Enchanting Charleston

Enchanting Charleston
Charleston SC, SC

Charleston SC, SC

“In the South, the breeze blows softer…neighbors are friendlier, nosier, and more talkative. (By contrast with the Yankee, the Southerner never uses one word when ten or twenty will do)…This is a different place. Our way of thinking is different, as are our ways of seeing, laughing, singing, eating, meeting and parting. Our walk is different, as the old song goes, our talk and our names. Nothing about us is quite the same as in the country to the north and west. What we carry in our memories is different too, and that may explain everything else.”–Charles Kuralt in “Southerners: Portrait of a People”

November 18, 2009

Off highway 17 on the way to Charleston rests the last vestiges of a colonial-era rice plantation and Georgian-style mansion, The Hampton Plantation. The mansion was not open during our visit but we did wander the grounds and gardens that serve as an interpretive site for the system of slavery used to build such plantations into the greatest generators of wealth in early American history. It also tells the story of the freed people who made their homes there for generations after emancipation.

A large oak in front of the house was reportedly saved on the recommendation of George Washington when he visited the Hampton family in 1791.

On the front porch of the home sits a couple of rocking chairs and a long, pliable board that is supported on each end by wooden rockers. The board is springy and a person sitting on it can easily bounce up and down. We could not figure out what it was and then later, in Charleston, we learned it is a “joggling board” and that according to one popular story courting couples used the device. The male and female would sit at opposite ends of the board and bounce up and down. Because the board slopes in the middle, the couples would bounce toward each other and eventually meet in the middle. It originated in the low country of South Carolina around Charleston in the early 1800s and as the story goes any house that had a “joggling board” had no unmarried daughters.

As we neared Charleston on Highway 17 we entered a corridor known as the Sweetgrass Highway. Mount Pleasant basket makers in the 1930’s began a longstanding tradition of placing a chair along the highway to display baskets for sale and roadside basket stands soon followed. The coiled baskets are made of native sweetgrass, pine needles and bulrush sewn with strips of palmetto leaf; a craft handed down in certain families since the 1700’s. The baskets were originally used on the rice plantations and represent one of the oldest West African art forms in America.

We arrived in Charleston via a complex system of bridges that led us to the visitor center quite easily. The center is housed in a beautiful brick building that looks like it might have been a train station some time in the past. A staff member quickly gave us a run down of what to expect for parking fees and other practical tips on tours of the old mansions. When we told her of our camping destination for the night on James Island she became quite animated. The campground is the site of the annual Festival of Lights. Since the festival is underway, she called to see if there was space available. Lucky us, we got the last available site.

Our first walk into the historic district led us to the market place and hunger pangs soon led us to Bubba Gumps where we enjoyed Cajun and garlic spiced peel and eat shrimp. Our walk was just a taste of what was to come tomorrow.

The drive to the James Island Campground was as easy as our drive into Charleston. Our first glimpse of the lighting displays at the campground was awesome and reminded us once again of how lucky we have been in stumbling into some memorable events by accident. Quiet and darkness come quickly and we fall to sleep with colored lights shining behind us.

November 19, 2009

A few showers in the morning but by the time we go into town the sun is out and promising a delightful day. We walk through the historic district of Charleston with a few destinations in mind but mostly just admiring the architecture.

Nancy’s family history reveals that her ancestors were French Huguenots, driven from France in the early 1600’s because of their religion. She had seen a Huguenot church listed as one of Charleston’s historic sites so that was our first stop. We received quite a history lesson from the church member who greeted us, not only a history of the Huguenots but also of Charleston and slavery, a little discussion about unions and Boeing, diversity and on and on. We found him very interesting and with no shortage of opinion on many subjects, a Rhode Island lawyer born and raised in Charleston who returned when he retired. We felt that he would have been happy to spend the entire afternoon talking but we did need to move on.

From Church Street we continued to the Nathaniel Russell Mansion for a tour of the house. The home is noted for a freestanding spiral staircase that is quite impressive by its beauty and engineering. Like many other of the grand homes many generations of family have descendants lived there. As the daylight was beginning to fade we made our way to the Battery area on Charleston Harbor passing street after street of beautiful homes and gardens. The sheer number of eye catching homes in the historic district requires more time than we could spend, so we slowly wandered back to where the van was parked but not before another fabulous meal at the Southend Brewery. Sliced stacked Portobello mushrooms atop a chunky blue cheese sauce and balsamic reduction, pulled pork BBQ sandwich and a spinach salad oh my!

But wait, there is more, returning to our campsite just as daylight had ended, perfect for a tour of “The Festival of Lights” with awesome animated and static displays. What a show! Park staff told us 1800 hours of labor is required to set it up each year and that the show is rated as the 7th best in the US. Makes us want to see number one. I have made a separate album for the Festival of Light photos, there were too many.


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