Charleston Footprints Walking Tour

The Rooftop, Amen Oyster, and Hanks – Thurs 12/11

Our friend Paul from Chicago came in for a weekend food and fun-filled visit.  We went to the cool rooftop bar on top of the Hotel Vendue Thurs for drinks, oysters at Amen Oyster bar, followed by dinner at Hank’s.

Charleston Footprints Walking Tour – Fri 12/12

Fri morning we went on a highly-rated walking tour of the city with Charleston Footprints (ranked #9 out of 95 attractions on Trip Advisor).  Highlights include:

Historic Charleston Foundation Building – In the 1920s, Standard Oil Company began demolishing residential buildings in downtown Charleston in order to build gas stations, repair shops, and gas pumps.  The starting point of our tour, the Historic Charleston Foundation building, used to be a gas station not that long ago.

Fire-Proof Building

South Carolina Historical Society.JPG

Palladin-style Fire-Proof Building, also known at the County Records building, was built in 1827 and believed to be the oldest fire-resistant building remaining in America.  While it has survived an earthquake, bombs, hurricanes and, fires – we understand from Michael our tour guide that some items inside did not survive these fires.  This building is on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a US National Historic Landmark.

Hibernian Hall


The building was constructed in 1840 in the Greek Revival style, more commonly referred to as the “Four Corners of Law”.  The building is home to the Hibernian Society, an Irish benevolent organization created to provide aid to Irish immigrants – note the harp above the entrance and on the gate.  Hibernian Hall is the only remaining building associated with the Democratic National Convention of  1860 (the same year SC was the first state to secede from the Union and start the Confederacy.)

Old Watch Tower

The bells rang on all fire alarms until 1927, also alerted the city to hurricanes, major temperature changes, and notable national events.  Bells silenced in 1953 due to lack of available parts.  building was constructed

Washington Square is full of greenspace and monuments including:  a memorial to the Washington Light Infantry, a miniature version of the Washington Monument in DC and inscribed with names of important military battles, a monument to Gen. Pierre Beuregard, the Confederate general in charge of defending the city, and a memorial to Elizabeth Jackson (Andrew Jackson’s mother) who not only negotiated the release of her son Andrew Jackson (7th US President) and his brother during the Revolutionary War through a prisoner swap of some redcoats, but she also continued to care for sick soldiers being held on prison ships in the harbor, and ended up dying of cholera (“ship’s fever”.)  She was buried on a hillside with no gravestone – it wasn’t until 1949 that a gravemarker was placed in the Jackson family cemetery plot.

City Hall Highlights – Next up was City Hall where we visited the chambers, which were beautiful and saw some interesting paintings with stories of their own:

Finley Morse, inventor of the Morse Code, surprising was a famous portrait painter as well and lived in Charleston for a short period of time.  Charleston’s City Hall is blessed with an original Morse portrait of President James Monroe, commissioned by city council during Monroe’s visit in the Spring of 1819, when Morse was at the height of his popularity as an artist in the city.

Rev Daniel Jenkins, director of an orphanage which had a band that gained notoriety by playing high-energy toe-tapping music on the street.  African immigrants from the Caribbean danced along with the young boys in the band and this is likely the genesis of the famous dance ‘The Charleston’.

The poinsettia plant gets its name from a Charlestonian by the name of Joel Poinsett, an attorney who had a major green thumb.  A scholar, jurist, elected congressman, fluent in multiple languages he was appointed by John Quincy Adams as ambassador to the newly-independent Mexico in 1825.  Poinsett discovered this plant, the Flor de Noche Buena, or the Christmas Eve Flower, back from Mexico to cultivate in his grove.

