Crepe Myrtles, restaurants, at least two on each block, talented artists, galleries, historic buildings, also at least two on each block, cobblestones, and museums.
Charlestown has a fascinating history going back to 1630 after Charles II of England was restored to the English throne in 1660 following Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, he granted the chartered Province of Carolina to eight of his loyal friends. It took seven years before the group arranged for settlement expeditions. The community of Charles Towne was founded in 1670. Several shiploads of settlers from Bermuda settled the community on the banks of the Ashley River. Although they moved to a peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers, the early settlement was often subject to attack from sea and land, from Spain, France, pirates and raids by Native Americans, who violently resisted further expansion of the settlement.
At 17 Chalmers Street, this pink house is said to be the oldest standing tavern building in the South. Built within the walled city of Charles Towne in the mid 1690s by John Breton.
The first settlers were free people of color, who came from England and its Caribbean colony of Barbados and Atlantic colony of Bermuda. Other groups were attracted to Charles Towne, but because of the battles between English royalty and the Roman Catholic church, practicing Catholics could not settle in South Carolina until after the American Revolution. However, Jews were allowed and Sephardic Jews migrated to the city in such numbers that by the beginning of the 19th century, the city was home to the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in North American—a status it would hold until about 1830.
Africans were brought to Charles Towne on the Middle Passage, first as servants, then as slaves. The port of Charles Towne was the main dropping-off point for Africans captured and transported to the American English colonies for sale as slaves.
By the mid-18th century Charles Towne had become a bustling trade center, the hub of the Atlantic trade for the southern colonies. Charles Towne was also the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. By 1770, it was the fourth-largest port in the colonies, after Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, with a population of 11,000-slightly more than half of them slaves.
When the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 it revolutionized the production of this crop, and it quickly became South Carolina’s major export commodity. Cotton plantations relied heavily on slave labor, and slaves were also the primary labor force with in the city, working as domestics, artisans, market workers and laborers. After a revolt by Denmark Vesey, a free black in 1822, hysteria ensued amidst white Charlestonians and Carolinians who feared that the violent retribution of slaves against whites during the Haitian Revolution might be copied. Soon after, Vesey was hanged along with 34 other slaves. Later, the activities of free blacks and slaves were severely restricted.
After the Civil war and the defeat of the Confederacy, Federal forces remained in Charleston during the city’s reconstruction. The war had shattered the prosperity of the city. Freed slaves were faced with poverty and discrimination. In 1865 The Avery Normal Institute was established by the American Missionary Association as a private school for Charleston’s African American population. There is the old slave museum on the very same block where slaves were bought and sold before the Civil War. The Old Slave Mart Museum, located at 6 Chalmers St., recounts the story of Charleston’s role in this inter-state slave trade by focusing on the history of this particular building and site and the slave sales that occurred here. We missed visiting the museum by fifteen minutes.
On August 31, 1886, Charleston was nearly destroyed by an earthquake. It was felt as far away as Boston, Chicago and Milwaukee, New Orleans, Louisiana, as well as Cuba and Bermuda. If you visit Charleston you can see the plaques used to shore up a building by inserting long rods from one end of the building to the other.
Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, in which we indulged in as frequently as possible, like the much awarded Slightly North of Broad (also called SNOB, for short).
And the music . . . we visited the circular church co-founded with Charles Towne around 1687 by the English Congregationalists, Scots Presbyterians, and French Huguenots of the original settlement. The music program was called “The Sound of Charleston and included gospel spirituals, Gershwin, jazz, and more.
Charleston has received a large number of accolades, including “America’s Most Friendly [City]” by Travel + Leisure in 2011 and in 2013 by Condé Nast Traveler, and also “the most polite and hospitable city in America” by Southern Living magazine.
The tree is often called the oldest living thing in the U.S. east of the Mississippi and is often cited to be over 1500 years old. While the first might be true for a single, not resprouting tree, the second is almost certain an exaggeration. Age estimations for this tree are not scientifically substantiated, but a comparison with live oak trees for which the growth rings were counted and a comparison with proven ages for deciduous oak trees in temporate climates (where trees grow slower) makes an age of less than 600 years more likely. The Angel Oak is standing 20 m (65 ft) tall, with a girth of about 7.7 m (28 ft) in diameter, and the crown covers an area of 1,580 m² (17,000 square feet). Its longest limb is 27 m (89 ft) in length. The tree and surrounding park have been owned by the city of Charleston since 1991.
The oak derives its name from the Angel estate, although local folklore told of stories of ghosts of former slaves would appear as angels around the tree.
With a haze of Spanish moss dripping from the oaks’ limbs, this garden has an extraordinary Southern feel.
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge across the Cooper River opened on July 16, 2005, and was the second longest cable-stayed bridge in the Americas at the time of its construction. The bridge links with downtown Charleston, and has eight lanes plus a 12-foot lane shared by pedestrians and bicycles. It replaced the Grace Memorial Bridge (built in 1929) and the Silas N. Pearlman Bridge (built in 1966). They were considered two of the more dangerous bridges in America and were demolished after the Ravenel Bridge opened.
Another visit is in order. In fact, we are planning a return in about a year.
Would you want to know more about this infamous Charleston? It’s a great place to spend a few days.