Tag Archive | South Carolina

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 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

The Grand Tour – Day 3 – Asheville to Columbia, SC

On Sunday morning, we got up and headed out for our long drive to Charleston.  It is a four and a half hour drive, so we planned to make the trip a bit more leisurely, and not plan to be in Charleston before the tourist attractions closed for the day.  We got our hotel breakfast buffet, packed up and checked out, and headed out.  Soon, it started raining.  Then it started dumping huge buckets of water onto our car.  The drive became pretty frustrating, because it alternated between light rain and a torrential downpour.  We drove for a couple of hours, and then stopped for lunch in Columbia, South Carolina.  We drove around for a few minutes in the business district (which was absolutely deserted on a Sunday) and found the Liberty Bar and Grill.  I found out later that it is a chain, but at the time, we didn’t know that.  It is in an old restored warehouse (they did a good job with the restoration).  I had a Cobb salad and Jon had the Ahi Tuna Salad.  We asked our server to recommend a local brew, and ended up trying the Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale from Atlanta, Georgia.  It was light and hoppy and a teensy bit bland.  It certainly wasn’t on the same level as West Coast microbrews – I think they might get there though!

I thought we were leaving this behind in Washington!

My Cobb Salad at the Liberty Bar and Grill

After lunch we went over to the Robert Mills house before getting back on the road.  I knew nothing about Robert Mills, but I read in the guidebook that the Columbia Historic Society owns and operates four home museums that are open for tours.  We thought they all looked interesting, but we only had time for one, so we chose the Robert Mills house.  Confusingly, Robert Mills didn’t own the house, and never lived in it – he was the architect.  The home was actually owned by Ainsley Hall – his 2nd large mansion in Columbia – the first is across the street.

Robert Mills House in Columbia, SC

Ainsley Hall and his wife Sarah lived in the beautiful home across the street.  As the story goes, one evening in 1823 Mr. Hall was chatting with a colleague who offered to buy the home and asked Mr. Hall to throw out a price.  Mr. Hall responded with $35,000, what he thought was an astronomical price (about $750,000 in today’s dollars – he clearly hadn’t lived through a real estate bubble if he thought that was an unheard of sum, but that’s how the story goes).  You can see where this is going, right?  The colleague accepted the deal, then had his slaves come down and move Ainsley and Sarah Hall out of their home THAT NIGHT.  The record is silent on what Sarah thought of this, but one can assume she was PISSED!  I would be really torqued off!  Now Ainsley really had to kiss ass, so he promised Sarah that he would build her a better house across the street that looked down upon their old home.  He bought the lot and made a deal with Robert Mills to build the home.

The Side View of the Robert Mills House

The Back of the Robert Mills House

Robert Mills has an impressive resume.  He was a federal architect under seven different Presidents, designing and building the US Patent Office (modeled after the Parthenon), the US Treasury Building, and the Washington Monument.  He was an early advocate of fireproofing measures (this is significant later in this post – trust me).  Actually, nobody is really sure what sort of deal he had with Ainsley Hall to build the home, because he mostly designed public buildings.  When you look at the home, you certainly see the public building influence.

So Mr. Mills set about building the home, and when it was almost complete, Ainsley sent Sarah off to New York to go shopping to furnish and decorate their new abode.  He was going to follow her there shortly.  Well, Ainsley set out, then got sick on the journey and died.  And sadly, since he had neglected to update his will to give Sarah the new home in the event of his death, she got NOTHING!  Sarah had to go home and live with her parents…  She never remarried.  The home was sold to a Presbyterian Seminary, and was eventually purchased by a Bible College.

The tour of the house is pretty cool.  The first thing that you notice upon entering the front door is that this home has no grand staircase in the entryway.  In fact, there is no staircase in the entryway at all.  There are two reasons for this.  Mills wanted the entry to be symmetrical with matching doors.  He even put in an extra false door so they would be symmetrical!  Strangely, he could have just had two doors going into the dining room, but apparently that wasn’t what he wanted.  The other reason was that Mills knew grand staircases were a huge fire hazard.  If a house caught fire (which they frequently did back then), the oxygen would race right up the staircase and trap the occupants upstairs.  So instead, Mills put in a staircase that was enclosed in brick.  Interestingly, this is the home’s only staircase.  For the time period, it was highly unusual to not have a separate staircase for the slaves.  The grand entry is also curved, and even the doors are curved!  When you go into the rooms off the grand entry, they have curved walls – it would have been tough to curve the molding in those rooms!

The tour also took us into the basement, where the living would have taken place during the hot summer months (if you didn’t take off for Europe during the summer).  While it certainly was cooler downstairs, it was a bit dreary.  Terra cotta tile floors and less light.  But I suppose you can’t live the glam life all the time.  Megan, our guide, was cheerful and talkative and answered all my questions (we were the only two people on the tour so I could ask whatever I wanted!)

At the end of the tour, Megan showed us where Mr. Mills, had the brick walls on the outside of the home painted red and relined.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The natural work of brick and mortar didn’t create lines that were straight or perfect enough for the obsessive-compulsive Mills.  So he had the brick painted and relined, so they could give it the look of perfectly straight mortar lines running through the brick.  And Jon thought I was particular!

