Charming Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina greets you with an array of colors, scents, sounds and history. I was pleased to be able to travel and loved my recent long weekend. I was able to experience the first Farmer’s Market on Marion Square since the pandemic began! I always love strolling around all the old streets and admiring the many sights of this unique city. My post below shares some of Charleston churches, the beautiful iron gates and some colorful street murals. A Lasting Impression each time I visit.

Marion Square and the Farmers Market

Today the space is best known for its seasonal farmer’s market and gorgeous open vistas of some of the city’s prestigious surrounding buildings, but the site actually has a legacy all its own, which continues to fascinate new visitors, and ensures this park’s rightful place on the list of fascinating Charleston attractions.

Marion Square originated as a city-owned rectangular plot of land that was conveyed to the colony of South Carolina in 1758. Originally, this site was used as a defensive wall against the local Native Americans, but by the late 1700s, the defense was no longer needed, and the approximately 10 acre property was effectively transferred to the newly created Charleston city government.

A portion of the site was designated as a tobacco inspection complex – an important purpose considering South Carolina’s large role in America’s most successful colonial product – but eventually was converted to a parade and muster ground for the state arsenal. By 1843, it had become famously known as Citadel Green as The Citadel college, which was located nearby, occupied this arsenal from the 1840s until 1922, when the school itself was relocated to Charleston’s west side.

After the Citadel’s move, the name of the public site was changed to Marion Square, in honor of Revolutionary War officer Francis Marion, and the ownership of the property was transferred to the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guards. Though this transfer is seemingly irrelevant in the site’s legacy, considering that Marion Square is a public park with no military maneuvers to speak of, this role is actually a formidable one in the park’s history, as it was the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guards that prevented the park from being transformed into a parking lot in the 1940s, and later as a shopping center in the latter half of the 20th century.

Calhoun statue photo from 2019

Instead, the park currently serves as a pretty resting spot for passing visitors and strollers. It was the permanent home of Charleston’s statue of South Carolina native John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was a Secretary of War, U.S. Senator, and an American Vice President, and the cornerstone of the statue, which was laid in 1858 before construction was interrupted by the onset of the Civil War, contained a cannon ball used in the Revolutionary War battle of Fort Moultrie and a copy of the last speech. On June 24, 2020 due to much controversy, the statue was removed.

Holy City Churches

Walking through all the pretty streets in Charleston you will notice there are many churches with beautiful steeples and spires and they are full of history.

The earliest settlers came here from England but were later followed by immigrants from Scotland, France, Germany, Ireland, and other countries. These immigrants brought with them numerous Protestant denominations as well as Judaism and Roman Catholicism. For this reason, Charleston earned the nickname of “Holy City” as it was known for its tolerance for all religions and it numerous historic churches.  

A few other interesting facts include: St. Michael’s is the oldest surviving religious building in Charleston. The current church was built in the 1750s. It sits on the corners of Meeting and Broad Street in Downtown Charleston; this intersection is often referred to as the “Four Corners of Law” because on each corner there is a building that represents federal, state, local and religious law (the U.S. Post office, the Federal Courthouse, the Charleston County Courthouse, Charleston City Hall and St. Michael’s). The large, long double-pew in the center of the church was originally known as ‘The Governor’s Pew,’ and it is the one in which President George Washington sat when he attended in 1791 and Robert E. Lee in 1861.

Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South. It was built in 1816 as a place of refuge for slaves and freedmen. From slave rebellions plotted in its sanctuary, to visits from civil rights icons such as Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Emanuel has been a cornerstone in the black community locally and nationally. On June 17, 2015, nine parishioners were slain, but the church continues to remain a symbol of hope and strength.

The congregation at Charleston’s Circular Congregation Church formed back in 1681. This Greek Revival/Romanesque structure is possibly one of the most striking in the city — and it certainly doesn’t look like a church. The congregation was founded by English Congregationalists, Scots Presbyterians and French Huguenots. Talk about religious freedom! The graveyard at the Circular Congregational Church is the city’s oldest burial grounds with monuments dating hundreds of years.

