May 062015
 

Flag of South Carolina

Charleston is steeped in Southern history and they are proud of it, beginning with their flag.  The South Carolina flag was designed by Colonel William Moultrie in 1775.  The first flag simply had a crescent moon with the words liberty written on the moon.

That design flew over a fortress on Sullivan’s Island where Moultrie was part of a stand against the British in June 1776. One of the reasons the South Carolinians were able to hold Sullivan’s Island was because the  the fortress was constructed of palmettos, laid over sand walls.  These palmettos, spongy as they were, were able to withstand British cannons. The palmetto was added to the flag after that.

Map of Charleston, South Carolina

Map of Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston sits between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, these drain into the Atlantic Ocean.  When the British first arrived in South Carolina the distance between the two rivers was 2 1/2 miles, today it is 5 miles.

The British fortified the town with a wall around it. Due to the fact that it was a walled city, the lots, and therefore, the buildings, tended to be narrow.

The Crisp Map of 1711

The Crisp Map of 1711 – showing the walls around the city

Since Charleston was founded after the Great Fire of London, and the British had learned a little about fire management, the city was laid out on a grid.  The streets, for the same reason were also wide.

Single

Single House

Charleston developed Single House Architecture to beat the heat.  Single House is an architectural style specifically of Charleston, South Carolina and refers to homes built one room wide with double covered piazzas (or what others in the U.S. call porches), that face East. The homes can be many rooms long and multiple stories high. Some are 10 feet wide, some are 25 feet wide, but they always sit with the narrow part of the house facing the street due to Charleston’s narrow lot sizes.

Homes on the Battery

Homes on the Battery

During the Civil War a coastal defense artillery battery was built on the coastline. It stretches along the lower shores of the Charleston Peninsula.  Once this was done, homes were also built along the area.

Charleston was the fourth largest city during the period leading up to the Civil War; cotton was very good to Charleston.

While the earliest settlers primarily came from England, colonial Charleston was also home to a mixture of ethnic and religious groups. People came from Bermuda and the Caribbean,  French, Scottish, Irish, and Germans migrated to the developing seacoast town, representing numerous Protestant denominations. Sephardic Jews migrated to the city in such numbers that Charleston eventually was home to, by the beginning of the 19th century and until about 1830, the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in North America.

Hugenot Cemetery

Huguenot Cemetery – Huguenots made up 40% of the population prior to the Civil War

Charleston was also a very progressive city.  Prostitution was legal, and in fact stayed that way until after WWII.

The Dock Theater, site of the oldest American theater

The Dock Theater, site of the oldest American theater

Theaters were prevalent. In the North the theater was considered the highway to hell and was condemned or forbidden. In 1750 the General Court of Massachusetts passed an act prohibiting stage plays and theatrical entertainments of any kind. In 1759, the Colony of Pennsylvania passed a law forbidding the showing and acting of plays under a penalty of £500. In 1761 Rhode Island passed “an act to Prevent Stage Plays and other Theatrical Entertainments within this Colony,” and the following year the New Hampshire House of Representatives refused a troupe of actors admission to Portsmouth on the ground that plays had a “peculiar influence on the minds of young people and greatly endanger their morals by giving them a taste for intriguing, amusement and pleasure”.

 

Charleston was enjoying a prosperous and entertaining life as the seeds of Civil War were brewing.  The Civil War was not kind to Charleston.

This is the second St. Philip's Church on this site. It was constructed from 1835 to 1838 by architect Joseph Hyde, while the steeple, designed by E.B. White, was added a decade later.

This is the second St. Philip’s Church on this site. It was constructed from 1835 to 1838 by architect Joseph Hyde, while the steeple, designed by E.B. White, was added a decade later.

On December 20, 1860, the South Carolina General Assembly made the state the first to ever secede from the Union. Some of the staunchest Secessionists were members of the St. Philip’s Church.

On December 11, 1861, a massive fire burned 164 acres of the city.  In late 1863 the Union forces were able to get close enough to begin a bombardment that lasted on and off for more than a year.  The cumulative effects of this bombardment would destroy much of the city that had survived the fire.