The Painted Lines on the Brick – Look in the Center Section

After we finished our tour at the Robert Mills house, it was time to get back on the road and head the rest of the way to Charleston.  And right about then, it started raining again!

Planning for the Grand Tour of the South – 2012

Jon suggested that I include a post on the planning process for our vacation, so here I go…

We made the decision to visit the South because I wanted the opportunity to get back to see some of the more historical areas of our country. When you live in the Northwest, history is either the history of Native American settlements (which tend to be rather sparsely documented, due to the transitory nature of a lot of these settlements, and the fact that the tribes did not have a written language), or history of European settlement in this area that goes back at the very most about 150 years. In our city, the oldest building we have was built by George Pickett (of later Civil War fame) in 1856.  After that, there really aren’t any other homes until the 1880s. The Pickett House has been extensively remodeled/updated (although many years ago, and now it seems very dated – think flowery wall paper and old carpeting), and the Northwest weather has taken its toll, causing the home to smell significantly of mold. Oh my, I’ve already gotten off topic!

The George Pickett House – 1856

Interior of the Pickett House – Note the Floral Wallpaper

Jon, without my intervention, would plan every vacation to California, so I put my foot down several months ago and said that our next trip would be to Civil War Battlefields! Jon, although he loves history, wasn’t all that excited about a trip of exclusively Civil War battlefields (I’ll keep working on that though), so there had to be other historical interest in the places we picked. That wouldn’t be difficult, considering anyplace with Civil War battlefields will have other historical sites too. We settled on seeing Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. I had been to Savannah before, and loved it, and had been to Charleston for one afternoon, but have always wanted to see more. We originally planned to fly into Charleston, but plane tickets there were running about $650 per person! Savannah was about $100 less per person, but still pretty pricey! So, we settled on Atlanta, where we could save almost $300 per ticket and rent a car for $240 for nine days.

As for the rest of the itinerary… We pondered the Biltmore Estate for awhile before we decided to drive out of our way to see it. Asheville isn’t really on the way to anything from Atlanta (unless maybe you are heading to Knoxville, Tennessee), but the Biltmore is one of those ‘bucket list’ places for tourists, especially history nerds like me. Plus my mom was enthusiastically encouraging the Biltmore detour, since she has always wanted to see it too!  And Andersonville National Historic Site. I know many of you will find that morbid, but you can’t be a Civil War buff without having an appreciation for all aspects of the war, and certainly the Civil War was bloody and gruesome even without POW camps. I had an interest in seeing it when my mom and I visited Georgia in 2004 and didn’t, so I figured I shouldn’t pass it by again.  I knew that would be a lot of driving, but Jon says he likes to drive!  And I’m always willing to drive too, although he rarely lets me.  So with those being the four corners of our exploration route, we were set!

As for lodging – obviously, I would love to do a trip where I stay in all historic hotels in the historic areas of all the cities I visit. Spa massages and gourmet meals would be on the wish list too… But until I get that anonymous benefactor, we’ll have to continue to compromise. We decided we would stay just outside downtown Charleston, and in the historic district in Savannah. While researching hotel options, I also found a neat historic hotel that was reasonably priced in Americus, Georgia too, so that went on the list too.

Jon isn’t that great about deciding what he wants to visit, but I knew that if I did too much of one thing, he would start to rebel. I could do every historic home tour I come across, but for Jon, he gets trompe l’oeil and antique furniture burnout. So I tried to find a mix of different things along the way. Native American history sites, Civil War stuff, and some nice antebellum architecture thrown in too.  And National Parks.  With some good food and wine. And some ghosts. So I researched, and gave Jon some options, and he said he didn’t care, so I picked! For the most part, we stuck with the original plan even! Except I planned to go swimming more (but it was the rain that changed my plans)! So stay tuned for future installments of the 2012 Grand Tour of the South!

The Hiatus…

Don’t worry, loyal blog readers… (all half dozen of you!)  I have not abandoned you!  Jon and I took the last 9 days to do a “Grand Tour” of the South, with visits to the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. I had intended to do some mini blogs along the way, and get some comprehensive posts ready for when I got home, but karma had its own plan.  Jon’s laptop bit the dust on the first day of the trip!  And since it is pretty tough to type much on my Kindle, we ended up with a rather low-tech vacation!  I had brought a paper (paper of all things – CRAZY!) journal with me, so I took notes and started devising my blog posts to share all of our adventures!

So bear with me as I sort dirty laundry and try to get the spray on sunscreen stains out of my ivory sweater (yes, that was another minor mishap…) and I promise I will transcribe and photo-accessorize our entire eclectic vacation itinerary to share with you.  Lots of history, dead people (ghosts and otherwise) great food, long drives, full memory cards (and a bit of a panic when the new one didn’t work!), thunder and lightning storms, and sore feet but no sunburns!  Small towns, big cities, merchants, slaves, soldiers, and some Native Americans!  We had it all!  I just need to do a lot of typing and uploading of photos.

Just let me unpeel this cat from my lap so I can start another load of laundry first…