Captivated by Charleston’s Charm Again

It is hard to resist Charleston’s charm, so we didn’t even try.  Be warned – This is a long blog post. I don’t want to forget any of this visit to one of my favorite cities of all time.

In 2013 we stayed at the Charleston City Dock on the Ashley River, known as the “mega dock” for 2 nights – very expensive! (Our 2013 visit –  Charleston Charm) This time we tried the other side of the peninsula at the less expensive Charleston Maritime Center in the Cooper River. The current is always an issue when docking here in Charleston, so we waited in the anchorage for slack tide, around 10:15 am.

Charleston is a busy harbor, with cruise ships, tankers, barges, fishing boats, tour boats, and pleasure crafts of all kinds. The Maritime Center is close to the cruise ship docks and the Port Authority.

A study in contrasts - tanker and a an old schooner.

A study in contrasts – tanker and a an old schooner.

Magnolia passing by the cruise ship. We all agree that we would rather cruise on our little ships than travel on one of these big boats!

Our friends on Magnolia passing by the cruise ship. We all agree that we would rather cruise on our little ships than travel on one of these big boats!

Across formt eh Maritme Center is a large old battleship. We assume it is not in use any ore because so many boats anchor near it or dial around it. The top photo is our Kindred Spirit - looks so tiny next to a battleship. Thanks Magnolia for the pic!

Across from the Maritme Center is the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown (Thank you, Sam, for the identification!) on site at the marine museum. The top photo is our Kindred Spirit – looks so tiny next to a battleship. Thanks to Magnolia for the pic!

The Maritime Center is a good choice for staying in Charleston, primarily because of its price (especially when compared to the “mega dock”), its location (most of Charleston is within walking distance), its friendly staff, and the free laundry (that’s important to cruisers.) But, you have to put up with huge wakes from the river that will rock and roll your boat even while at the dock, and the busy sounds and sights of the Port Authority and the tour boats.

Approaching the Charleston Maritime Center

Approaching the Charleston Maritime Center

Kindred Spirit is settled into our corner of the dock.

Kindred Spirit is settled into our corner of the dock.

Carolina Belle, a tour boat, was right there across from us when at the dock. The dock above and in front of our bow (lower photo) is the same dock that Carolina Belle is on. At least the music they played was enjoyable and the people waiting in line were fun. A few came down the ramp on our side to talk with us.

Carolina Belle, a tour boat, was right there across from us when at the dock. The dock above and in front of our bow (lower photo) is the same dock that Carolina Belle is on. At least the music they played was enjoyable and the people waiting in line were fun. A few came down the ramp on our side to talk with us.

At the end of our long dock, which held three boats, was a wide catamaran, named Impossible Dream – look at the name and see what they did with it. I thought this was an awesome name, especially when we learned that this boat take handicapped veterans out for rides.

At the end of our long dock, which held three boats, was a wide catamaran, named Impossible Dream – look at the name and see what they did with it. I thought this was an awesome name, especially when we learned that this boat takes handicapped veterans out for water rides.

On land, across from the Maritime Center was a terrific city park with soccer fields, swinging benches under pergolas, and very cool playground equipment in the shape of boats.

We passed a strange old partial structure every time we took the back streets to the market or into the downtown region. It sits there in the middle of the Port Authority region. It bothered me that I did not know what it was, just sitting there surrounded by an industrial site. Google is so useful, isn’t it?? 😉

It is the Bennett Rice Mill façade standing at the center of the South Carolina State Ports Authority's Union Pier Terminal in downtown Charleston. The mill, opened in 1845, is considered one of the finest examples of 19th century American industrial architecture. In 1960, Hurricane Donna almost demolished the mill so the Port Authority built a steel frame to support what was left. 90% of the braced façade survived 1989’s Hurricane Hugo. In the 1990s, a series of restoration projects teamed local master masons with high school students to repoint the façade and repair the cracked brick arch. Considered to be one of Charleston 's architectural gems, the mill is continually maintained and monitored. My curiosity was satisfied.

It is the Bennett Rice Mill façade standing at the center of the South Carolina State Ports Authority’s Union Pier Terminal in downtown Charleston. The mill, opened in 1845, is considered one of the finest examples of 19th century American industrial architecture. In 1960, Hurricane Donna almost demolished the mill so the Port Authority built a steel frame to support what was left. 90% of the braced façade survived 1989’s Hurricane Hugo. In the 1990s, a series of restoration projects teamed local master masons with high school students to repoint the façade and repair the cracked brick arch. Considered to be one of Charleston ‘s architectural gems, the mill is continually maintained and monitored. My curiosity was satisfied.

