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Given the chance, I can’t resist peeking into other people’s homes and I’m so glad we stopped to tour the Calhoun Mansion which is the largest private residence in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s located just a few steps from White Point Gardens on the riverfront at 14 Meeting Street.

George Walton Williams built the house in 1876 as a testament to the resurgence of Charleston after the Civil War. At 24,000 sq. ft. and $240,000, it took five years to complete and employed hundreds of out-of-work artisans and craftsmen in desperate need of work after the war. The house is named for John C. Calhoun’s grandson who married the owner’s daughter and lived in the house. After Mr. Williams’ death in 1903, the house had many occupants causing deteriorating circumstances to the house until 1972 when it was condemned.

A native of Charleston purchased the house in the late 1970s for $220, 000. He invested five million dollars over the next 25 years in restoring the Mansion to its former glory. The current owners live in the house and allow tours from 11 -5 daily. If the owners are physically present in the house when a tour takes place, you may not be able to see their office/bedroom but we were allowed to look into all of these rooms.

The mansion is a feast for the eyes with a 65 foot entrance hall, 14 foot ceilings, gorgeous Tiffany chandeliers, and my personal favorite, the music room with a 45 foot glass skylight. It’s NOT a museum and my first thought was “Millionaire Hoarders” but after seeing a couple of the rooms I came to appreciate the clutter expensive collection. There’s no rhyme or reason, that I could discern, as to how the collection is presented. The rooms are roped off so you have to lean in.  Not sure if I would have enjoyed the tour as much with 17 other people (the max on a tour is 20). Also, the tour guide will point out highlights in each room but it helps a lot if you already know about artwork ~ think Matisse, Cezanne, Kandinski and Klimt. We arrived for the 11 am tour the day after Christmas and it was just the 3 of us. The tour we took cost $16.00 per person for an approximately half hour tour. There is another tour for $75 per person which is an hour and a half. It includes the cupola. More information here.

Photos are not allowed on the inside of the mansion but the beautiful garden is fair game:

Calhoun Mansion
Calhoun Mansion

Calhoun Mansion Water Fountain II
Calhoun Mansion Garden Fountain

Calhoun Mansion Sun dial
Cherub in the garden

Calhoun Mansion Statue of Mercury (Hermes)
Statue of Mercury (Hermes)

Calhoun Mansion Garden Statue
Garden Statue

Calhoun Mansion Duck Statue

Charleston House Across from the Calhoun Mansion
Beautiful House across the street from the Calhoun Mansion

Charleston Bench
A great spot to sit and rest at the Calhoun Mansion

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Driving over the bridge connecting Charleston with Mount Pleasant is a much more relaxing experience since the new Arthur Ravenel Jr bridge opened in 2005. Prior to that, I used to hold my breath while driving across either the Grace Bridge (1929) or Pearman Bridge (1966) ~ both were scary, shaky, narrow drives. Fearful is a good way to describe the old drive to Mount Pleasant.

Cooper River Bridge
Cooper River Bridge (1981) from the deck of the USS Yorktown. The bridges were removed in 2007.

The new bridge is named for a local Charleston legend, Arthur Ravenel Jr. He’s an 8th generation descendant of French Huguenots who arrived in 1686. He was involved in local politics for years, but it was at the urging of a friend, Ravenel ran and was elected to the South Carolina State Senate in 1996 and remained a State Senator until 2005. Within a year, he created legislation for the South Carolina Infrastructure Bank. With the help and support of former U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, they put together the financing for the new bridge and other transportation projects.

Charleston Ravenel Bridge fog
Ravenel Bridge on a foggy day

Ravenel Bridge
Sunny skies and the Ravenel Bridge

Every spring, there’s the Cooper River Bridge Run. It’s a 10K which starts at Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, goes across the bridge and ends at Marion Square in Charleston. I’ve added the run to my travel wish list

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My last visit to Fort Sumter was in August 1997. The air was heavy with moisture to the point of being just shy of raining, it was 95 in the shade and I was six months pregnant. My only recollection of the visit is the air conditioned gift shop which is where I spent most of my time on the island. Fast forward 17 years and it was hat and gloves weather with a whole lot of fog on my most recent visit.

