The Pineapple Fountain Charleston in Waterfront Park

Charleston Charm

Charleston has a charm that is unlike every other city we have visited. Nearly every building in Charleston is more than 200 years old. During the 18th century, Charleston was the richest city in the English Colonies. Following the Revolutionary War Charleston, continued to be the richest city in the United States.

For the most part, Charleston’s charm is because it was built when money was plentiful and because the economy was destroyed during the Civil War. They didn’t have money to tear down and replace old things. More than any other city, Charleston’s economy was destroyed because it was nearly all dependent on slavery. For the next one hundred years, Charleston was too poor to replace any of the old buildings with new ones. They decided instead to remodel the old ones without changing the look and feel of the city.

Old Downtown

Old Charleston was built at the end of a peninsula between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers. The further south on the peninsula you go, the older the city becomes. The oldest section is between Market Street and Broad Street. The city fathers created a walled city like in Europe to protect the city from attack. King Street marks the west part of the walled section and Bay Street is on the east side. When Charleston was originally built, Bay Street was right on the water.

St. Matthew's Lutheran Church
St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church

Gradually the walls that were around the old city were dismantled and most remnants are gone. One section that remains is under the Old Exchange and Custom House. Over the last two hundred and fifty years, fill dirt (and rubble) has been added on all sides of the peninsula filling in the swamp to the west and south. Now the bay is about two blocks further east than it was when the city was founded.

Downtown building dedicated to buying and selling slaves.
Downtown building dedicated to buying and selling slaves.

In 1670, Charles Town was founded as a settlement by English charter. The name was changed to Charleston after the Revolutionary War between England and the United States. For the first fifty years, Charles Town was a favorite of pirates and slave traders. Black slaves were imported into the colonies in Charles Town. Nearly unmentioned in history, American Indian Slaves, captured during wars between the American Indian Tribes, were then sold to the English and were exported from Charles Town to the Caribbean.

Pirates

Charles Town was an important port during the age of piracy. Gradually Charles Town became less of a pirate town and more an important English port. In 1718, the pirate Blackbeard laid siege to Charles Town and was paid off with a chest of medicine. Blackbeard and many other pirates had frequented Charles Town often to sell loot for years. In 1718, Charles Town turned against the pirates hanging all they could find or accuse of piracy.

SouthState Bank building on Broad Street in Charleston
South State Bank building on Broad Street in Charleston

Gradually as the swamps to the west were filled making more room, the walls around the city were dismantled. Really the walls on the south, north, and west side were not necessary because this area was a huge swamp. Only the wall along the bayside of Charles Town remained.

Historic Courthouse Broad Street Charleston
Historic Courthouse Broad Street Charleston

We found the best self-guided walking tours including Meeting Street, Broad Street, and King Streets. Later in the day, we took a tour van around the city. The tour included all these streets and others both inside and outside the oldest parts of the city.

Charleston City Hall
Charleston City Hall
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Broad Street

Old Exchange and Prevost Dungeon

One of the oldest English government buildings was the Exchange. All “legitimate” goods entered the city from the port through the Exchange. If you wanted to sell something and export it, then you made your sale at the exchange. Originally the building was small and even part of the wall along the bay.

The original design of the Old Exchange and gun battery defending Charleston Harbor.
The original design of the Old Exchange and gun battery defending Charles Town.

As imports and exports increased, the size and taxes collected at the Old Exchange increased. This financed a huge improvement to the Exchange and Customs building. The gun emplacements are still in the basement as part of the foundation of the new building.

Old Exchange and Customs building
Old Exchange and Customs building

Just prior to the Revolutionary War, the English military police took over governing Charles Town. The military governor (called a Provost), renamed the Old Exchange the Charles Town Provost Headquarters. The upstairs of the building was used for offices and housing for English Military Officers. The first use of the dining room in the next picture was for these English Officers.

Dining Room at the Old Exchange
Dining Room at the Charles Town Provost Headquarters

Provost Dungeon

The basement of the exchange was converted from tax collection into a dungeon. The dungeon was filled with anyone suspected to be associated with the Revolution, but also held common criminals.

Tax Collector office in the basement of the Old Exchange
Tax Collector office in the basement of the Old Exchange

Charles Town was hotly contested during the Revolutionary War and was a stronghold for the English. The English believed that most of the area was loyal to the crown. Changes in England politics prohibiting slavery in England and Wales (1772) along with Lord Dunsmore’s (1775) declaration emancipating slaves in the colonies changed this. These new policies turned potential loyalists against the continuation of English rule.

Political Prisoners held during the American Revolution in the basement of the Old Exchange.
Political Prisoners were held during the American Revolution in the basement of the Old Exchange.

