Monday, April 6, 2020

Historic Churches of Charleston SC

Known as the "Holy City", Charleston, South Carolina has an amazing variety of historic churches. If you are walking around Charleston, you will see church steeples on almost every street. These churches cover a wide range of denominations. Many of them are very historic and some famous native sons are buried in the cemeteries behind and around these churches.

Visiting the historic churches in Charleston is a who's who of Charleston as well as a lesson in history and perseverance. Some of the churches have survived the many traumas that have stricken the city of Charleston, hurricanes, earthquakes, war and fire and other, have risen like a phoenix from the ashes.

St. Philip's Church

St. Philip's is the Mother Church of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Originally, St. Philip's was located where St. Michael's Church is today. The congregation began there in 1680. Thirty years later the church was moved to what was felt to be a better location. The physical building was destroyed by fire in 1835. The current building was modeled after St Martin in the Field in London.

A graveyard surrounds three sides of the church and additional graves are across the street. This is a who's who of Charleston history. Edward Rutledge who signed the Declaration of Independence is buried here as is Charles Pinckney who signed the U.S. Constitution. John C. Calhoun the great southern statesman and former vice president is buried across the street. To be buried on the church side of the street, you have to have been born in Charleston. His wife is in the churchyard but since he was born in Clemson, he is across the street.

French Huguenot Church

Huguenots are the French who follow the teaching of John Calvin. After the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685, many Calvinists fled from France and some of them ended up in South Carolina. This congregation dates from 1681 and over the years became the only Huguenot church that was not absorbed into the Anglican/Episcopal Church. To this day it remains the only independent Huguenot church in the United States.

The current building was designed by Charleston architect Edward Brickell White in the Gothic Revival Style. It has survived bombing during the Civil War and the earthquake of 1886 and was last renovated in 1997. It is well known for its Tracker Organ which is the last one of its kind that is known to exist in this country.

Cathedral of St John the Baptist

This Roman Catholic Gothic cathedral was originally completed in 1854 and was totally lost to the fire of 1861. It took almost thirty years for the new Cathedral to be consecrated. It is constructed from brownstone that was quarried in Portland Connecticut. The new architect was P.C. Kelly of Brooklyn and with the exception of the soaring spire, it is almost an exact duplicate of the original. Cost constraints kept the steeple from being duplicated. Today, it has a thriving congregation and is the episcopal seat of the Diocese of Charleston.

These are just three of the historic churches in Charleston. Many more including St Michael's and the well-known Circular Congregational Church are open to visitors. If you enjoy historic churches, Charleston offers a wide variety of places to visit and to worship. You can stroll through the historic parts of the city and visit most of them on a self-guided walking tour.

Monday, March 30, 2020

South Carolina: South Carolina Aquarium Charleston

This was a first for us. We have never been to an aquarium like this. We were fascinated by the large fish tank in the lobby that made us seasick as we walked around it. You can feel the water move--a very strange sensation.

The building is divided into sections by topography. We began our visit in the mountains. You feel as if you have entered the forests. There is a stream running, the ground is wet, and there are greens everywhere. We were as enthralled as any child as we watched the otters playing. It was hypnotic. There is even a video telling a little more about otters and their lives.

Remembering that this is the South Carolina Aquarium, we next went through the Piedmont Shoals. This is a unique Southern environment. Piedmont is taken from the French and means at the foot of the mountain. It includes a 100-mile band found in central South Carolina. The rivers in this area run red from the clay in the soil. There was an exhibit of several types of bass and black crappie that was a hit with fisherman Al. 

However, the main attraction is a 380,000-gallon ocean tank that holds everything from sea turtles and blowfish to several sizable sharks. There are bleachers where you can just sit and look. It can be observed from both floors. We were hypnotized by all the different species as they swam around, appearing to be oblivious to all the spectators. I felt as if I were in the tank with them.

A special exhibit of the Amazon had a piranha and anaconda. You pushed a button to make it thunder--it was very realistic. All the ambiance of the rainforest without having to make the trip.

The gift shop is a great one. Another note is that you don’t pay any sales tax when you purchase your souvenirs here. This was an excellent stop for adults, as well as children.

Monday, March 2, 2020

South Carolina: Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon Charleston

This was one of my favorite buildings in Charleston. This is not one of those beautiful, romantic houses of the rice or cotton barons. This building just reeks of history. Charleston was one of three walled cities in North America, along with Quebec and St. Augustine, Florida. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, the town quickly outgrew the original walls and they were torn down. One piece that still exists is in the lowest level of the Old Exchange. This is where your tour begins.