Streets in the oldest part of Charleston

Streets in the oldest part of Charleston

The City of Charleston was evacuated from 1863 to 1865 and then sat under Marshall law for the next 16 years.

Earthquake bracing on the building

Earthquake bracing on the building

To add insult to injury a 7.5 earthquake hit Charleston in 1886. It damaged 2,000 buildings in Charleston and caused $6 million worth of damage, the city was so poor by then that the buildings in the entire city were only valued at approximately $24 million.

This was the end of Charleston.  The city became, as many cities do, an impoverished empty city.  A few people trickled in after WWII and many more with the opening of the Eisenhower Highway system, but today it is only the 225th largest city in U.S.

The House on Cabbage Row in Heyward’s novel Porgy. At the time 20 people were living in that house.

The House on Cabbage Row in Dubose Heyward’s novel Porgy. At the time of its writing there were 100 people  living in the house.

In the 1970s the city began attempting to attract tourism but the city remained rather impoverished until Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  At that time over $1billion in insurance money came in to help many people that had spent generations deferring maintenance on their homes.  This would include the installation of plumbing and electricity on the insides of the homes, rather than simply run up the exterior walls.

Hugo also, however, killed 45% of all the trees in Charleston, so tree canopy is treasured in Charleston where the trees are still large enough to provide shade. Along with the loss of trees, Spanish moss, so prevalent in the south, disappeared from Charleston.

There was also a 17 foot storm surge with Hugo bringing in “pluff” mud.

Pluff mud is a Carolina Lowcountry term for the slippery, shiny brown-gray, sucky mud, with a distinctive smell like none other, of the tidal flats and spartina grass salt marshes. When you step in it, you could sink up to your ankles, or up to your knees.

Pluff mud is a Carolina Lowcountry term for the slippery, shiny brown-gray, sucky mud, with a distinctive smell like none other, of the tidal flats and spartina grass salt marshes. When you step in it, you could sink up to your ankles, or up to your knees.

Today, Charleston is becoming a prime location for tech, it is considered a very important art center, and has the fourth largest container port in the U.S.

Robert Mills, best know for designing the Washington Monument, designed this church in his home town of Charleston

Robert Mills, best know for designing the Washington Monument, designed this church in his home town of Charleston

Tiny alleys like this run throughout the old part of Charleston

Tiny alleys like this run throughout the old part of Charleston

Trachelospermum jasminoides is called Confederate Jasmine here in the south

Trachelospermum jasminoides is called Confederate Jasmine here in the south

Victorian homes, made of wood, which is rare in Charleston are scattered in areas that were burned out in the old section of town

Victorian homes, made of wood, which is rare in Charleston, are scattered in areas that were burned out in the old section of town

The impending destruction of this building began the preservation movement in Charleston in 1920.

The impending destruction of this building began the preservation movement in Charleston in 1920.

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If you get to Charleston and want one of the absolute best tour guides I suggest Tommy Dew’s

May 062015
 

Beaufort South Carolina

May 2015

I am in the south for the Victorian Society Annual meeting. I have never been to this part of the south, and am anxious to explore the architecture and the history.

Today was spent in Beaufort, South Carolina, a one hour drive from Savannah, Georgia.  I did not even know this town existed until today, and yet it is so rich, both architecturally, as well as, historically.

Beaufort County South Carolina Map

A little history before I walk you around town.  American Indians spent summers here, as far back as the second millennium B.C.. This fact is vital because it plays a part in the construction of homes in the area.

This area was settled around the same time as our first U.S. city, St. Augustine, Florida, Beaufort claims to be the second (1562).  There were Spanish, French, English and Scottish, all here for the rich soil and water trade routes to Europe.

The area finally was settled permanently by the English and chartered in 1711.  The town was named after the Duke of Beaufort.  The English laid out the still existing grid streets of the town.

St. Helena's Parish Church

St. Helena’s Parish was established in 1712.  The church we visited was not quite that old, but sits where the original sat.

Main industries of Beaufort at that time were indigo and rice. There is a normal tidal variation between low and high tide of eight (8) feet and eleven on “spring” tides.  This is one of the greatest variations along the Atlantic coast and makes rice planting feasible…to say nothing of oyster harvesting.

