Tag Archive | Charleston

The Grand Tour – Day 5 – Magnolia Plantation

After our visit to Fort Sumter, we headed out of town to visit Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, just outside of Charleston on the Ashley River. I had visited before, but it was winter when I was there, and I wanted to see the summer experience. Well, I got a summer experience – just not the one I bargained for! At lunch (we went to Firehouse Subs), it started to rain, and by the time we got to the plantation it was pouring! Raining hard enough for us Northwesterners to consider not going. But I brought my umbrella and we figured we wouldn’t melt. And unlike northwest rain, this was warm – it was still in the 80s!  Plus, our tickets were already paid for! So we went anyway. We sloshed through the puddles in our Chaco sandals and made the best of it.

The rain had washed over all the pathways and made little rivers of water down the paths, and Jon was worried that might mean the alligators would be all over the trails. It was comical how freaked out he was! We only could tolerate about a half hour in the dumping rain, but we went and saw the plantation house, the trails, the area where the rice paddies were, the formal gardens and the hedge maze.  We opted not to go into the hedge maze.   The oldest gardens at Magnolia Plantation were established in 1680 – and have been continuously tended since the time.  After the plantation hit hard times after the Civil War, the gardens were opened to the public in the 1870s.  They are really quite beautiful, although it is difficult to enjoy it in the pouring rain…  And, we never did see any alligators!

One of the Many Bridges at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens – Built in the 1840s

Seriously Folks – That’s a Garden Path I’m Standing On!

The Formal Garden in Front of the House – With a Huge Puddle From All the Rain!

The house at Magnolia Plantation is actually the third house on the site.  The first house was destroyed by fire at some point, and the second one was destroyed in a fire in 1865 – likely burned by Union troops coming through.  The house that is there now was floated down the Ashley River from Summerville, South Carolina on a barge!  The center portion of the home was built before the Revolutionary War, with the rest of the home added on later.

Magnolia Plantation House – Center Section Built Pre-Revolutionary War – The Veranda and the Columns Were Added Later

The plantation also has several slave cabins that were built in the 1850s and one that was built approximately 1900.  These cabins were very simple, with a hearth fireplace and not much else.  Interestingly, these cabins were inhabited from the 1850s all the way up to 1990, by a groundskeeper who worked on the property.  The slave cabins aren’t open unless you go on a specific tour, but it was neat to see the outside of them all the same.

Magnolia Plantation Slave Cabin – Built 1850s

As luck would have it, on our way out of Magnolia Plantation, the rain stopped and the sun started to come back out. We began the drive down to Savannah and on the way stopped for some Peach Cider! They also had tastings of Cherry, Blackberry and Muscadine cider – they were good, but the Peach was definitely the best. We had some fun looking around the shop, and Jon loved the spicy pickled garlic that they had. He bought a jar to bring home.

Back on the road, we stopped at the Frampton House Plantation in Yemessee, South Carolina. It is a Visitor’s Center for the Low Country, with a Museum and Gift shop, although the Museum part is a bit questionable.  They kind of cover up the historic features of the home with the gift shop stuff. The house was built in 1868 after Sherman burned the original home in 1865. I learned that with a search on the internet though, as there was no docent to tell us anything about the house, or the area, so it ended up being a very quick visit. After wandering around wondering if someone would come tell us about the place, we left….  We got back on the road and headed the rest of the way to Savannah, to our home for the next two nights – The Marshall House!

Frampton Plantation House – Shaded by a Live Oak Tree with Spanish Moss

The Grand Tour – Day 4 – Charleston (Afternoon)

After our Blind Tiger experience, we headed back out to continue touristing.  We headed over to the Old Slave Mart Museum.  The Old Slave Mart was Ryan’s Mart, which operated as a slave market for domestic slaves (born in the US, not brought from Africa).  The market operated from 1856 to 1863, after Charleston banned public slave auctions (which used to occur on the north side of the Exchange building – I talked about this building in my previous post).  Slave auctions were getting to be a bit controversial at that point – by the 1850s abolitionists like Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, were beginning to cover slave auctions and provide a social commentary about the cruel conditions that the slaves were subjected to.  The legal trans-Atlantic slave trade had already come to an end in 1807 – although that did little to curb illegal transport of slaves to the U.S.  In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which brought the cruelty and barbarity of slavery to Americans who had likely not thought about it much.  Ryan’s Mart opened as an indoor “gallery-style” slave market, because by the mid to late 1850s, abolitionists were gaining a foothold in the court of public opinion, and Charlestonians thought it best to move these disturbing auctions behind closed doors.

