Founded in 1670 and originally named Charles Town in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina. South Carolina was one of the original thirteen British Colonies and by 1690, Charleston was the fifth largest city in North America. Charleston adopted its present spelling with its incorporation as a city in 1783 at the close of the Revolutionary War. Charleston remained one of the 10 largest cities in the U.S until 1840.
Modern Charleston offers visitors small-town charm but is filled with big time attractions. This Southern city has a rich history, well-preserved architecture, top-notch restaurants and bars, and friendly people filled with Southern hospitality. This makes it a popular tourist destination often mentioned among top-cities to visit in the world by travel magazines such Travel and Leisure and Conde Naste Traveler.
This visual tour of Charleston is an evolving post. Currently, I have photos and bits of information focused on the antebellum mansions along the Battery, the landmark Cooper River Bridge, and the Historic Charles Towne Landing (original site where Charleston was founded in 1670). I will be adding more in the future.
The Charleston Battery
We are now dialing in our focus on the area of Charleston known as the Battery. Visiting the Battery today you will see locals and tourists alike enjoying views of the Charleston Harbor and antebellum mansions, walking their dog, or enjoying a leisurely walk or running through White Point Gardens.
The Battery’s origin dates back to 1737 as a landmark defensive seawall and promenade. Given Charleston’s prominence and importance as a port in early American history, it was necessary to have a place for artillery to defend the city and harbor. It saw action in the American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the American Civil War. War memorials as spread throughout the park.
A Few Featured Homes Along the Battery
The Edmonton-Alston House (1825) is now a museum open for tours. It was one the first mansions homes built along the Battery and featured a Federal styling. Originally built by Charles Edmonston, the home was sold to Charles Alston and remains in the Alston family. Mr. Alston updated the home with Greek Revival stylings.
The William Washington house (c. 1768) shown in the image below on the left is the only pre-Revolutionary house on Charleston’s Battery. It was built in the Georgian style by Thomas Savage. In December 1785, Mr. Savage sold the home to Revolutionary War hero William Washington.
The Roper House is a Greek Revival home built in 1838 for cotton planter Robert William Roper. His father donated funds for Roper Hospital which is still serving people in Charleston. Mr. Roper died of Malaria in 1845 and the home has exchanged hands several times. I found it interesting that Solomon R. Guggenheim (Guggenheim museum in New York) once owned the home. Several former U.S. Presidents and international leaders have visited and stayed in this home.
The antebellum mansion called “Zero Water Street” (c. 1837) is one of twelve historic homes on the “High Battery”. In the image below, it is the center mansion of the first three shown. The third floor suite is available for vacation rental – Zerowaterstreet.com
The Charles Drayton house (c. 1885) features Medieval European and Chinese architectural references. Drayton came from a family that had made its wealth from a rice plantation (Drayton Hall Plantation). After the Civil War, Charles turned his attention to a successful business venture in mining phosphate from the Ashley River near his family’s plantation.
Two Meeting Street Inn is a popular bed and breakfast on the Battery.
Charleston’s (New) Cooper River Bridge
The Cooper River Bridge, officially known as the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge , is the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It opened in 2005 to auto traffic and also has a protected a 2.5 mile pedestrian way for cyclists, runners, and walkers. It has become a prominent feature on the Charleston skyline visual and recreational destination for those visiting or living in Charleston.
This bridge is also the centerpiece of the 10K Cooper River Bridge Run. which is widely viewed as one of the top 10Ks in America and also one of the most popular running events, regardless of distance. The bridge is fantastic and Charleston is repeatedly ranked among the top cities in the world to vacation. Readers of Travel + Leisure Magazine voted it #1 in 2021.
A trip across the bridge may require some refreshments when you set foot on the other side in Mt. Pleasant. I selected Grace & Grits which has a fun menu focused on grits as the base with a wide variety of toppings available. I enjoyed fried oysters of my grits with kidney beans and a cold bottle of cherry soda.
Charles Towne Landing
Charleston was originally in settled in 1670 at a site several miles to the west called Charles Towne. I would recommend this site for history enthusiasts. It is about 8 miles from downtown Charleston.
Charleston was named after King Charles II and settled on banks of the Ashley River. The settlers relocated to what is now downtown Charleston in 1680. Like many of these earliest colonial locations, there is little that remains of the original wooden structures so it will require some imagination. That said, ongoing archeological digs have turned up some key findings to help identify and shape the general layout of this first settlement in South Carolina. A few historically accurate reproductions aid with visualizing how parts of Charles Towne looked 350 years ago.
The house shown in the image below (left) was known as “common lodging”. It would have housed indentured servants of English origin and, later, African slaves. In the image blow (right), you see the palisades wall that protected the settlers from Spanish and Indian attacks. Archeological excavations of this area identified this as the original line of the Palisade Wall from postholes lining the perimeter. The palisade we see today is a reproduction but, if you look closely, you can see what remains of the trench originally dug in front of the wall by the first English settlers.
Native Americans of the Kiawah tribe were present when the English settlers arrived and they became early allies. The Kiawah were suffering from constant attacks by a tribe from the Savannah area of Georgia that was using weapons traded with them by Spanish settlers in Georgia. The Kiawah Indians helped feed and settle the English while the English provided the Kiawah with weapons to aid in their defense.
The ship shown below is The Adventure, and it is a replica of a ship used in the late 1600s in this area. Shipping and trade between the colonies was essential to the survival and development of the colonies.
Skirmishes between the English and Spanish along the coast of America’s southern colonies were common as Spain and England fought to control and colonize these lands.
After the initial settlers relocated and established Charleston in 1680, Charles Towne was used for farming and become known as the Old Town Plantation. It would serve as a farm and garden for nearly 300 years. The original plantation mansion was burned in 1865 near the end of the Civil War, and the permanent residence was moved to a second home on the site (shown below).
The last owners of this land, Dr. and Mrs. Jospeh Waring, sold it the state of South Carolina in 1970 and it was dedicated as a state park for South Carolina’s tricentennial celebration.
More to Come
This post will continue to evolve as I gather more photos and interesting facts in my travel to historic Charleston. In the meantime, catch a carriage and enjoy the ride through a city with so much still to see.
Places to Stay
If the place you are staying is an important part of your experience, Travel + Leisure readers selected the following hotels/inns as tops in 2021:
- The John Rutledge House Inn – America’s founding fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution in this house. Lavish, modern oversized rooms. Breakfast served in a ballroom.
- Hotel Bennett – Style inspired by the grand hotels of Europe. Fine Southern dining at Gabrielle and rooftop cocktails at Fiat Lux.
- The Restoration – Farm-to-table dining and in-room spa services.
- Wentworth Mansion – 21 distinctive guest rooms, chandeliers and marble fireplaces, spa, and the Circa 1886 restaurant.
- Market Pavilion Hotel
- The Vendue: Stayed here a few times. Feels historic with great location and a rooftop bar for amazing sunsets.
- HarborView Inn
- Belmond Charleston Place: Stayed here twice. A large, elegant hotel complex.
- Zero George
- Grand Bohemian Hotel
- Planters Inn
- The Dewberry
- French Quarter Inn: Stayed here a few times. Great location and nicely appointed. An elegant, historic vibe but doesn’t feel old.
I would also recommend looking at the many bed and breakfast options around historic downtown Charleston.
Where in the world…