The first part of the tour is guided. Tours depart from the lobby every 20 minutes. A live guide, as well as animatronic guides, narrates the tour. Frankly, the animatronic figures are a lot more entertaining than the live guide. He seemed bored at best. Some of the animatronic figures are pirates. This is your opportunity to learn about the history of Charleston and how they finally rid themselves of the scourge of piracy. You will also get to meet Stede Bonnet the Gentleman Pirate. You will also find out how gunpowder was stored in the basement so well that the British never found it during their occupation.

After walking through the vignettes, your guide leads you back to several cases of artifacts mostly related to the pirates. You then take the elevator back up stairs to begin your self-guided tour. We, however, were lucky enough to meet Tony on the second floor. He was very knowledgeable about the history of this building, so we got a bit of a private tour. The Old Exchange is a very historically significant building. It was here that the Charleston patriot Isaac Haynes spent his last night, a prisoner of the British. 

The Royal Custom House was a goal during the British occupation of Charleston, and Cornwallis had his office here. In 1791, George Washington danced with the women of Charleston in the second floor Great Hall. Rumor has it that he danced with 200 ladies, not bad for a 61-year-old.

My favorite display though was The DAR Room, which is on the first floor Here you can learn the story of the Charleston heroine Rebecca Motte. The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution bears her name, and it is to them that the restoration of this building can be attributed. When it was scheduled for sale in 1912, they managed to acquire the deed and save the building.

Monday, February 24, 2020

South Carolina: Gibbes Museum of Art Charleston

This is a small and charming art museum. I am going to suggest that you stop here after you have learned a little about the history of Charleston. One of the things that I found of particular interest was seeing the portraits of some of the characters I had heard about at some of the other landmarks around town. There were portraits of Thomas Middleton, by Benjamin West, and General Charles Pickney, and an amazing portrait of Charleston’s favorite son, John C. Calhoun, by Rembrandt Peale. For a good idea of what Charleston looked like in 1846, look for Henry Jackson’s "A View of Charleston."

There is more to this museum than just local history. They have a very pretty "Angelika Kaufman," a luscious still-life with watermelon by Thomas Wightman and a Gilbert Stuart portrait of General John Fenwick. There is a very lovely pastel on paper by Henriette DeBeaulieu Dering Johnston. She was the first professional female artist in America. There are less than 40 works in the world attributed to her.

The Elizabeth Wallace Miniature Rooms has eight miniature rooms from historic houses in America and four rooms form around the world. These look like the most fantastic dollhouses I have ever seen. They have great detail, from the historic wallpaper to the pictures on the walls.

The museum has some beautiful sculpture - one in particular charmed me. It is the head of a woman with a gauzy covering. I can’t imagine how they can create this out of marble.

In a small room by themselves is the most amazing collection of miniature portraits I have ever seen outside of England. They date from the early 1700s to the 20th century.

The Oriental Gallery houses the collection of early Japanese block prints.

While looking at their collection of architectural prints, I was delighted to find that St. Finbars Cathedral was designed by P. C. Keely. He is the same architect who designed my home parish of St. John in Middletown, CT. Even more amazing, the brownstone from which St Finbars was constructed comes from our quarries in Portland, CT. It really is a small world.

In addition to highlighting their own collection, the museum has regular exhibits on loan from national and international collections. They have an ongoing series of lectures, seminars, and classes on many different aspects of art.

Even the building itself is a beautiful example of Beaux-Arts style. Dedicated to James Shoolbred Gibbes, it has been a Charleston institution for 100 years. Stop by the gift shop on your way out. They have a very nice collection of note cards and jewelry. If you become a museum member, you will receive a 10 percent discount.

Monday, February 10, 2020

South Carolina: Charleston's Manigault House

 Joseph and Gabriel Manigault were fourth-generation South Carolina Huguenots. Their great-grandfather Pierre came to South Carolina in about 1695. Their grandfather Gabriel became one of North America’s wealthiest merchants. He also heavily supported the bid for independence. He donated $200,000 to the government of South Carolina, and at age 75, joined the defenders of Charleston, along with his grandson Joseph. Educated in England, their father Peter was twice the speaker of the South Carolina Commons. The brothers were both wealthy and well connected.

It was originally built as a summerhouse for Joseph A Manigault, a rich rice planter. It was designed by his brother Gabriel, an amateur architect, who is credited with designing Charleston 's City Hall and the South Carolina Society Hall, as well as his own home. Gabriel had spent time in Europe and was influenced by the style of Robert Adams. Completed in 1803, it has one of the most graceful staircases in Charleston and is a prime example of Adams Federal Style. 

Joseph Manigault and his second wife Charlotte Drayton were the parents of eight children. The family lived here from May to October to escape the heat that made life upriver miserable in the summer. The style of the house is perfect for the climate in Charleston. It has high ceilings, lots of windows, and two-story porches. What surprised me about the house was that there were not any guest bedrooms. The docent explained that most of the friends and family of the Manigaults would have had their own houses in Charleston. Be sure to look for the copy of a Gilbert Stuart portrait of Joseph Manigault.

