This spring, from April 29th to May 6th, my mom and I took a trip, spending 4 nights in Savannah, Georgia, and three nights in Charleston. We flew home from Charleston on the afternoon of May 6, but that morning, I took a little jaunt on my own from where we stayed at the Francis Marion Hotel (at left) to visit the Edmonston-Alston House, which overlooks Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter.
We were staying in the oldest part of Charleston which is located out on the point of the peninsula between where the Ashley River flowing south of the city joins the Cooper River which flows north of the city. Their confluence forms Charleston Harbor. Of course, on one of the several islands in Charleston Harbor is located historic Fort Sumter.
I took King Street south, which was mostly high-end shopping — clothing, antiques, and what have you. I found nothing photo-worthy until I hung a left onto Broad Street where I found much of historic interest.
A note on the architecture here. This style of house (above) is called a “Charleston single house.” It is quite common in Charleston, and dates from the 19th century. The house sits perpendicular to the street, and the door you see on the street does not actually go into the house, but into the porch under the balcony (which Charlestonians call a “piazza”) where the true front door into the house is located. Typically, the side facing the street is only a single room wide, hence the name. The house would be built along one edge of the lot leaving room for a carriage way to the stables and outbuildings behind the house. Most of these houses no longer have outbuildings and have converted the carriage way to a little garden area or patio and replaced the carriage gate with a wall along the street to shield the garden and house from street noise.
Charleston was founded in 1670, and you can see the stages of adaptation of the 18th century “head-on” Georgian style imported from the cooler, temperate climate of England (see below) to the “side on” style of architecture (above) as a response to the very much warmer, downright swampy climate of South Carolina. The day I took my little hike, May 6th, it was 90F(32+C) by noon and the humidity was in the 90% range. Fortunately, there was a light breeze.
Palmetto trees (Sabal palmetto) like the excellent specimens seen above and below are an indigenous species to the state. In fact, South Carolina is known as “The Palmetto State” and features the image of one on its State Flag.
You can find more information on the preceding five buildings here.
The Confederate home was “Ruined by the earthquake of 1886, and restored by the people of the Union, 1887.” The “great earthquake” was estimated at 7.0 on the moment magnitude scale and occurred at 9:50 p.m. on 31 August, 1886.
Many historic homes dating to that period and before have “earthquake bolts” — iron shafts run through the masonry to tie opposing walls together. These earthquake bolts provided enough structural support and reinforcement to enable many to be spared demolition due to earthquake damage.
You will note that this “Charleston single house” still has the carriage way that leads to the still extant out buildings behind the house, although there is no longer a gate. If you enlarge the picture by clicking on it, you can see that a hedge separates the carriage way from the front porch of the house. Again, the street door does not go into the house proper, but onto the porch. This property has been owned by the same family since 1710. The original house on the property burned and was replaced by this house in 1796. More than ten generations of this family, including the current resident, have lived on this property, most of them in this house.
Now we come to the intersection where Broad Street “T’s” into East Bay Street, and a right turn is called for.
This charming house had a wrought iron gate (below) and window insets with window boxes full of colorful flowers. I had a peek (and photo) through the gate at the courtyard within (above). This house has no piazzas, so in this case you can see where the actual front door of the house is located
At Water Street, East Bay Street becomes East Battery Street, and I have nearly reached my destination. East Battery Street overlooks Charleston Harbor and, ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean.
One can hire a carriage for a guided tour of Old Charles Town, but I preferred to travel by shanks mare.
29 East Battery Street, Porcher-Simonds house built in 1856, remodeled in the 1890’s when a second portico was added. It has a wrought iron gate and a black and white tiled entry portico.
Photo CC Wikipedia Creative Commons
The Edmondston-Alston House. It was constructed by Edmondston in 1825, in the typical Charleston single house style. Edmondston was forced to sell the house due to bankrupcy owing to the Panic of 1837. Below is the original front door located in the typical location in the middle of the porch under the piazza. If this door looks somewhat the worse for wear, that is because it is original to the house, although it almost blew away in a hurricane!
The house was bought by Alston in 1838. He remodeled it and added a new front door facing the street (see below), as this wealthy rice planter used the ground floor as his business premises while his family lived on the top two floors. The house has remained in the Alston family line ever since.
Alston added a “piazza” along the street front side of the house which is not connected to the side piazza, and which is reached through the triple sash windows. The sills of these windows are at floor level. One raises the two lower sashes to the top and steps through.
This bench on the front porch is fitted out so that a woman could sit out doors to sew, read or do some other housewifely chore in the cool breezy shade and rock her baby or young child at the same time. This is a view toward the back of the house. The outbuildings and slave quarters have been remodeled into an apartment for the current owner of the house. Behind the tree is the old black smithy. This area was part of the private portion of the house and is not accessible to the public.
This is the door out onto the second floor piazza. On April 12, 1861, General P. T. Beauregard gave the order to commence the shelling of the garrison at Fort Sumter, and it was from this piazza that he watched the bombardment.
The above photograph was taken from Gen. Beauregard’s vantage point on the piazza of the Edmondston-Alston house.
Alas, photography was not permitted inside the house (What a surprise!).
It was now time for me to retrace my steps and hie me back to the Francis Marion Hotel where the tour bus was to take us to the Charleston Airport.
I call your attention to the sidewalk which is made of flagstones. A lot of the sidewalks in this section of Charleston are made like this, rather than of concrete like I’m used to. Over the (literally) centuries, they have settled unevenly and needless to say, one has to mind one’s footing to avoid the frequent trip hazards. Shortly after I passed this point, I made a friend . . .
On the way back up Broad Street, I took another photo op — a stone leopard. One of a pair outside the People’s Office Building, built in 1910-1911 at a cost of $300,000. At 8 stories, it was Charleston’s first skyscraper.
Checkout time was 12:00 at the Francis Marion. Although I was a minute or two late, we had brought our luggage down after breakfast and checked it at the desk. I reunited with my mom in the spacious, beautifully appointed (and airconditioned!) lobby of the hotel to await the arrival of the bus to take us to the airport. After hiking approximately 3 miles at a fairly steady clip, I was ready to sit down!I’ll leave you with a parting shot of some furniture porn from the hotel lobby, complete with antique transferware.