Sunday, April 30, 2017

Backroads To Beaches

Leaving Charleston via the Arthur Ravenel Bridge

Instead of hopping on Interstate 26 and then Interstate 95 from Charleston, SC, Tim and I took the backroads to return to Washington, D.C.  It's been a month since my cochlear implant surgery.  Now that the swelling has decreased, it's time to turn on the implant and see if it works.

But first, the beach!  By taking the backroads, we added Myrtle Beach, Nags Head and Virginia Beach to our itinerary.  Three beaches in three different states--South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia!  If that doesn't make us beach bums, I don't know what will.

Myrtle Beach is the most popular destination along the Grand Strand, an arc of beaches that stretches 60 miles along the South Carolina coast, and a new experience for us.

Unbelievably, we scored a campsite at the end of a row in Myrtle Beach Travel Park, giving us an amazing view of the ocean from inside our RV, the Dawntreader.  

At lower left, Tim gazes at the moon.

Perfect for viewing the sunrise and later soaking up the sun!  We were reluctant to leave, but more beaches beckoned.

Jennette's Pier in Nags Head

So we figuratively pulled up anchor on the Dawntreader and sailed north to Nags Head.  Not only did we wish to experience the beach there, but we also wanted to pay homage to the Wright brothers who proved that flight was possible at Kitty Hawk.

The Wright Brothers' Memorial
Hailing from Kansas, I know what windy days are like, but the gusts of the Outer Banks could certainly match or exceed them.  The wind, the isolation and the sand made it easy to see why Wilbur and Orville picked this place to perfect their planes.  The winds provided lift, the isolation meant privacy from newspaper reporters and the sand softened their landings. 

From upper left: Replicas of the makeshift buildings used by the Wrights,
the park ranger, Tim & I at Memorial Rock,  the marker of the final flight's distance
In his talk, the park ranger at the National Park Service Wright Brothers Memorial brought the enormity of what these two brothers who never finished high school achieved.  These two co-owners of a Dayton, Ohio bicycle shop used what they observed of birds in flight and what they knew of balance from their familiarity with bicycles to solve a question that man has wondered about since the beginning of time.  Can man fly?  The Wrights turned that impossibility into absolutely possible.

Rain moved in on Sunday and the temperatures dropped so after attending church, we visited nearby Fort Raleigh, thus ticking off another National Park Service property from the list.  

Fort Raleigh is named for Sir Walter Raleigh who in 1584 was granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth to explore and establish an English settlement in the New World.  Although he never stepped foot on North America, he sent others to found Roanoke Colony, a colony that became known the Lost Colony when all trace of the settlement and its people disappeared.

Lost is also what happened to us when we made our way to Virginia Beach.  The GPS sent us through a maze of backroads that had us trapped before a bridge whose weight limit was 13 tons.  Yikes!  The Dawntreader weighs twice that.  But with cars lined up behind us, there was no alternative except to move forward.  Thank goodness, the bridge held but this is not an experience I wish to repeat.

Pam, Cindy, Tim and  Randy

Despite the chilly rainy days, we had a warm time with friends in Virginia Beach and Williamsburg.

Randy and Pam gave a a tour of the Navy ships in port at Norfolk; 

Then, they took us to a favorite waterfront restaurant for supper.  

Yas, Cindy, Tim and Ralph

Ralph and Yas, longtime friends from Washington, D.C. cooked dinner for us, giving us the chance to share life's journeys with one another.

Would we take the backroads again?  Absolutely!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Charleston's Stately Homes

Entrance to the Aiken-Rhett House

"Open the door to Charleston history," extolled a brochure I picked up our first day in Charleston, SC.  Truly, it meant that all visitors to this city should visit one or more of its stately homes where piazzas, ironwork balconies, and white-columned porticos beckon.  So, Tim and I did!  

Our first call was at the Aiken-Rhett House, an expansive home and property in the historic district of the city.  A docent handed us each an audio headset.  I returned the headpiece and happily plugged the component into my ComPilot, a small listening device that serves as a direct link between my ear's cochlear implant and whatever audio device--phone, TV, iPod--I'm using.  Wired as I was, I could hear every word of the tape.

Constructed in 1820 by South Carolina Governor and Mrs. William Aiken, Jr., the Aiken-Rhett house remained in the family for 142 years.  Although the home is preserved-as-found without refurbishment or furniture, the marble entryway was most impressive as was its art gallery and ballroom.

The rear property included a kitchen house, slave quarters, stable and carriage house.  

Interestingly, this was a home whose inhabitants were divided in their loyalties during the Civil War.  Former Governor William Aiken, Jr. was a staunch supporter of the Union so it must have been upsetting when his only child, Henrietta, married Andrew Burnet Rhett, a captain in the Confederate Army.

Next, we paid a visit to the Nathaniel Russell House.  One of the wealthiest merchants of his day, Nathaniel Russell (1738-1820) made his fortune shipping and importing cotton and other goods all over the world.  

He married the daughter of another Charleston merchant, Sarah Hopton (1752-1832) late in life at age 50 and together in 1803 they build this home, now considered one of the finest examples of Neoclassical style in the United States.