Beaufort was extremely prosperous at this time with vast amounts of wood allowing shipbuilding that added to the rice and indigo trade.  A plantation owner of this time, Thomas Heyward, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Many of the socially prominent families of this time remained loyal to the crown during the revolution and there are British soldiers buried in St. Helena’s graveyard.

St. Helens parish british

After the American Revolution the need, by the English, for indigo dried up and Beaufort’s economy was based on Sea Island Cotton. Beaufort became the wealthiest and most cultured town of its size in America because of the Sea Island Cotton crop.

Antebellum Architecture

The architecture of the Antebellum Days was predicated on getting cool breezes through a home. The homes typically faced south and had wide verandas. Many were built close to the water, which gave them the best breezes.

During this time many of the houses were of wood with tabby and brick used for the foundations, although many were built entirely of tabby and brick.

Most Antebellum homes are in the Greek Revival, Classical Revival, or Federal style.  They tend to be grand, symmetrical, and boxy, with center entrances in the front and rear, balconies, and columns. In the case of Beaufort, often hidden behind large trees.

In Beaufort, this style included large raised basements that addressed the constant threat of flooding from the tidal marsh.

Called "The Castle" this is the last Antebellum house built in Beaufort

Called “The Castle” this is the last Antebellum house built in Beaufort

The Washington House

The Anchorage House, presently undergoing a restoration is the tallest tabby home in the United States. Although extensively altered in the late 19th century it is a classic antebellum period home originally built in 1800.

Tabby

When the American Indians summered in this area, for ten thousand years, they ate oysters and left behind mounds of shells for the future use of contractors.

Lime, an essential ingredient in cement was unavailable. It was created by burning the oyster shells.  This was then mixed with sand and whole oyster shells to create a cementious mix for building. This was called Tabby.

Tapia is Spanish for “mud wall” and Arabic tabbi means a mixture of mortar and lime.  In the earliest buildings of the area they also included Spanish Moss. The Spaniards had been using this building style for centuries, but some researchers believe the English developed it in South Carolina on their own.

If you are interested in a very detailed account on how to make tabby click here.

Tabby Home

We were guests of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust in this tabby home.

This stunning wood paneling, removed early on in the life of its home found its way to New York, then California and finally back home to rest where it began

This stunning wood paneling, removed early on in the life of the home found its way to New York, then California and finally back home to rest where it began

The cotton planters living in these homes sent their sons to be educated at Harvard and Yale and and often shuttled between Newport, Rhode Island and Beaufort, South Carolina (the Newport of the south).

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Basements, raised entirely above ground were typical Beaufort style in Antebellum homes

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By 1886 Beaufort had lost its own style and people began building out of National Pattern Books

confederate flags

The Civil War changed everything in Beaufort, South Carolina.

November 7, 1861 known as the “Day of the Big Gun Shoot” began at 9:26 a.m.  The Union naval forces came into Port Royal Sound, found no resistance, and took over with no blood loss.

Warned by Southern spies via telegraph, every white person in Beaufort had already “skedaddled”. The white Southerners left most everything behind, leaving the homes almost intact.  They also left 10,000 slaves behind.

Beaufort was Union territory.  This area became a hospital zone and a Union army regional headquarters for the duration of the war.  Most every one of the large homes and buildings became either hospital wards or offices for the Union Army. This is what saved the architecture of Beaufort.

Baptist church in beaufort

Tabernacle Baptist Church ca. 1893 where Robert Smalls is laid to rest

On January 1, 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the freedmen of the area.  Following this, the government imposed a Federal real estate tax on the Southern landowners and their homes.  The Southerners were not going to pay taxes to these people, so the Federal government confiscated the land.  The land was auctioned off to the occupying Union soldiers and civilians.  The plantations were cut into 40 acre lots and for $2.00 an acre a freedman was able to buy 40 acres and a mule.

During the decades after the Civil War the black population of the area outnumbered the white populaton seven to one.

Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls became a very influential man during this period. Born in Beaufort, South Carolina, he freed himself  from slavery on May 13, 1862, by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, the CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, and sailing it to freedom beyond the Federal blockade.

After the American Civil War, he became a politician, elected to the South Carolina State legislature and the United States House of Representatives.

