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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

The Battery Carriage House Inn
Charleston, South Carolina

I settled into the leisurely style and history of Charleston, South Carolina by staying in the Battery Carriage House Inn, "No. 20 on the Battery." (800-775-5575) Battery Street borders Charleston harbor and outlines the edge of the peninsula that is the city. It's historic district is most preserved at the southernmost tip of the peninsula where Charleston sits between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers.
The Battery Carriage House ($159-229) was built during Charleston's golden era in 1843. Choosing to stay there from photos of the home was a bit deceptive. The home is certainly a wonderfully preserved historic landmark but guests are relegated to the "carriage house," with eleven well-decorated but small rooms behind the main building. The owners, heirs of an old Charleston family who own the nearby Magnolia Plantation property as well, have reserved the main four story house for themselves. Although guests are free to roam the beautiful gardens out back, they are unwelcome in the main house or on its magnificent veranda. You can look up at the mansion from the street. But you can't go in.
While the Carriage House lacks for space or a grand welcome, it is well located. And there is a magic eeriness as you glance upon the House and its neighbor homes. Only an asphalt paved street distinguishes the look of today's Battery from photos of 150 years ago.
Just across the street from the Inn is the beautiful White Point Gardens. This small landscaped park has colonial and Civil War monuments and relics scattered about it. There is also a central gazebo and meandering sidewalks shaded by oaks and palmettos. The park faces out into Charleston Harbor with Civil War cannons, rusting decorations at water's edge, that line up with Fort Sumter in the distance. Glancing out at the Atlantic, you can imagine a Yankee flotilla blockading the harbor.
In 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. The document of "secession" was signed in Charleston. Soon after, South Carolinians began the Civil War by firing upon Union-held Fort Sumter in their harbor. Charleston and South Carolina put their riches and lives into the war and after it was over, they were too poor to rebuild. By the early 1900's, when they could afford to rebuild, an historical preservation movement had begun. So today, Charleston remains a city of the past. There are no skyscrapers in Charleston and few modern buildings. As you walk its streets, there seems to be perpetual painting going on - a Sisyphean effort to preserve all its antebellum architecture.
Charleston is a walking city with a bit of history at every corner. Washington slept in the Heyward-Washington House. A row of buildings called Cabbage or Catfish Row was the basis for George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Beth Elohim is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the United States, built in 1794. The Citadel is the South's West Point.
The Charleston Harbor Tour is 2 hours of offshore history - a cruise past the Battery, with the Battery Carriage House Inn in view, past several other landmarks to Fort Sumter, then to Patriots Point where the World War II aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown is moored alongside several other historic ships.
Charleston conjures up all those words that seem to have no right place in normal vocabulary except in reference to the South: Dixie and rebels, jasmine and magnolias, mint julips and she-crab soup, Scarlett and Rhett, and especially gentility and charm.