Our first walk was to the City Market. Established in the 1790s, the market stretches for four city blocks. The entire market is a series of sheds with breaks at intersections and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1800s, the market provided a convenient place for farms and plantations to sell their products and as a place for locals to gather and socialize. Today the City Market’s vendors sell souvenirs and other items ranging from jewelry, spices and southern treats, clothing to Gullah sweetgrass baskets.

The “sheds” and structures vary in size and style, from fancier to utilitarian. Insides are the same. This photo shows one of the “fancier” sections. It’s a great place to wonder around for the afternoon – a “must do” in Charleston.

The “sheds” and structures vary in size and style, from fancier to utilitarian. Insides are the same. This photo shows one of the “fancier” sections. It’s a great place to wonder around for the afternoon – a “must do” in Charleston.

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Danetta gave me the green grass roses to go with it.

 

I had to buy another sweetgrass basket, or “low country coil basket.” I have a small one from the last trip and thought a slightly larger one would be nice for fruit or bread. They are pricey, but it is a souvenier that has culture and history behind it. Supposedly, the value of these baskets increases with age and they will last forever. I don’t really care about that, if it is even true. The most important thing to me is that it will remind me of our visit to Charleston and South Carolina.

 

On one of our walks, we passed a lovely white church, and then recognized it as the Charleston church where 9 people were killed in June during a mid-week prayer meeting. The oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the south, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has always stood for freedom and civil rights. Founded in 1816 by blacks fleeing racism, it’s services were conducted in secret for many years. and was a part of the Underground Railroad. The congregation played a major role in anti-slavery movement, the Underground Railroad, and was burned down after a thwarted slave rebellion in 1822. Destroyed again by an earthquake in 1887 and rebuilt on its current site, the church has continued to be a focal point for the civil rights movement.

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Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church – It’s beauty, inside and outside, has survived years of turmoil and stands for freedom.

I signed us up for a culinary tour because Charleston is known for its food. My original plan was to do the “Downtown Tour” in the historic district, but that one wasn’t available, so I chose the Upper King Street tour. In the final analysis, this might have been good because we experienced a different Charleston than on our last visit. This “midtown” area had fallen on hard times by the 1970s. Few people would venture there after dark, Charleston natives and tourists. Over the past 15 years the neighborhood has been revitalized with galleries, boutiques, bustling restaurants and nightlife options. The renovations integrate new and old by utilizing reclaimed materials and architectural details with the new construction.

The Upper King Street Culinary Tour took us around the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood (King/Cannon/Rutledge Streets), a region that has emerged as an area showcasing culinary innovation, and numerous James Beard award winners and has been named one of the top 10 food neighborhoods in America.

Our tour guide, Guilds Hollowell, is a native son of South Carolina, fourth-generation. He certainly knew the history, the culture, the restaurants, and the secrets of Charleston. Here is a quick recap, in picture form, of our 2 ½ tour food and history tour —

HoM (pronounced “home”) - burger boutique and ping-pong lounge. We had a turkey burger, calamari, and a delicious flatbread.

HoM (pronounced “home”) – burger boutique and ping-pong lounge.
We had a turkey burger, calamari, and a delicious flatbread.

Cannon Green – doesn’t open until 5:30 pm but we got to walk through it. Exquisite décor with an outside courtyard and an interior that incorporated part of an older structure within the dining room.

Cannon Green – doesn’t open until 5:30 pm but we got to walk through it. Exquisite décor with an outside courtyard and an interior that incorporated part of an older structure within the dining room.

At Lana's, we had a tomato based fish soup and rutabaga pom frites. Thats' our guide, Guilds, chatting with us.

At Lana’s, we had a tomato based fish soup and rutabaga pom frites. Thats’ our guide, Guilds, chatting with us.

R Kitchen, on Rutledge Street, was opened by Ross Webb (my question – is it named R for Ross or Rutledge??), to be a “culinary collective” where 5-course dinners are served for $30. We heard that guest chefs stop by and cook and that reservations need to be made 3 weeks in advance. The building is so nondescript (and that’s an understatement) that you would never even know it was a restaurant. We sat at rustic dining tables out back on a porch.