We all need to grateful to the ladies of Charleston who rescued Manigault House from demolition. The Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings recognized the need to make sure that modern development didn’t destroy all the old historic homes in Charleston. This house has survived some very hard times; it came close to being torn down in 1920. Step in the ladies. To preserve it, they had to sell some of the property and finally turned it into a tenement to pay for it. It was acquired by the Charleston Museum in 1933. 

During World War II, it served as the USO. It first opened to the public in 1949, and in 1974, it became a National Historic Landmark. Today, it is used as a showcase for some of the museum’s fine pieces of English and French furniture. There is only one piece of original furniture in the house - the secretary in the entrance hall. The Manigault House must be visited on a tour.

There are not a lot of grounds to visit, but be sure to check out the gatehouse. It is a beauty.

Monday, January 27, 2020

South Carolina: Nathaniel Russell House Charleston

 Charleston is a city with a plethora of homes to visit. The Nathaniel Russell House stands out as one of the finest. Built by the Rhode Island-born shipping magnet, Nathaniel Russell, it is now operated by the Historic Charleston Foundation. Russell became known as the King of the Yankees, a group of Northerners who had moved to Charleston to make their fortunes. 

He was one of the wealthiest men in the United States when he decided to build his home on Meeting Street very close to the docks where he had made his fortune. He had two daughters of the marrying age who needed to be shown off to their advantage. It must have worked because both of them made very fine marriages.

Nathaniel came south to Charleston in 1765 at the age of 27. At the age of 50, he married a wealthy Charleston heiress, Sarah Hopton. They had their first daughter a year later and a second daughter 3 years after that. The Russell’s and their 78 slaves moved into the Meeting Street House in 1808. When he died, the house passed to his wife, and at her death, to their younger daughter Sarah. At her death in 1857, the house was sold to the Allston family. The Russell House is one of the lucky ones, as it never has been neglected. After the Allston’s sold it, it became a Catholic girls school.

You must take a tour to visit this house. Though guests would have entered through the front door, we had to enter through the gift shop on the side. Our docent, Mary Ann, was very knowledgeable about the house and family. We learned that it is the best example of the Federal-style townhouse in Charleston. The oval rooms on each floor are the most important and done in the Adams style. All of the doors in the house are original, and they are made of pine and painted to look like mahogany and satinwood. This was a common practice of the time period.

The cantilever stairs are the real showcase of the home. They sweep effortlessly from the first-floor entrance up three floors with no visible support. The furniture in the house, though from the correct period, is not original to the house, except for one Windsor chair. The colors in the house are exceptionally bright, and the woodwork and crown molding are spectacular. The music room is done in a color called verditer blue, which is a very bright aqua, and the baseboard is painted to look like lapis - a striking contrast. As you ascend the stairs, look for the George Romney portrait on the stair landing.

Even in January, the gardens of the Nathaniel Russell House are beautiful and they have been returned to the form they would have had during the time the Russell’s lived in the house.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Country Inn and Suites by Radisson Huntersville NC

We usually stay in Mooresville NC on our third night on the road. One year we did stay in Davidson but usually, it is Mooresville. This year I wanted to use some of my Radisson points so I chose  Country Inn and Suites in Huntersville. It has a great location right off I-77 and it is surrounded by great restaurants, three of which are within walking distance which is a big plus for me. 

I chose a king one-bedroom suite. We were on the4th floor in room 408, strange last night was room 408 as well and Sunday night was 308 I see a pattern here!!

The hotel has a beautiful pool and spa which was closed for maintenance, what a bummer but they have lemon and cucumber water in the lobby, apples and oranges, 4 kinds of cookies and fresh popcorn, I forgive them. 

If you are not familiar with Country Inn and Suites, they have a very homey look, with stairs and a parlor in the lobby. You want to sit down and read a book. Breakfast is included and is served from 6 am to 9:30  am. 

Our room has a parlor with a chair, sofa, desk, two lamps, TV and then a hall with a fridge, microwave and coffee maker. The bathroom is modern and spacious. 

The bedroom does not have a door but it has a TV and a comfortable bed. Free internet is available and the bedroom TV is a smart TV.

My one gripe is the TVs. They are impossible to operate. I had to call the front desk twice and the TV for the living room ended up not working and with only one staff member on at the time I was not able to get it working. I am knowledgeable, I have smart TVs at home but nothing as absolutely confusing as these!! Really disappointing. The desk also has a handle that really sticks out in front, not a good design if you actually want to use the desk!!

I like this hotel a lot. Great location and amenities and I got it for $68 a night and 5,000 points, can't complain about that.  And I had a great night's sleep, a very comfortable bed!!