Great Genteel Lady of the South
The pilot’s voice had just squawked-over the intercom to announce that our plane was approaching Charleston, South Carolina. As I attempted to awaken, my eyes valiantly tried to focus on an abused pile of papers, an empty plastic glass of tomato juice, and a half-eaten bag of peanuts.
My week began two Sundays ago with a last minute mad dash to the airport with not enough sleep. Within hours I landed in Charleston, with all the elegance and rich history, hospitality and charm of the genteel “Old South,” – with one of my two pieces of luggage.
Charleston, with a population of approximately 123,000, is frequently referred to as “the Foodie Capital of the South” and is “one of the most popular destinations” in the South.
Close your eyes and take a mental image of what an old New York Times article in my files, “36 Hours in Charleston, S.C.,” described as a thriving historic community on the Atlantic coast with pastel-colored row houses, horse-drawn carriages, wind-blown forts, and live oaks draped with Spanish moss.
“Charleston sets romantically where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers merge and flow into Charleston Harbor where the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter. Charleston is the most historically preserved city in America. The original settlement was established in 1670 across the Ashley River from Charleston’s present day location. Over a hundred historic buildings, some of which are over 300 years old, still stand…,” according to the website, Dream Charleston, S.C.
Now, decorate your mental image of Charleston as it was described by the website, “Charleston Real Estate,” with colonial churches, wrought iron gates, cobblestone streets, expansive gardens, and splendid array of antebellum homes.
Charleston, according to numerous accounts, including a March 2009 Smithsonian article, is called the ‘Holy City’ for its skyline of steeples, and … named America’s ‘most well-mannered city’ 11 times by the late doyenne of etiquette, Marjabelle Young Stewart. Visitors take notice of all this beauty and politeness and history.
Now, you would think that at my advanced age – a history writer and an artist who loves to eat – I would be a seasoned veteran Charleston visitor and aficionado.
Alas, such is not the case. But, as fate would have it, I have now briefly visited Charleston this year, not once, but twice. Sadly, neither trip was long enough to breathe-in the rich history, taste enough of the excellent cuisine, or see the sights that need to be seen. I look forward to going back soon.
For my latest trip, I squeezed-in a visit to Marion Square, Battery Park, the College of Charleston, and the historic Charleston City Hall, in between sessions and presentations at an agriculture economics conference… and brief eating tour of the storied city.
My base of operations was the exquisite eight-story, 423-room Georgian-style Charleston Place Hotel, built in 1986. It is an Orient-Express holding. Situated in the heart of the downtown historic district, including King, East Bay Calhoun, and Broad Streets, it also must be the location of one of the highest concentrations of restaurants anywhere.
One of my first stops was Marion Square, located at King, Calhoun, Meeting, and Tobacco Streets, just a short walk from the hotel, where I got a chance to stretch my legs in the 10-acre public park renovated in 2001… “Marion Square is one of more than 1400 historically significant sites within the Charleston Old and Historic District,” according to the National Park Service.
Later in the week, my extensive walks around the city took me to Battery Park on end of the peninsula and the College of Charleston more toward the center of town.
Battery Park, or White Point Gardens as it is otherwise known, is a great visit along the waterfront. Dream Charleston says it is “one of the best spots to get to know Charleston… This lovely spot on the waterfront features southern mansions, cannons, cannon balls, oak trees, palmettos, statues, a gazebo, and incredible views of Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, and the Sullivan Island Lighthouse.
“Touring Charleston is exhausting due to the sheer numbers of historic places and sights to see. When you need to take a breather, head on over to this beautiful park…”
For another breather in the midst of a lot of heavy, if not burdensome presentations about the current state of our economy and agricultural economics – such as many financial institutions now employ more regulatory compliance officers than loan officers – I headed over to the College of Charleston.”
The National Park Service notes that the college “is the oldest municipal college in the United States, and a National Historic Landmark. Founded in 1770, and chartered in 1785, the College possesses additional historical significance as the oldest institute of higher learning in South Carolina, and the 13th oldest in the country…”
Perhaps one of the highlights of my trip, among many highlights – in addition to all the great food – was a visit to Charleston City Hall. The National Park Service reports, “Charleston's City Hall building was constructed between 1800 and 1804 in the Adamesque style.
“In 1800 the City Council conveyed this parcel to the Federal government for the purpose of erecting ‘an elegant building’ that would serve as a branch of The First Bank of the United States… In 1811, the bank's charter was revoked by Congress, after which the property was conveyed back to the City of Charleston and became City Hall in 1818…”
Charleston is a great get-away destination. It really reminded me of Key West; only a much shorter travel distance, and a bit less expensive.
Bon appétit – for your taste buds and a wonderful mental vacation.
…I’m just saying. . . . .