R Kitchen, on Rutledge Street, was opened by Ross Webb (my question – is it named R for Ross or Rutledge??), to be a “culinary collective” where 5-course dinners are served for $30. We heard that guest chefs stop by and cook and that reservations need to be made 3 weeks in advance. The building is so nondescript (and that’s an understatement) that you would never even know it was a restaurant. We sat at rustic dining tables out back on a porch while the chef and Guilds served us and described the food – fish, chili and filet.

Sugar Bakeshop - former NYC architects turned bakers in the fall of 2007, Sugar Bakeshop has been committed to using fresh, local ingredients including farm fresh eggs, herbs from the borough's garden plot, and seasonal fruits.

Sugar Bakeshop – Owned and operated by former NYC architects turned bakers in the fall of 2007, Sugar Bakeshop has been committed to using fresh, local ingredients including farm fresh eggs, herbs from the borough’s garden plot, and seasonal fruits. The cupcakes were really delicious!

You would think we would be stuffed form all that food (and we were) but we couldn't pass by Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. No synthetic flavorings, dyes, or off-the-shelf mixes, just fresh stuff with a very unusual twist on flavor combinations. Al had the "darkest chocolate & double toasted coconut."

You would think we would be stuffed from all that food (and we were) but we couldn’t pass by Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. “No synthetic flavorings, dyes, or off-the-shelf mixes, just fresh stuff with a very unusual twist on flavor combinations.” Al had the “darkest chocolate & double toasted coconut.”

As we walked through the neighborhood on our culinary tour, this blue building was pointed out to us by Guilds. The family-owned men’s store, Bluestein's, was founded in the mid-1880s and later moved into their signature blue brick building in 1907. It survived a fire in 1987 and was rebuilt including the blue bricks ($45 each).

As we walked through the neighborhood on our culinary tour, this blue building was pointed out to us by Guilds. The family-owned men’s store, Bluestein’s, was founded in the mid-1880s and later moved into their signature blue brick building in 1907. It survived a fire in 1987 and was rebuilt including the blue bricks ($45 each).

Saturday mornings are Farmers Market day in Marion Square. Annette and I spent the morning there while Al puttered in his engine room. I definitively had the better day! This was one of the best Farmers Markets I have ever seen – variety of local produce, plants, herbs and cut flowers, breakfast and lunch vendors, live entertainment and an assortment of juried arts and crafts from local artisans.

A Farmers Market is the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. If I lived in Charleston, I would be here every Saturday.

A Farmers Market is the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. If I lived in Charleston, I would be here every Saturday.

Annette and I had a breakfast crepe to start our morning. Yum!

Annette and I had a breakfast crepe to start our morning. Yum!

For our last day in Charleston, I could not resist the urge to revisit the historical downtown streets, so we took a walk which turned out to be a long walk, especially for me and my leg. But it was worth it!

I have always enjoyed looking at a region’s unique architecture, and Charleston is a feast for the eyes. There are architectural features in Charleston that are worth repeating and photographing again (to me, anyway.)

A strong earthquake hit Charleston in 1886, estimated to be 7.3 on today’s Richter scale and the most significant earthquake have occur in the southeastern U.S. Many of the city’s buildings were left in ruins or severely damaged. Without enough funds to rebuild everything, buildings were stabilized by running iron bars from one end of the structure to the other, with iron bolts fixing them in place on the face of the structure.

Just two examples of buildings with earthquake bolts.

Just two examples of buildings with earthquake bolts. Although the bolts have a purpose they are decorative, too.

A closer look at the bolts show that some are made more distinctive than others.

A closer look at the bolts show that there is some variety.

Throughout the city, you can see what is known as the “Charleston single-house” architectural style. Wide piazzas (Charlestonese for porch) are built on the side of the house facing the prevailing winds. The houses are only one room wide, but that could be a 10 ft – 25 ft wide room, so that all rooms in the house have the advantage of the sea breeze. The home could be many rooms long and many stories high. The narrowest side of the house faced the street. This style was built throughout the 1700s and 1800s. Supposedly, at its peak, there were 4,000 Charleston single houses in existence. Today there are estimated to be around 2,700.

My favorite story about the Charleston Single house is the front door to the piazza/porch on the side. Known as hospitality doors, these portals were a way of communicating with friends and neighbors. Leaving the door open meant you were home and ready to receive guests – good old southern hospitality!

