Dungeons Tour
Wind your way through the cobbled streets and back alleyways of the Holy City as you listen to eerie tales of Charleston’s ghosts and Lowcountry superstitions on the Ghosts & Dungeons Tour. Also provided by Bulldog Tours, this tour will take you to several haunted city spots and stop to tell you about creepy cemeteries and historic buildings.
You will also get the chance to explore the Provost Dungeon, a pre-Revolutionary War dungeon that most tourists only get to see during the day. Again, you won’t be scared silly with these tours, but they do provide a fascinating look into a different side of Charleston.
Miscellaneous Walking Tours
If none of the tours listed above appeal to you, there are plenty of other walking tours that might interest you. Whether you are trying to be budget-conscious or simply want a tour that is slightly different than the ordinary tourist excursion, the following tours are worth considering as well.
Southern Rendezvous Walking Tour in Charleston
This is the tour for those who don’t want a history lecture, nor do they want to hear the chilling tales of Charleston’s ghosts. Instead, the Southern Rendezvous Walking Tour offers guests a fun adventure through Charleston that showcases the city’s undeniable southern charm.
You will hear more about the unique history of the Holy City and tour guides will cover a broad range of topics that other tours won’t cover. Plus, you will get insider tips from locals that will help set the tone for the rest of your vacation.
Low-Budget Walking Tours
Free Tours by Foot tours that allow guests access the value of the tour with a gratuity. Take the Historic Charleston Tour to see the city’s most iconic sites, including Rainbow Row, Fort Sumter, and the Charleston City Market.
History buffs will enjoy the Civil War Charleston tour, while architectural aficionados will be delighted by a tour that covers Charleston’s impressive architecture throughout the years.
Self-Guided Walking Tours
There are significant benefits to taking a tour of Charleston with a professional guide, but not everyone wants to explore Charleston this way. If you would rather experience the Holy City on your own, then there are a few self-guided walking tours that may interest you.
First, stop by the Charleston Visitors Center to grab a few maps and brochures. These will help keep you from getting lost as you explore the three self-guided tours provided by Explore Charleston.
Charleston Museum Mile
If you prefer walking Charleston on your own, then the Museum Mile is a great place to start. This famous, mile-long section beginning on Meeting Street features six museums, five historic homes, four beautiful parks, and a Revolutionary War Powder Magazine.
Along the Museum Mile, you will also see stunning churches and public buildings like the City Market and City Hall. If you have kids, this is a great way for the entire family to learn about the rich history of the Lowcountry. Check out the Museum Mile map to get a better idea how you would like to spend the day.
There is so much to do and see in Charleston. Even the locals haven’t managed to explore every nook and cranny of the Holy City, but a walking tour is a great way to experience the unique flavor and enduring charm of Charleston.
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?
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…)