Mar 19, 2021
3 mins read
When we visited Charleston last fall, the outer band of a tropical storm was hot on our heels, but we outran most of the rain, giving us a excellent window to explore historic downtown.
One of the city visitors centers has an adjacent parking garage that can hold a big rig while the humans trot around - good to know when you’re traveling in a 30-foot RV! And so we were off! We spent every moment of daylight and then some exploring the historic district & parks for the first time. Charleston is a captivating city for a first-time visitor. Everything around you feels "Old World" in a distinctly colonial way. The historic homes, cobblestone streets, moss-drenched walls, picturesque alleys, and ancient live oaks breathe stories from the Civil War to the Revolution to the original days of the planters. Get your notebook out, because the lessons are everywhere.
There is an original "French quarter" named for the early French Huguenot settlers, and an array of aristocratic blocks like “Rainbow Row” with antebellum & Victorian houses to admire. The layout is completely walkable - in fact many of the city’s original features make it easier to travel by bike or on foot. Meeting Street is like a spine connecting all the main districts to the oldest “heart” of the city, and the old grid layout makes navigation simple, so grab a local map and follow your bliss!
Charles Towne was originally contained in a walled settlement on the southern side of the peninsula, bordered by the Ashley & Cooper Rivers. The further south you walk along Meeting Street, the further back you step in time.
Though founded as a commercial British colony during the peak of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the influence of its refugee population is palpable. Throughout the 1700s, Protestant immigrants from France, Scotland, and Ireland, as well as Sephardic Jews, seeking refuge in the Anglican settlement, weathered the worst of plague outbreaks, hurricanes, and even pirate attacks, leaving their own diverse imprint on the character of the city.
The strange legacy that blends the courageous, generous reach for the future, with the brutal devastation of colonial imperialism, is never far from sight.
As you pass a flurry of lavish monuments, historical plaques, the ornate row houses of famous merchants and statesmen who once called the city home, you will approach a block near Broad Street where several of the colony’s oldest churches lie directly against the cobbled sidewalks. Here the juxtaposition of the living modern world with the carefully preserved past becomes powerfully tangible, as the foot paths of cemeteries like St. Michael’s, St. Philip’s, and the Unitarian Church weave enticingly close to the sidewalk edges, and delicate gardens grace the patchwork of centuries-old gravestones. Intricately carved colonial markers tenderly entreat the compassion of the visitors with stories of loved ones.
This epitaph reads:
“Here lies interred ye body of Mrs Susanna Scott, wife of Mr William Scott, Merchant; who departed this life November 9th, 1767 aged 74 years. She was an affectionate wife, a tender parent, a kind mistress, and a sincere Christian.”
Walking carefully through these cemeteries is less macabre than it is peaceful, as the heartbeat of a strong and lasting love still echoes through the community that has so beautifully respected and preserved the memory of its checkered past.
Aside from a rich arts & culture scene, Charleston is also renowned for its incredible food heritage. It boasts many world-famous restaurants that span a range of cuisines reflecting its complex history. The country’s oldest pub had closed only months before our visit - an awesome chance we just barely missed! Instead, we opted for a stop at the "Blind Tiger Pub" on the historic row, making a dash inside during a sudden shower.
The 200-year-old building was renovated from the original alehouse to a Prohibition-era dive to a modern incarnation.
It’s still one of the best stops of the trip (and yes, this time I got the t-shirt!) 🍻
So much to see, so little time! 🌛