Washington, DC, September 22, 2011 --(PR.com
)-- The Trust for Architectural Easements is proud to present an online tour of Historic Charleston, South Carolina. The multimedia tour can be found on the Trust's website.
Tranquil and quaint, and oozing with colorful charm, Southern civility, and a heady floral aroma, the Charleston Old and Historic District is the oldest locally-designated historic district in the country. The nation’s first zoning ordinances protecting historic resources were passed here in 1931; the district was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
Charleston’s historic district spreads across a small peninsula in the Carolina lowlands first settled by English colonists in 1680. The settlement was originally named Charles Towne in honor of then-King Charles II of England, but was renamed after the Revolutionary War.
Development on the peninsula followed a 1680 settlement plan named the Grand Modell, which called for a more-or-less regular grid of streets to cover the peninsula.
At the peninsula’s southern-most tip is the Battery. Once an arsenal, it is now a pleasant, palm-tree-strewn park overlooking Charleston Harbor. South Battery Street runs across the peninsula just north of the Battery, then up the west side of the peninsula along the Ashley River. East Battery Street runs north from the Battery along the east side of the peninsula and the Cooper River, becoming East Bay Street after a few blocks. Behind these streets is the Grand Modell grid.
The most prominent streets in the grid are King and Meeting streets, which run north from the Battery, and Broad Street, which runs perpendicularly to them between the rivers. The intersection of Meeting and Broad streets was originally set aside for a civic square, but later became known as the Four Corners of Law after the institutional buildings constructed on its corners.
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church – the oldest of Charleston’s many churches – was constructed on the southeast corner of this intersection between 1752 and 1761 in a graceful, classic Georgian style. With its textbook Doric temple front, tiered octagonal belfry, and alternation of smooth Doric pilasters and arched windows wrapping around the exterior, it could be standing in London on Trafalgar Square. The palm trees swaying against its white-washed walls belie its quasi-tropical American location.
Across the street from the church, on the northeast corner of the intersection, Charleston City Hall was built between 1800 and 1804 in the Palladian style suggestive of the villas and townhouses designed by Andrea Palladio in Italy in the 16th century. Like the Roman Coliseum, City Hall features Doric columns at the ground story, Ionic at the second, and Corinthian at the third.
South Carolina’s Capitol was constructed on the northwest corner of the intersection of Broad and Meeting streets in 1753, when Charleston was still the capital of the colony, but the site was re-built after the Revolutionary War with the Charleston County Courthouse. This building’s tripartite entrance façade – the central portion of which is marked by a rusticated basement and a giant order of double-storied columns – is also Palladian in inspiration.
The last building to be constructed at this intersection – the city’s U. S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse – was not built until 1896. In contradistinction to the smooth white stucco of its neighbors, it was clad in granite, and rusticated at the ground floor and up the corners. Its Renaissance Revival style was popular for government buildings at the time of its construction.
The Italianate belvedere tower adds a picturesque detail to the Charleston skyline, otherwise pierced with church steeples.
A few blocks up Meeting Street is the Old City Market, constructed in 1841 in the Greek Revival style, and suggestive of the ancient temples on the Athenian Acropolis. A market has occupied this spot since the early 1800s. The building has market halls on the ground floor behind the rusticated arcade, and a lofty second-floor meeting space (now a museum of the Daughters of the Confederacy).
Charleston was a center of North Atlantic maritime trade from its founding to the Civil War, when Union ships blockaded its harbor, and Union soldiers torched many of its buildings. Before that, Charleston was one of the largest ports in the country, and the rice and indigo grown on the large river plantations brought in huge profits. Plantation owners grew rich off of large and fertile land holdings and exploited slave labor.
To learn more about Charleston’s history and architecture, visit the website for the Historic Charleston Foundation, at http://www.historiccharleston.org/, or the South Carolina Information Highway, at http://www.sciway.net/city/history/charleston.html. To learn more about Charleston’s historic churches and institutional buildings, visit http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/charleston/.