In 1877, with the enactment of the Jim Crow laws, Beaufort lost any political power it had in the state.  However, the city itself remained a Jim Crow law free zone due to its overwhelmingly high black population.

The history of Beaufort struggled through the rest of its history, going from the richest area in the United States to the poorest.  Today it relies on income from the ever growing summer homes of the area, tourism and retirees.

Andrew Carnegie Library 1916

Andrew Carnegie Library 1918

All the original books of Beaufort were taken to Washington D.C. for safekeeping during the Civil War time.  They were lost when the Library of Congress burned in 1864. The Carnegie Library was built in 1918.

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Construction on the Beaufort Arsenal began in 1795. The land was given to the volunteer organization, The Beaufort Volunteer Artillery Company, by the city. The building retains a portion of its tabby walls.

Joseph Hazel House

The plinth under these columns is typical “Beaufort Style” from the 1810s.

 

This home was saved from destruction by Jim Williams, the protaganist in Midnight in the Garden of Evil

This home was saved from destruction by Jim Williams, the protagonist in “Midnight in the Garden of Evil”

Beaufort College Building

Built in 1795 this stucco on brick building is now part of South Carolina Beaufort College

The Pretty Penny, owned by a lumber maven it is said to be built with perfect wood and there is not a knot in the house - ca. 1850

The “Pretty Penny”, owned by a lumber maven, is said to be built with perfect wood and there is not a knot in the house – ca. 1850

A Sears and Roebuck Catalogue Home

A Sears and Roebuck Catalogue Home

Interior of the Parish of Saint Helena

Interior of the Parish of Saint Helena

I have already shown you some exterior shots of the Parish of Saint Helena.  I would like to take this opportunity to expound a little bit.  We were given a wonderful talk about the church by this woman.

Anne Heyward

Anne Heyward

This is Anne Hayward, and if you were paying close attention, yes it was her great x 4 grandfather that was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Her knowledge of the church and the area is staggering.

I am always attracted to graveyards, and the one at St Helena’s has some great characters. I would like to bring you just a few.

Dr. Perry's Brick Mausoleum

Dr. Perry’s Brick Mausoleum

Dr. Perry knew of someone that had been buried alive, so he had a pickaxe, a jug of water and a loaf of bread with him when he went.

Colonel John Tuscarora Jack Barnwell

Colonel John “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell

Colonel Barnwell, an Irish immigrant who arrived in 1700, was the builder of the Tabby home we dined in.  He built the home for his daughter Elizabeth after she eloped to Europe with an unsavory fellow and the colonel knew the marriage would not work.

This Baptismal Font is one of the few things left from before the Civil War - it is still used today

This Baptismal Font is one of the few things left from before the Civil War – it is still used today

While the homes of Beaufort survived the Union occupation the contents did not, it is rare to find items from buildings before that time period.

Bobby Pin Fence

Bobby Pin Fence

Decorative fences are all over the area, and as varied as they are many.  The fences in the past were latticed on the bottom and often very high.  This kept the chickens from escaping through the slats and the cows from the yards.

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Spanish moss is EVERYWHERE! It is not Spanish, it is not moss and it is not a parasite.  It is actually an epiphyte and a member of the pineapple family, Tillandsia usneoides. It does not need a tree to grow, as you can see in the second photos where it is draped on the phone wires, it just needs lots of air and lots of sun.

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Another tree that is thriving in the south is the Elm.  Dutch Elm disease can not live in areas where it is 90 degrees day and night.

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Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

In 1862, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts arranged for Harriet Tubman to go to Beaufort, South Carolina, as a nurse and teacher.  She was a nurse in the Tabby home in which we dined.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton

Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, served in Beaufort, South Carolina twice.  The first during the Civil War and again in 1893 when a horrific hurricane wreaked havoc on the area.

If you are heading to Beaufort, there are many many architectural tour companies available.  I found two wonderful books on the history of the area that can guide you easily around should you prefer to do it on your own.

The Historic Beaufort Foundation Guide to Historic Homes and Places and Beautiful Beaufort by the Sea Guidebook

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The town is small and walkable with a delightful shopping main street and a waterfront for relaxing and cooling off with the breezes off the water.