Confederate Home – Home of Governor of SC 1810-1825 who hosted a visiting President James Monroe. Before the Civil War it operated as the Carolina Hotel and also housed the Federal Court. In 1867, Mary Amarinthia Snowden and her sister, Isabella Yates Snowden, established a home for Confederate widows and orphans. Later they started a college on the premises. It is still known as the Confederate Home. The spirit of compassion of the Snowden sisters lives on today as the Confederate Home and College is a source of scholarships and moderately priced housing for qualified residents.

St Michael’s Episcopal Church is the oldest surviving religious structure in Charleston.  Located at Broad and Meeting streets on one of the Four Corners of Law, it represents ecclesiastical law.  Notables include: a 186 ft steeple, the oldest clock tower in North America, a long center pew where George Washington and Robert E Lee sat to worship, and beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows.

St Michael’s Churchyard is the final resting place of some famous historical figures, including two signers of our Constitution:  Charles Pinckney (Colonel in the Continental Army, member of the Constitutional Convention, US Minister to France, Presidential Candidate 1804 and 1808) and John Rutledge (Governor of SC, member of the Constitutional Convention, Supreme Court Chief Justice.)  Also interned are German-born hand forgers of wrought iron whose ‘Sword Gate’ work can be admired on the gate to the Churchyard.  The detail and amount of work required is pretty incredible.  We also noted a tombstone with ‘stranger’s fever’ noted as cause of death, now known as yellow fever.  It gained its name from its propensity to mainly afflict recent arrivals.

The word sloppy originated from ‘slop shops’, where sailors bought rough garments for work – these businesses were typically operated on the first floor of buildings with residences above.

We had a quick interesting visit with a bar owner next door to the Old Exchange building – his sign on the front door indicating that they don’t support government handouts, etc. definitely catches your eye.  He showed us a bottle of Moonshine (made by Firefly Distillery on nearby Wadmalaw Island) and told a funny story about how many years ago (especially of course during Prohibition) it was illegal for the bar to sell Moonshine, but then once it became legal, it was somehow illegal for the bar to sell anything non-alcoholic.  He gives away bottles of water to thirsty tourists.  Craziness!

Rainbow Row is a line of 13 colorful houses along E Bay St; the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the US.  In Charleston’s colorful past these were places frequented by sailors, if you know what I mean!

Charleston’s streetscape has dramatically changed over the years. Going back to colonial times, streets were largely unpaved, and continued to be rough rides for carriages and wagons over cobblestone and Belgian block.  Cobblestones are not native to coastal South Carolina, but come from places such as New England, where sailing ships built during the colonial era needed heavy ballast in their hulls to keep them upright in strong winds.

These photos show an old street designed for wagons – the intersection of Latitude and Longitude Lanes.  Note the smoother stones on each side for the wagon wheels.  As one end of the street/alley was quite narrow, in 1853 an old cannon barrel was placed at the entrance so no cotton wagons would enter the 11ft entrance and damage property.  The city removed the cannon in 1933, claiming that it was public property, and displayed it in White Point Garden.  The residents of Longitude La were irate and threatened legal action.  The city won and the residents now have a masonry post in the old cannon’s place.

Old school food carts – Street vendors continued to push carts by hand until the 1960’s, and our guide recalls the “shrimp man” and the “sugarcane man” coming down Legare Street on early mornings with hearty voices echoing their wares.

Additional pics include some holiday spirit, squiggly earthquake bolts and an interesting workaround of a wall around a tree.

Spanish moss is what we usually call the mystical tendrils dripping from the beautiful live oaks down South.  Turns out, it ‘aint Spanish and it ‘aint moss 🙂  It’s an angiosperm.  This name was coined by the British who thought of Spanish explorers’ beards when they saw the trees.

After more than 2 hours of walking and learning more about Charleston, we worked up an appetite and had an incredible lunch at Magnolia’s – tried sheepshead for the first time and it was fabulous.  It is fish.  Oddly named, but tasty!

Oak St Steakhouse dinner – had a 1/2 fried lobster with my filet – tasty!  Walked back home and thought St Phillips church tower glowed in the moonlight.






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