Charleston, SC Guide to Homes, Gardens and History

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A guide to Charleston's history, homes and gardens - Historic Downtown Charleston South Carolina

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A guide to Charleston's History, Gardens, Homes and more...

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Charleston homes with notable architecture.

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Charleston gardens

Take a Walking Tour #1 - South of Broad

Take a Walking Tour #2 - French Quarter

Charming Charleston History...

  Each day throughout the Charleston area, camera lenses click, heads turn, and eyes sparkle as the splendor of this timeless coastal treasure unfolds its captivating character.

Graced with elegant architectural beauty, blessed with alluring natural surroundings, and distinguished with an historic, hospitable legacy, Charleston is unparalleled in its delightful appeal.

  More than three centuries ago, hopeful settlers found potential paradise in this bountiful sub-tropical climate where lush barrier islands protected an excellent harbor. Established in 1670 by a grant from English monarch Charles II, the original settlement of Charles Town was named in the king's honor, but operated as a private business venture by a group of English nobles called the Lords Proprietors. The initial absence of royal authority made a lasting effect on Charles Town, as the nobles created a unique Constitution for the colony which granted religious freedom, luring a melting pot of denominations that included Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Quakers and Baptists. The famed steepled-skyline of Charleston today bears witness to a tradition of tolerance that earned the everlasting nickname "Holy City".

  Early Charles Town was not without its difficulties, however, and without protection from the English Royal Navy, the colony was harassed by pirates and Indian tribes, as well as French and Spanish warships. A series of walled fortifications was begun in the 1690's, and by 1704 Charles Town was one of only four walled cities in North America, with redans and bastions that still face the sea beneath sidewalks today. The lack of protection from invaders led to Charles Town's first secession in 1720, as the city broke ties with the Lords Proprietors and became a Royal Colony.

  With the protection of the English fleet and favorable trade connections with the British Empire, Charles Town enjoyed surging economic prosperity during the 1700's from crops of rice and indigo. A network of vast plantations expanded inland along the bountiful coastal rivers, as well as along the verdant chain of barrier islands. As provincial capitol of South Carolina and England's southernmost port on the continent, Charles Town derived considerable advantage from favorable trade routes, markets and political ties, a remarkable wealth evidenced in homes, churches and public buildings that continue to awe with their grandeur.

  Such statuesque city landmarks as the Old Exchange, St. Michael's Episcopal Church and the Miles Brewton House dated to this era of opulence during mid-1700's, when Charles Town became a magnet for world-class architects and artisans. The imposing detail of Georgian-Palladian architecture, with its regal porticoes, stucco quoins, and exquisite arches, would establish a lofty aesthetic standard that would continue for centuries in distinctive buildings styles of Adamesque, Regency, Queen Anne, Classic Revival, Italian Renaissance Revival, Romanesque, Victorian and Art Deco. Such noted structures as the 1787 County Court House, the 1803 Joseph Manigault House, the 1811 Nathaniel Russell House, the 1817 Edmonston-Alston House, the 1826 Fireproof Building, 1841 Market Hall, the 1857 Patrick O'Donnell House, the 1876 Calhoun Mansion, and the 1911 People's Building represent the progression of a myriad of memorable edifices.

 Among the most memorable construction was the "single house", featuring a residence built gable-end facing the street, with lengthy porches on the windward side to catch the prevailing sea breezes.

  Eye-pleasing beauty would mark the a city in numerous ways during its history, including the stunning array of intricate wrought ironwork found throughout the downtown area, the quaint brick and cobblestone streets and alleys that still exist, and the florid spectrum of radiant blooms in the innumerable public and private gardens

 As Charles Town grew during the 18th century, the city stretched beyond its original walls along the peninsula between Ashley and Cooper Rivers, but found itself facing the growing obstacle of English taxation and government control. South Carolina declared its independence in March 1776, and was quickly faced with British military action. A week before the American Declaration of Independence, on June 28, 1776, South Carolinians on nearby Sullivan's Island repulsed an attack by English warships. Flying a crescent flag atop a make-shift fort of palmetto logs, the defenders won an improbable victory whose significance is seen in the the palmetto tree and crescent symbols of the current state flag.

  After the Revolution in 1783, the city was officially incorporated as Charleston, ushering in a new era that would forever establish the city's place in history. Emerging as a major export center for cotton and import hub for slaves, Charleston witnessed a concurrent surge of boundless wealth and political tension. As wharves along the harbor piled high with white gold, Charleston became the nation's busiest seaport and was linked to America's first stretch of passenger railroad by 1830. Great mills were constructed along the fringes of the downtown peninsula to generate water and steam power used on a booming timber business in heart pine and cypress featured in the grand mansions rising throughout the city. Charlestonians studied law, medicine and architecture at the country's finest schools, international theatrical stars performed at downtown theaters, and the city received grand visits from the likes of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. Charleston's economic strength brought political clout, and in 1829, federal authorization to construct powerful new defenses on a spit of sand in Charleston Harbor - to be known as Fort Sumter.