Charleston Church Flag and fountain
View from the ferry-boat looking back at Charleston

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union and on April 12, 1861, the Confederate Army fired on the Federal soldiers at the yet completed Fort Sumter. It would be four bloody combat years and over 600,000 dead before the Union Forces recaptured Fort Sumter. The Civil War’s first fatality occurred at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1861, the day after the battle ended. Private Daniel Hough died while loading a canon for the Union’s 100-gun salute to the U.S. flag. The canon round discharged prematurely and killed him.

Fort Sumter is part of the National Park Service. Liberty Square (near the Aquarium) and Patriots Point (Mt Pleasant) are the two locations where you can catch the ferry to the island. Once there you can choose to wander around on your own or listen to the roughly 10 minute historic talk by the Park Ranger which I found very interesting. Click here for scheduled times.

Fort Sumter Park Ranger
Our Park Ranger ~ interesting with a touch of humor. Careful though, he’ll test your Civil War knowledge

IMG_4045
A Canon facing out to the water ~ we couldn’t see far due to the heavy fog

Fort Sumter
Gallery area

Fort Sumter II
Another view of the Gallery

Fort Sumter Canons
Heavy Artillery within the Gallery

Fort Sumter Canon swivels
Swivels for the heavy artillery

Fort Sumter Battery Isaac Huger
Battery Isaac Hunger, named after Brigadier General Isaac Huger, is a concrete fortification built on Fort Sumter in 1898-99 as part of a major coastal defense upgrade.

Charleston Bench through the porthole
A restful spot inside the fort

Fort Sumter 100 years ago this month 2014
A reminder of what happened 150 years ago in Charleston

Fort Sumter One of the shells
An artillery shell embedded in the wall

Fort Sumter outside the walls
Outside wall of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter fishing in the fog
Fishing in the fog just off the island of Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter Heron
Heron in the fog

Fort Sumter bird and rope
Another Heron bracing against the wind

Fort Sumter Bottle on the beach
We were hoping there was a message in this bottle ~ but there wasn’t

Charleston two dolphin playing at the front of the ferry boat
Bottlenose dolphins escorting us back to Charleston. The Park Ranger on the ferry explained the dolphins like to swim in front of the boat because it creates a wave they can ride. It was obvious they were having a lot of fun!

Charleston Dolphin surfing at the front of the ferry boat
A single dolphin riding a wave

General Anderson, who was in command when Fort Sumter fell into Confederate hands, returned (from retirement) on April 14, 1865 to re-raise the Federal Flag when the Union Forces recaptured the fort. Sadly, it was the same day President Lincoln was assassinated in Washington, DC while attending a play.

raising-flag-fort-sumter
Image of the “raising the flag” ceremony on April 14 1865. (a Library of Congress image)

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There are over 450 licensed walking tour guides in Charleston and we chose to take two tours: a ghost tour and a historic tour. Usually Tripadvisor leads me in the right direction but, despite many rave reviews, the ghost tour with Tricia from the Ghostwalk was a disappointment for me.

Personally, I tuned out after she spoke about General Robert E. Lee haunting the Mills House Hotel (supposedly he’s been spotted running down the hallway). From what I’ve read about Lee, he was in Charleston for a short period in 1861. I’m guessing he would be haunting Gettysburg or Appomattox not the Mills House Hotel. Her story speculated the ghost of General Lee has also been seen on the balcony waiting for the CSS Hunley (submarine) to return. The dates don’t match up though ~ the Hunley sank after sinking the USS Housatonic in October 1863. To be fair, General Lee did watch the fire of 1861 engulf the city (start of the fire is unknown) from the balcony of the Mills House. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the story we were told.

Tricia seems like a very nice person but her tour was a mix of disjointed storytelling and lack of historic perspective. Mostly she showed photos with “orbs” that she considered to be ghosts. If you’re looking for a tour which is actually looking for ghosts, dwells on flickering lights and possible misty photos then she’s the tour guide for you.

Charleston St John's Lutheran Church Graveyard
Lutheran Church Graveyard

Charleston along the ghost Tour part of the magazine
The Powder Magazine ~ the house next to it is considered haunted (by a benevolent ghost)

Having taken Ghost Tours in many cities such as Quebec City, Alexandria (VA), London, Edinburgh and the Queen Mary (Long Beach, CA), which were all excellent, I was expecting more Charleston history included in the haunting tales.