The most striking feature of the interior of the house is the cantilevered spiral staircase that ascends to the third floor.  It looks as if it is floating through the air.

The gardens are also beautiful.

Our tour guide at the Nathaniel Russell House talked compellingly about Charleston's preservation efforts.  The city's economy suffered after the collapse of the plantation system in the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.  An influx of personnel at nearby federal military installations helped to alleviate some of the poverty, but with the end of World War I, those forces were reduced.  So residents turned to tourism, opening their antebellum homes to the visitors who flocked to the city following the publication of Architecture of Charleston by Albert Simons and Samuel Latham in the 1920s.  Today, historic preservation codes limit alterations to the exteriors of historic buildings within the city and prices of historic homes have skyrocketed.  Astoundingly, a home along the Battery recently sold for $8.03 million.

Nothing is quite so Southern as a stately white-columned plantation home, unless it's one that was renovated to appear like an archetypical one.  Seeing the McLeod Plantation listed in Trip Advisor's "Things to Do" in Charleston, SC, I persuaded Tim to accompany me there.  Our tour guide's account revealed a story of transformation for the people who lived and worked here.  Situated on the Wappoo Creek as it flowed down to the city of Charleston, the plantation was owned by William E. McLeod who acquired the property in 1851; then, left it in charge of Stephen, an enslaved 19-year-old slave caretaker, while he went off to war.  

Slave quarters at the McLeod Plantation

Federal troops occupied the house and later carpetbaggers deeded parcels of the property to slaves freed by the war.  When members of the McLeod family returned, they filed suit to reclaim the plantation, claims that were settled in their favor, forcing the freedmen to become sharecroppers on land they'd once owned.  In 1925, after the demand for sea island cotton bottomed out, the McLeod family sold off parcels to developers, once again depriving the sharecropping families of their livelihoods.  The McLeods reoriented the principal facade to face the river, adding a projecting portico adorned with Doric columns, and opened their home to tourists, quite a cosmetic transformation of the house.

Last of all, let me mention our home during this visit.  We camped at James Island County Park where we enjoyed its tidal creeks and hiking trails.  Although one can't call the park stately--it is a county park after all--we certainly found ourselves in a contended state while we stayed here.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Charming City of Charleston

Charleston, SC oozes Southern charm.  Stately homes, cobblestone alleys and inspiring churches all may be found within the perimeters of Charleston's historic French Quarter.  Bounded by the streets of Broad, Meeting, East Bay and South Market, the quaint neighborhood gets its name from the French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution who immigrated to and settled within this once-walled city.

Equipped with a self-guided walking tour brochure I found online, Tim and I spent a day wandering through the quarter.

Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon

We began at the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, once the customs house where cargo offloaded from sailing ships was assessed and taxed.  Descending to the dungeon underneath the building, we listened avidly as our guide talked about pirates Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet who terrorized coastal South Carolina.  Bonnet was imprisoned here before Charleston authorities hanged him.  On the upper floor in the Great Hall, influential South Carolinians met and voted their support of the Declaration of Independence while below in the courtyard outside, slaves were auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Old Slave Mart

I thought about selling off Tim at the Old Slave Mart, built in 1859 when city ordinances were passed to prohibit public sales of slaves.  I found it hard to countenance Tim's camera-wary ways and his inordinate interest in the Pink House, a former tavern and brothel, across the street.  

The Pink House

If I could have gotten a good price for him, I might have done so.  But then again, in all fairness, I'll admit that I'm rather insufferable when I'm trying to capture that perfect snapshot.

The Douxsaint-Macauley House

The Douxsaint-Macauley House exemplifies a typical Charleston "single house," those built to fit on the city's long, narrow lots.  Its gable faces the street while the entrance opens to a piazza that runs the length of the home.  A second and sometimes even a third-story piazza adds to the symmetry of these structures.  The result is a building that is one room wide when viewed from the street; hence, the name "single house."

When one looks at the skyline of Charleston with all the church steeples soaring to the heavens, it's obvious why its sobriquet, The Holy City, has stuck.  Within two blocks, we visited four churches, each unique in its own right.

The French Huguenot Church

The French Huguenot Church, notably the only independent Huguenot church in the United States, traces its origins to a group of 45 Huguenots who arrived in Charleston in April 1680.  Their doctrine stemmed from the Calvinist Church of France and its services still follow 18th century French liturgy, albeit in English nowadays.

The Dock Theater

Want to know who first concocted the drink, Planter's Punch?  Some believe it was a bartender at The Planter's Hotel, now The Dock Theater, located just across the street from the French Huguenot Church.

St. Philips Episcopal Church

Continuing north on Church Street, we came to St. Philips Episcopal Church.  Several notable Americans are buried in its graveyard, including Vice President John Calhoun, Edward Rutledge, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Charles Pinckney who signed the U.S. Constitution.

Charleston City Market Hall

Tim and I deviated from the walking tour's itinerary to visit Charleston's City Market.  Pictured above is the Market Hall, but look closely at the red brick arches on the side.  Those are a continuous series of market sheds that stretch over four blocks.