After American Independence, Charles Town, which was already being spelled Charlestown gained its new name of Charleston to make it sound a little less English.

Rainbow Row

Just to the south of Broad Street, there is a community of houses built just after American Independence from England. As was typical the bottom floor was a commercial shop and the owners lived above the shop.

Rainbow Row Charleston
Rainbow Row Charleston

After the Civil War, the homes, along with the rest of Charleston fell into disrepair. It wasn’t until 1931 when downtown Charleston started revitalizing and the Rainbow Row houses were painted their pastels colors.

Angel Oak Park

When staying in Charleston we started noticing the massive Oak Trees. Typically they were about one hundred years old planted in the early 1900s. Most of the trees were covered with what is known as Spanish Moss. Our last post mentions this while I was discussing the plantations in this post from last week. Carolina Plantations

The Angel Oak tree in Charleston
The Angel Oak Tree is more than 65 feet tall and shades a massive area of almost half an acre. The branches are so heavy that many of them have drooped down to the ground, established roots, and then came back above ground with more branches.

While we were at the McLeod Plantation, we saw a massive oak that was much older than the others. That Oak was estimated to be more than 400 years old. This is when we knew that we had to visit the Charleston Angel Oak Tree. The Angel Oak may not be the oldest oak tree in Charleston, but it is the biggest old Oak Tree.

Angel Oak Tree in Charleston
Angel Oak Tree in Charleston the main trunk is more than 25 feet in circumference.
Tami at the Angel Oak Tree in Charleston
Tami at the Angel Oak Tree in Charleston

New Charleston

There isn’t much new in Charleston. The United States Custom house started construction just prior to the Civil War. Compared to the rest of the city, the Custom House qualifies as one of the newest buildings in Charleston and is only 170 years old.

U.S. Customs house Charleston
U.S. Customs house Charleston

In 1989, Charleston was devastated by Hurricane Hugo. Many buildings that were along the Cooper River vanished in the storm surge. The eye of the hurricane made landfall just north of the city. Devastating winds in this massive storm hit more than 200 miles per hour along the bayside of Charleston. The entire city was flooded and many people died. This area is now home to the Bay Park and the Pineapple fountain.

Pineapple Fountain Charleston
Pineapple Fountain in Bay Park Charleston

No high-rise buildings and few buildings with modern style. The building behind the Pineapple Fountain was one of the few buildings that seemed to be modern. Both this building and the fountain were built after Hurricane Hugo destroyed the area with the storm surge. Buildings to the south of the fountain along the Cooper River had between eight and twelve feet of standing water as part of the storm.

Obviously new and modern style is the bridge over the Cooper River. This bridge is one of the most beautiful bridges we have found in our travels.

Crossing the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston
Crossing the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston

Links to places mentioned in this article.

Historic Charleston Churches

Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

Rainbow Row

Angel Oak Park

Pineapple Foundation

7 thoughts on “Charleston Charm”

  1. Wow. What pictures; and perfect weather for them. To me the composure of the oak tree picture is prize winning; it is now in my screen saver rotation. And no traffic on the bridge; Charleston looks slow paced, relaxing and beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. To bad that you can’t get money Scott from yours and Tami travel blog!! It is so informative and has amazing photography!! Miss and Love You Guys!!❤️

  3. Hi There you two! OBI WAN KANOBI, & I… Kaitland Flora are still kickin in our ‘Cargo Camper’…now 6×10 new and revised. A 2021 Blazer color coordinated is an eye catcher.

    South of Myrtle Beach on 17 is- Huntington Beach camp ground. Sites allow one to walk a short board walk direct to the Atlantic Ocean natural beach area, vast and clear of people.

    Short distance down on 17 there is a Botanical Garden I believe you would enjoy. The Live Oak ‘Angel’, is impressive.

    Character. Called Angel? …because, of it’s devilish architecture?

    Always, enjoy your dance with word and photo! Thank You*

    Kaitland & Obi

  4. Great history lesson. We didn’t make it to Charleston last year, but you’ve put the bait out & we’ve added it to our next eastern loop list. Thanks

  5. I am loving this post! I have been to Charleston and can see some images. I did not know about the wall or the age progression of homes along the road. I was not in the research era of my life then. I do remember the tree and touring the only American Tea Plantation on an island. Charleston Tea Plantation.

    I should have known but did not realize buildings were burnt to the ground. I am glad many in Charleston were spared. Funny how history repeats itself. When the economy goes south, people remodel or redecorate instead of purchasing new. The big box stores thrive in a recession.

    Very interesting about the pirates and the swamp. I am glad the swamp never reclaimed its land! When I go back, I will definitely take the van tour and seek out the rainbow homes.
    Thank you for the links. I will read more about the dungeons.

    Thanks again for including me in your quests.

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