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
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
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