With all the art and crafts of over 100 vendors, I found it tempting to buy some of the treasures we saw, especially the sweetgrass baskets we watched women create.

The Circular Congregational Church

But back to our walking trail!  Circular Congregational Church is--well, circular!  Founded in 1681 by dissenters (English congregationalists, Scot Presbyterians and French Huguenots) who were treated with contempt by colonial loyalists, the church was a hotbed of revolutionary sentiment.

St. Michael's Church
St. Michael's Church is the oldest surviving religious structure in the city.  

Clockwise, from upper left:  Charleston County Courthouse, Charleston City Hall, St. Michael's Church and Federal Courthouse
Situated at the corner of Broad and Meeting streets, on one of the Four Corners of the Law as this intersection is called, St. Michael's Church represents ecclesiastical law.  The other three corners are occupied by Charleston County Courthouse, Charleston City Hall and the U.S. Post Office Federal Courthouse.

Interior of the Post Office

The Federal Courthouse is also home to the U.S. Post Office.  There you can mail a letter in the splendor of granite hallways, mahogany walls, balustraded balconies and ornate brass fixtures.  It's quite a sight!

Rainbow Row
Our final tour stop was Rainbow Row.  There thirteen Georgian row houses, each painted a different pastel color, line up along a block of East Bay Street.  Some say the Row is the most photographed sight of the city.

Perhaps next time we visit Charleston, we'll catch a carriage tour through the historic district.  That would be another way to experience the charm of the city.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Bombardment That Began the War

Where do you begin a visit to Charleston, SC?  Tim and I decided to start at Fort Sumter where the hostilities of the Civil War began.

The War of 1812 revealed how vulnerable the United States eastern seaboard was to enemy attack.  Although the major ports of Boston, New York and Baltimore had forts in place, more were needed.  To that end, Congress appropriated in 1816 over $800,000 to build a system of additional forts along the coast.  Fort Sumter was one of those fortifications.

Today anyone who wants to visit the fort must purchase ferry tickets from the authorized concessionaire, Fort Sumter Tours.

Clockwise, from upper right:
A container ship passes underneath the Arthur Ravenel Bridge,
a cruise ship, a sailing boat and the USS Yorktown

The thirty-minute ride to the island at the mouth of Charleston's harbor gave us a ringside seat to view the cruise and cargo ship activity of the Port of Charleston.  Of interest to us are the plans to deepen the harbor to 52 feet which would give Charleston the East Coast's deepest shipping channel.  The proposal was authorized last December by the passage of the federal Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act; whether those plans move forward under Trump's presidency remains to be seen.

On a personal note, I was thrilled to see the USS Yorktown.  My great-uncle, Dr. Raymond Gard, served as the surgeon aboard this aircraft carrier during World War II.  His name is still on the door of the ship's surgery.

Once the ferry arrived at Fort Sumter, Tim and I along with the rest of the passengers gathered around the park ranger to hear the history of the fort.

I didn't know the island was man-made.  In 1829 and for the next 11 years, slaves from Charleston and nearby plantations piled 200 to 500-pound rocks upon a sandbar; then sank pilings down to the bedrock.

Once that was done, the laborers began the work of building the masonry walls, two tiers of gun ports and the barracks using bricks whose combined weight caused the whole works to sink.  

All had to be shored up before the fort could become operational. 

The question of who owned the island fortress as well as other federal military installations throughout the South was called into question with the secession of South Carolina from the Union on December 20, 1860.

Soon after President Abraham Lincoln assumed office in March 1861, he announced plans to send a fleet to resupply the Union troops garrisoned at Fort Sumter, an order that lit the matchstick tempers of Southerns, especially the people of South Carolina, who interpreted this as an act of aggression.

Major Robert Anderson

Despite his past as a former slave holder, Major Robert Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter, was nevertheless loyal to the Union.  When Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Anderson to surrender the fort, he refused. 

General Pierre Gustave T. Beauregard

Consequently at 4:30 a.m. on April 12th, Confederate General Pierre Gustave T. Beauregard ordered his artillery to fire upon the fort, bombarding the island with over 3,000 shells over the next three and a half days.  

One of the artillery shells embedded in the wall

Overwhelmed and with no reinforcements in sight, Anderson had no choice but to surrender the fort to his former West Point student Beauregard.  The war had began!

The bombardment of April 12, 1861 is well-known, but that was not the only battle for the fort's control.  

With Fort Sumter firmly in Confederate hands, the port of Charleston was a loophole in the Union's blockade of the South.  Blockade runners dodged the U.S. Navy to bring needed war supplies into the city and sailed out with the cotton needed to pay for it all.  

Beginning on April 7, 1863 and for the next 20 months, Confederate-held Fort Sumter withstood Federal siege and bombardment until it no longer resembled a fort at all.

Finally, on April 14, 1865, with Charleston in Union hands, the exact same United States flag that was lowered when Major Anderson surrendered in 1861 was once again raised above Sumter's battered ramparts.  The war was over.