  By the mid-1800's, proud and powerful Charleston chafed at restrictive government tariffs and northern pressure to disrupt the slave-based economy. A secession convention was held in the city and independence declared for the third time in the city's history on December 20, 1860. Ironically, the great Fort built to protect Charleston was immediately occupied by federal troops who posed a threat to the city, and troops of the newly-formed Confederacy fired on the garrison on April 12, 1861, beginning the War Between the States.

  The war years nearly ruined Charleston, as shipping and the cotton industry dried up, lenders and investors went bankrupt, and the city suffered physical devastation brought on by years of bombardment and a great 1861 fire that destroyed vast sections of the downtown area. The post-war years only added to Charleston miseries, with federal military occupation, a great hurricane in 1885 and a massive earthquake in 1886 that caused further damage all over the city. Yet some of Charleston's bad luck proved to be the city's long-term gain, as years of depressed economy curtailed the urban renewal that marked most American cities during the late 1800's. What Charleston still had in abundance, despite war, fire, storm, and economic depression, was the unrivaled visual and historic luster of its homes, gardens, gates, churches and promenades.

 The turn of the 20th century brought new hope and put Charleston back on the international stage with a 1901 world fair known as the Interstate and West Indian Exposition. The Exposition (find out more about the Ivory City featured in our newsletter Summer 2007) was not noteworthy financially, but did restore grounds in the upper peninsula to lasting beauty with a series of gardens and reflecting pools now popular as Hampton Park. On the southern tip of the peninsula, sections of seawall smashed by hurricanes and pedestrian areas dug up for Civil War gun batteries were reconstructed as a raised waterfront promenade and monument garden. Today, the area known as White Point Gardens or The Battery offers one of the most breathtaking strolls in America, featuring commanding views of Charleston harbor, Fort Sumter and famed rows of city mansions, as well as a fascinating collection of historic Civil War cannon. In 1902, the Charleston area was selected for a Navy Yard along protected areas of the Cooper River, and the trickle of economic prosperity rekindled determination to revitalize the old city as well.

  For example, a block-long section of 18th century waterfront townhomes that had become dilapidated was restored with a variety of bright pastel colors on the stucco facades, and soon became nationally-famous as Rainbow Row. In 1931, the Preservation Society of Charleston was established, fostering greater protection of historic properties, and creating the city's first official historic district.

  The combination of the Navy and the seaport began to get Charleston on its feet again after World War II, and an increasingly-mobile American population took more interest in visiting the historic homes, gardens and forts of the area. By the 1970's, tourism had become big business in Charleston, and many of the city's historic buildings got a new lease on life as restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, and shops. A number of antebellum plantations just outside the city that had been opened to the public experienced a boom in visitation, as historic areas such as Boone Hall Plantation, Magnolia Gardens, Drayton Hall, and Middleton Plantation also became increasingly popular for weddings, concerts and as movie sets.

  Restoration incentives and a flourishing economy by the late seventies revived interest in the many great homes taken for granted throughout the city, as neighborhoods such as Ansonborough, Harleston Village and the French Quarter found new luster, and the old city market became lively again with an influx of chic cafes, boutiques and sidewalk artisans.

  The renewed vigor in Charleston galvanized new artistic and recreational interests as well, such as the Spoleto USA Festival, begun in 1976, which annually attracts some of the world's best new performers in music, dance, and theater. The Cooper River Bridge Run, initiated in 1977, draws champion long-distance runners from around the world for a shot at the spectacular three-mile gateway into the city. Other notable events include The Moja Arts Festival, which features African and Caribbean artistic influences on Charleston; the Governor's Cup Angling Tournament, which offers some of the best off-shore billfishing in the Atlantic, and the Spring and Fall tours of homes and gardens, featuring dozens of the most historic private residences in Charleston.

  Today, downtown Charleston offers a delicious blend of pulsating energy and picturesque dignity, and a five-minute stroll can lead from outdoor market vendors weaving sweetgrass baskets near busy restaurants, past quiet, oak-shaded lanes glistening with centuries-old wrought iron, to breezy waterfront parks overlooking Civil War forts and modern freighters.

  Everywhere in the city, pleasing sounds of church bells ring from historic steeples, breezes whistle through towering trees and hanging moss, and the steady echo of horse hoofs and carriage wheels fades slowly down the street. Standing impressively as they have for so many years and against such odds are the historic homes, a testimonial to the indomitable essence that is Charleston.     

Discover more about the Interiors of Charleston's finest homes.     


 
 
 

Downtown Charleston, West Ashley, Johns Island, James Island, Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island, Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms (Wild Dunes), Edisto Island, Folly Beach, Mount Pleasant, Wadmalaw Island and Daniel Island

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Any questions? If you have any questions about Charleston Real Estate Market trends, we have a comprehensive report, produced periodically, that we can send you.  Please contact Charleston real estate agent, Ariel Trouche, with any other questions about Charleston real estate.

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