To be honest though, I found the museum a bit disappointing.  It goes through the basics of slavery in South Carolina, but it was really information that I already knew.  Sadly, the building doesn’t have any of the original features remaining – I think the exhibit would have been much more compelling if they had restored the building to what it had been at the time.  Instead, they have covered it up with drywall and poster board exhibits.  It was a decent basic overview of slavery, but I wanted to see more that was specific to this slave market and how it affected the lives of those passing through here.  One interesting fact that I learned though, is that only 15 men in the U.S. owned more than 500 slaves (9 of them were in South Carolina).  Another interesting fact (from online), is that there were about 385,000 slave owners in the U.S. in 1860, which was about 1.4 percent of the population.

Old Slave Mart Museum

What is very interesting about the building is the fact that it was converted to a tenement dwelling after the Civil War, and operated as a tenement until Miriam Wilson purchased the building in 1938 and turned it into a museum of African American history, arts and crafts.  I always love when people have the foresight to realize the historical value of a place and do what they can to protect it.  Without Miriam Wilson, I’m sure the building would have been torn down long ago…

Closeup of the Slave Mart Museum Sign – Maybe the Lettering is from Miriam Wilson’s Day?

After the Slave Mart, Jon and I decided that instead of going back to the Edmonton-Alston house, which was now further away than we wanted to walk, we would go to the Nathaniel Russell house.  Nathaniel Russell was the wealthiest merchant in Charleston in the early 1800s.  He had already made his fortune by the time he made this town house his home, having it designed and built in 1820.  Impressive features of the home include a 3 story completely free flying staircase.  It balances its weight completely on the steps below and is not attached to the wall or supported by columns or a wall down to the floor.  And it has withstood hurricanes for almost 2 centuries and the 1886 earthquake!  The home also has trompe l’oeil doors and baseboards.  The doors are painted to look like expensive hardwood, when in fact they are pine, which was plain but was frequently used because it withstood the barrage of southern insects.  The baseboards around the home were painted to look like marble – they were very realistic looking!  Can you imagine – we could all just have our counter-tops painted to look like granite, instead of paying for the real thing!  Honestly, I’m not sure that would be any less expensive, thinking about the hours it must have taken to do all that painting.  The tour guide at the Nathaniel Russell house was great, with lots of excellent information about the house and the family.  He was a true southern gentleman.  I wanted to call him Ashley… like in Gone with the Wind!

The Front View of the Nathaniel Russell House

The Side View of the Nathaniel Russell House – Inside the Rooms in This Area Are Circular!

A Close Up of the Wrought Iron Balcony – Nathaniel Russell Had His Monogram Worked into the Iron

The Front Door of the Nathaniel Russell House

Close Up of the Front Door – Showing Trompe L’oeil Painting

The heat and humidity were starting to get the best of us by this time, so we found a frozen yogurt place and cooled down with a bit of a treat.  Cece’s yogurt shop is across from the City Market and we had admired some sweet grass baskets earlier, which are hand woven from sweet grass, and also using bull rush, palms and pine needles.  The are truly works of art, taking lots of time to complete one basket.  As a result, there are baskets ranging from $30 up to several hundreds of dollars for the very large, ornate ones.  One day I’ll be able to afford one of those.  In the meantime, Jon and I chose one to bring home that is medium sized; we think it is beautiful.  An excellent memento from our trip.

Our Sweet Grass Treasure

Then we made our back (a little more slowly now) to the Visitor’s Center on very sore feet and legs.  We didn’t feel like having a restaurant meal (getting a little burned out on restaurant food), so we got a dinner of sandwiches, yogurt and fruit from the local Piggly Wiggly.  We got back to our hotel just as a new thunderstorm rolled in, and the torrential downpour began again.  We soothed our tired backs and aching feet with some true crime TV and Biltmore Estate wine – the Chenin Blanc this time!  And I was happy that we made so much of the day!

The Grand Tour – Day 4 – Charleston (Mid-day)

When I last left you, I had wanted to tour the Edmonton-Alston house, but it was still 2 hours before it opened its doors for the day.  So instead, we made our way over to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, which was one of the attractions that Jon wanted to visit.  This building was built on the waterfront between 1768 and 1771.  It was originally built as an Exchange and Customs House, on the site of a former building which served as the community jail (Charleston officials housed the pirates in that former building before they executed Stede Bonnet and others at White Point Garden in December 1718).  In 1791, George Washington visited the Exchange while on a week-long visit to Charleston.  He addressed the townspeople from the balcony, and they held a ball in the ballroom there in his honor.  It’s pretty neat to know you are standing in a room where George Washington dined and danced and gave speeches to the people. Southerners really liked George, as you’ll see in my upcoming post on Savannah, where he also visited during his Presidency.  The ballroom upstairs is beautiful and well lit, with the original floors and beautiful windows with original glass panes.