First Scots Presbyterian Church, the fifth oldest church in Charleston, was constructed in 1814. The massive brick Presbyterian Church has walls that are three feet thick and covered with stucco. Twin towers rise above a columned portico. Reflecting the heritage of the congregation, the seal of the Church of Scotland is displayed in the stained glass window over the main entrance, and the decorative wrought iron grilles contain thistles, the symbol of Scotland. 

The French Protestant (Huguenot) Church was completed in 1845, but its congregation goes back to 1687 when French Protestants fled persecution at home. The Gothic Revival building features stucco over brick, ornamented with windows, buttresses, plus eye-catching decorative details. The French Huguenot Church is the only remaining independent Huguenot Church in America.

Saint Matthews Lutheran Church has the tallest spire at 297 feet. This classic Greek Revival church is known for its interior architectural designs, including its bright blue knave and stained-glass windows, and was designed by E.B. White. The congregation originally hailed from Germany, and services were in German until 1910.

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, the most recognizable church in Charleston, was completed in 1838. In its churchyard are the graves of Vice President John C. Calhoun, signer of the Declaration of Independence Edward Rutledge and Dubose Heyward, author of “Porgy” – on which the Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess” was based. Henrietta Johnston, the wife of an early rector, Gideon Johnston, became the first recorded female artist in the American colonies and the first known pastelist working in the English colonies. 

Charleston Gates

Amongst stunning architecture and well-preserved historic homes and churches, Charleston boasts some of the world’s most beautiful and ornate gates. Guarding the entrance to a driveway or a secret garden South of Broad, wrought iron gates can be found at the most prestigious of homes in downtown Charleston.

One of Charleston’s most well-known artisans, Philip Simmons, produced hundreds of decorative gates and other ornamental ironworks. Called “Keeper of the Gate,” his work has stood the test of time and his legacy is loved and appreciated by many. His beautiful swirled iron designs can be seen all over the city.

Christopher Werner, the dominant blacksmith in Charleston from the 1830s to the 1870s, created the much-celebrated Sword Gate, which was designed by the architect Charles F. Reichert. Werner was also responsible for the gates and fences that surround the College of Charleston, all of them designed by Edward Brickell White in 1852.

Sword Gate
College of Charleston Entrance
Porter’s Lodge – College of Charleston Cistern Entryway

Murals of Charleston

Finding some colorful street murals happens if you are walking around and have time to wonder. I only had time to admire a few during my recent visit.

“Green Energy” – 2014 by Shepard Fairey

Charleston native Shepard Fairey created murals all over the city during his 2014 exhibition The Insistent Image: Recurring Motifs in the Art of Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns. He painted four murals for this event of which three survive. “Green Energy” is applied to the side of College Lodge on Calhoun Street which is part of the College of Charleston dormitory housing (and where my son lived while attending). The other two you are able to see are “Power and Glory,” found at 658 King Street and an unnamed abstract piece painted on the brick side of 364 King Street. Fairey is known for his contemporary street art and became widely known during the 2008 U.S. presidential election with the Barack Obama “Hope” poster.

“In Remembrance” – 2016 by Tripp Derrick Barnes

Working with a team, Columbia, South Carolina native Tripp Barnes, created a tribute on the wall of the Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston honoring Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the eight other Mother Emanuel AME Church parishioners who were shot and killed during Bible study on June 17, 2015.

Against a background of rainbow colors there is a portrait, a quote, a palmetto tree and doves ascending into the sky. The portrait is of Pinckney and the doves represent the other church parishioners.

“Across the South we have a deep appreciation of our history – We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”

Rev Clementa Pinckney
“Renoir Redux: Exceptional Pairings” – 2014 by David Boatwright

“Renoir Redux: Exceptional Pairings,” by David Boatwright, covers the west side of the building at 68½ Queen St. The mural is a take on Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” and features likenesses of 14 members of the Charleston food scene. Boatwright also has other murals in Charleston – including a cityscape at 341 East Bay Street and one at Santi’s restaurant at 1302 Meeting Street.

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