The History of Charleston tour with Anne Middleton Herron was much more informative and interesting. Anne is a 13th generation Charlestonian and her family dates to the original settlers of 1670. Both her parents grew up on Church Street and Anne grew up in Charleston. She shared not only her extensive historical knowledge of the city but also her personal experience of roaming the city as a child. Her personal anecdotes and perspective added so much to the tour. She’s smart, easy-going, and kept us all interested throughout the two hours. It rained quite hard for the first hour but we were all so enthralled, we barely noticed. The tour ended at her parent’s home on Church street and we were treated to lemonade in the garden. Click here for more information and to make a reservation.  A few photos from the walking tour:

Anne Charleston Tour Guide
Anne ~ great tour guide and love her hat, too

Charleston Philadelphia Alley
Philadelphia Alley

Charleston part of Old wall
Charleston was one of three walled cities in the New World and this is a part of the original wall recently excavated.

Charleston Longitude Alley
Longitude Alley which is not on a longitude line

Charleston Carriage step II
These “carriage steps” are found throughout the historic part of Charleston

Charleston Cabblestone street V
One of the cobblestone roads

Charleston a peek into a garden
Peeking into one of the many beautiful Charleston private gardens

Charleston Hugenot Church architect
Steps of the French Huguenot Church ~ E.B. White was the architect for the church as well as other buildings in Charleston

Charleston Custom House
The tour met at the US Custom House

Dock Street Theater
Dock Street Theater ~ originally opened in 1736 but was most likely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1740. A hotel was built on its site but fell in disrepair. In the depression, it became a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project and a new theater was built within the shell of the Planter’s Hotel. The theater underwent a three-year, 19 million dollar renovation in 2007 and reopened in 2010. Next time I visit Charlesotn, I plan to see a production in the theater.
Charleston pre revolutionary brick home

Prerevolutionary Brick House

If you take only one walking tour in Charleston, I highly recommend Anne.

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With the sun shining and the temperatures rising, it was a perfect Christmas morning to walk around the beautiful, historic neighborhoods of Charleston. Throughout our four-day stay, we must have walked six miles a day on average. A pair of good walking shoes are essential.

There’s always something new and interesting to see around every corner. And Charlestonians are eager to link all kinds of events to their historic city. An interesting example: We came across a house which was built by Elisha Poinsett in 1732. His descendent, Joel Roberts Poinsett was an Ambassador to Mexico and was responsible for introducing the poinsettia plant to the United States around 1825. It was fun fact find on Christmas.

Charleston Poinsett Tavern House
Poinsett Tavern located at 82 Elliott Street

Walking around Charleston, looking at all the different types of homes, makes me want to know about the families who live (lived) in them. There are so many lovely homes to see…

Colonial House, Charleston
Colonial Park Home

Charleston pink on the battery
Mansion on The Battery

Charleston Pink House
This Pink House used to be a Tavern Brothel

Charleston newly renovated
A newly renovated home on The Battery

Charleston Homes

Charleston Homes on the Battery
More homes on The Battery

Charleston home with earthquake bolts.
Pre-1886 Great Earthquake Home. You can tell due to the earthquake bolts on the side of house

Charleston 4 sale
This 7 bedroom is for sale! It’s located on The Battery

Charleston Elliott and East Bay street
Interesting Rooftop

Charleston Hammock on the porch
My favorite porch ~ can’t go wrong with a hammock looking out to the River

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Charleston, South Carolina has long been a favorite place of mine. My first visit in 1993 charmed me so much that I got married at Summerall Chapel two years later. Charleston has many wonderful memories and there’s always something new to explore.

Citadel Chapel Summerall
Summerall Chapel at The Citadel

Charleston Christmas Tree outside Embassy Suites
Christmas tree in Marion Square

Charleston inside the large outdoor Christmas tree
…from inside the Christmas tree

Charleston Logan at a Christmas tree

Charleston Water fountain and Christmas tree

Charleston City Jail
Wreaths on the Old City Jail

Merry Christmas to all!

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