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon – Built 1768 to 1771 – Palladian Architectural Style

The Ballroom at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon – George Washington Danced Here!

The ballroom also housed an interesting exhibit on George Washington and the time period in which he lived.  The exhibit was set up on panels, with all sorts of information.  Normally I find that museum exhibits don’t give me enough detail, but this exhibit you could spend hours reading!  Kudos to the curators!  Unfortunately, we were getting a little hungry, so my body wouldn’t allow for all the reading I wanted to do.  I skimmed…

An Exhibit on the First Floor of the Old Exchange

One of the most fascinating parts is the basement of the building, for several reasons.  It is in complete contrast to the second floor ballroom.  Built of brick with natural arches, it has withstood almost 250 years of hurricanes and the only earthquake to hit the south (in 1886), somewhere between a 6.6 and a 7.3 on the Ritcher Scale.  But it is dark, with an uneven brick floor and a palpable dampness.  The windows down there are small and barred.  The basement also served as the dungeon, and housed both male and female prisoners together, in deplorable conditions.  Similar to most prisons of the time period, many prisoners died of disease.  Due to the high death rate in the prison, the dungeon is said to be haunted by spirits who make the lights swing back and forth and rattle the chains on the wall.  In reality, most prisoners were not chained to the wall though – they were allowed to wander around freely in the dungeon (although many were probably malnourished and sick, so they may not have felt much like walking around).  You would also be tripping over dozens of other prisoners if you tried to take a leisurely stroll.

Also, interestingly, during the Revolutionary War, the Americans moved all of their gunpowder from the regular powder magazine elsewhere in Charleston to the Exchange Building, where they bricked it up behind a wall in the dungeon to hide it from the occupying British.  Even though the British occupied Charleston for four years during the Revolution, and used the Exchange Building for their own troops and activities during that time, they never found the hidden gunpowder.

The tour of the dungeon is a little cheesy, with the docents dressed in period clothing, but they give some good information about the history of the building.  They showed us where excavations in the dungeon revealed where the original wall surrounding Charleston was (did you know Charleston was a walled city?)  Other “improvements” to the building include a staircase that was built from the dungeon to the first floor in the 1800s, but was cut off when they were doing the most recent excavation, because it blocked the view of the original town wall.  It is kind of a stairway to nowhere, like in the Winchester Mystery House!

After our visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, we asked the docent  where to eat.  She recommended the Blind Tiger Pub, which had also been recommended by the docent at the Robert Mills House in Columbia, SC, who had lived in Charleston before moving to Columbia.  We decided to check it out.  The food was fantastic – I had a Greek Gyro with fried okra, and Jon had the spicy blackened Triggerfish with blueberries and mango salsa, and served with fresh fruit.  The history of the building was also very neat too.  The building was built in 1803, and over the years, it served as a haberdashery, restaurant and pub, and was even a speakeasy during Prohibition.  Legend says that parlors opened during Prohibition where patrons could pay an admission fee to see the mythical Blind Tiger, and also get some complimentary cocktails while they were there.  Something tells me the authorities might have known what was going on…  The Blind Tiger had a neat historic pressed tin ceiling and nice historic detailing.  The service was fast and the server friendly, and it would have been nice to be around for their Happy Hour!  But no, we still had a lot of sightseeing to do – no time for slacking!

Triggerfish and Fresh Fruit at the Blind Tiger Pub

The Grand Tour – Day 4 – Charleston, South Carolina (Morning)

Today was our only full day in Charleston, and I was DETERMINED! to make the most of it.  I was prepared to go out and get my tourist on, rain or shine, sun or storm!  Fortunately, when we woke up, the weather was overcast, but not raining!  And I succeeded, because as you will notice in the coming days – I had to make this day into three posts because we packed so much in!  We headed up to the Holiday Inn restaurant for their breakfast buffet – most of the hotels we stay at have a continental breakfast, so this was a bit out of the ordinary for us, but it wasn’t included in the hotel price either.  The food was good, with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and lots of fresh fruit and pastries.  Sadly, the Diet Coke (yes, I like to drink soda with breakfast – but I don’t smoke or do drugs, so I figure I have to have one vice!) was flat, and the server said they had already changed out the tank and the new soda wasn’t any less flat, so I had to settle for hot tea.