"Charleston Single Houses", a distinctive style

The “Charleston Single House”, a distinctive style.

Charleston’s ironwork is another architectural treasure. I found a nice description of the ironwork’s history on a blog called, Charleston Past.    “….Charleston’s love affair with the beauty of finely crafted wrought iron is evident. Charleston’s affinity for decorative wrought iron came about early in the history of the city. In 1772, a wrought iron communion rail was imported from England and installed in St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. Blacksmiths, who had made a career of providing nails, horseshoes, and wagon wheels to the growing city, now began to expand their craft to include patterns and scrollwork. The earliest designs were taken from British pattern books, but it didn’t take long for the ironwork of Charleston to develop its own style. Unfortunately, much of the earliest ironwork did not survive the multitude of fires and natural disasters that plagued those early inhabitants.”

From gates to rail to balconies to windows, and fences —

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Many of the homes have private courtyards with gardens that are just lovely. Like a secret garden, except that people can peak through the ironwork gate and catch a glimpse. We did.

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Many of the homes have private courtyards with gardens that are just lovely. Like a secret garden, except that people can peak through the ironwork gate and catch a glimpse. We did.

At the intersection of Meeting and Broad Streets, stands the “Four Corners of Law”, named such because the four buildings represent federal, state, municipal and canon law.

Southwest corner - United States Post Office and Federal Courthouse, built in 1896. Southeast corner - St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, constructed between 1752 and 1761 Northeast corner - Charleston City Hall, constructed between 1800 and 1804. Northwest corner - Charleston County Courthouse, originally constructed in 1753, rebuilt in 1792 for use as a courthouse.

Southwest corner – United States Post Office and Federal Courthouse, built in 1896.
Southeast corner – St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, constructed between 1752 and 1761
Northeast corner – Charleston City Hall, constructed between 1800 and 1804.
Northwest corner – Charleston County Courthouse, originally constructed in 1753, rebuilt in 1792 for use as a courthouse.

It was a long walk down to the Battery, the fortified seawall at the very tip of the Charleston Peninsula, originally used to help defend the city from Union attack during the Civil War. It is now a public promenade with a great view out over the water. We enjoyed the view and rested for a while in White Point Gardens.

White Point Gardens, a nicely shaded park for a walk.

White Point Gardens, a nicely shaded park for a walk.

Cannons line the Battery as a reminder of its original purpose.

Cannons line the Battery as a reminder of its original purpose.

Walking north from the Battery are the beautiful historic antebellum homes on East Bay Street. Although these are also in the Charleston Single House style, they don’t seem to make use of the open/closed door to the piazza to invite folks inside. Although the basic concept of the Charleston Single House style is seen all over the city, I could see the differences in neighborhoods and “status.”

The mansions along the Battery on East Bay Street as seen from Kindred Spirit on the water.

The mansions along the Battery on East Bay Street as seen from Kindred Spirit on the water.

And the view on foot as we walked by some of these gorgeous mansions.

And the view on foot as we walked by some of these gorgeous mansions.

We continued our walk northward, passing “Rainbow Row.” This section on East Bay Street, built between the 1720’s-1790’s, was considered the ‘slum’ area of Charleston after the Civil War. It was renovated in the early 1900’s and given the Caribbean colors that are still seen today.

"Rainbow Row", a touch of the Carribean influence.

“Rainbow Row”, a touch of the Caribbean influence.

We sure needed sustenance after all that walking! I had been asking everyone I met, cruisers and Charlestonians, where I could find the best shrimp and grits. I really wanted to try it again, give it a second chance. The first time I tried shrimp and grits was less than outstanding. The name, “S.N.O.B. was mentioned over and over – “Slightly North of Broad.” The bartender assured me that their shrimp and grits was simply the best.

S.N.O.B. = Slightly North of Broad

S.N.O.B. = Slightly North of Broad

Al ate Geechie grits with fried chicken and green beans - delicious, he said. My shrimp an grits were amazing!

Al ate Geechie grits with fried chicken and green beans – delicious, he said. My shrimp and grits were amazing!

It might seem as though we ate our way through Charleston, but the walking makes that ok. What could be better? The food and streets of a beautiful city. Charleston can really capture your heart with its charm.

With full bellies and wonderful memories, we said our good-byes to Charleston. Thank you for another great visit.

With full bellies and wonderful memories, we said our good-byes to Charleston. Thank you for another great visit.

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