Begin Off Topic Rant Here:  I’m not sure why 80% of restaurants use those little stainless steel teapots for your extra hot water.  There is no human on earth that can pour the water out of those without dripping hot water all over everywhere.  Do restaurant management types not understand this?  Would you settle for a coffee pot that dripped coffee every time you tried to pour it?  Why do you buy these?  End rant.  We ate our breakfast efficiently, and Jon looked up the day’s weather in the paper.  No time for lingering though – because we were on a mission!

We drove into downtown to the Visitor’s Center to see if they had any package deals on the things we wanted to see.  There wasn’t.  Apparently because we have eclectic tastes in touristing (at least that’s what my mom says…).   But it’s a great place to start your day – and they have lots of postcards!  Jon makes fun that I like to look in all the gift shops – he’s never traveled with my mom though, who can out-gift-shop me any day of the week!  We decided to walk from the Visitor’s Center where we parked (you can park all day there for $12) to the far end of “Museum Mile” and then work our way back, seeing the sights along the way.

The Joseph Manigault House – Built in 1803 – Federal Style Architecture

Museum Mile is what the Charleston Tourism folks have dubbed one of their main historic thoroughfares in downtown, because it features a lot the historic homes and buildings that you can visit and tour.  I’m not sure if it really is a mile long from end to end, but if you don’t stay on the main drag, and end up going down side streets like we did, it seemed like a bit further.  We made our way down, taking lots of pictures along the way and reading the plaques on all the historic homes.  Charleston has done a great job of pointing out which homes were built when, and giving a bit of information about historic homes and other relevant sites.

The Joseph Verree House – Behind the Door is an Open Air Porch – Built 1767 – Georgian Single House Architectural Style

The George Eveleigh House – Built 1743 – Architectural Style Unknown (by me anyway!)

Charleston Home Garden!

We went all the way down to The Battery and took in the view.  The Battery is a seawall promenade that was built up to provide protection from the surf for the stately homes that were being built there.  Also along the water is White Point Garden, which is a park with beautiful live oak trees.  During Charleston’s more violent past, White Point Garden was the location for the hanging of Stede Bonnet and Richard Worley and their gangs of pirates, which terrorized Charleston in 1718 and 1719.  The Battery and White Point Garden were fortified with cannons during the Civil War to protect the city.  Technically, the park and the promenade are two separate attractions, but it seems that most people, tourists and citizens alike, refer to the two together as Battery Park, or The Battery.

White Point Garden – in Charleston – Aren’t Those Oaks Awesome!?

When we got to The Battery, Jon wanted to sit down and rest, as it was already pretty hot out and it was only 11 am.  I kept snapping pictures – walking over to the promenade, and enjoying the cooling shading underneath the beautiful oak trees.

Charleston Harbor – That’s a Pelican!

I have to be honest though, while I thought White Point Garden was really nice, I wasn’t all that wowed by the view of Charleston Harbor.  After all, I live in a town on a beautiful bay, with cool islands in the distance and gorgeous sunsets!  But not every sight can be amazing, I guess – it was really neat to wander around and imagine the Civil War years, with troops in the park and homeowners inviting friends over to watch the bombardments from their porches!  You have to remember, in the beginning, both sides thought they would win the war in about three months – so wrong they were…

After visiting The Battery, I wanted to go to the Edmonton-Alston house, but I hadn’t realized that it didn’t open until 1 pm.  So we came up with a new plan!

The Grand Tour – Day 3 – Columbia to Charleston

After leaving Columbia, South Carolina, it was just starting to rain again.  We continued on to Charleston, where by this time it was dumping buckets.  We passed by Congaree National Park on the way, which looked like an interesting stop (it’s a national forest swamp – there could be alligators!), but it was raining so hard it wouldn’t have been very much fun.  It’s too bad really, because it is a swamp with some of the tallest tress in the world.  The trees thrive because the area floods periodically and provides lots of nutrients for the trees.  You can hike or canoe, and see lots of plants and wildlife.  And I bet they would have a stamp!  But we will have to visit on another trip.

We got to our hotel, a Holiday Inn, which is a tower shaped hotel just over the Ashley River from downtown Charleston.  You can just tell it was built during the 1960s space race!  We got checked in (in the rain) and then drove downtown (in the rain) and checked out the historic district by car (in the rain).  By this time we were getting really hungry, so we settled for dinner at the hotel restaurant.  We got a bowl of the she crab soup – they serve it with sherry that you are supposed to dump in it.  It might have been the sherry (I even only dumped in half of the sherry), but neither of us liked it much – let’s just say it must be an acquired taste.  Jon loved his oysters though and I really liked my baby back ribs!  They hit the spot!  We looked out at the city from the top floor windows watching the rain and hoping the sun would be back out the next day…

She Crab Soup

My Ribs and Jon’s Oysters