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House Museum Spotlight: The Nathaniel Russell House Museum

 

Nathaniel Russell House: A Brief History

Historic Charleston Foundation, Posted: August 25, 2017

The Nathaniel Russell House Museum, 51 Meeting Street, located near the High Battery in downtown Charleston, is widely recognized as one of America’s most important neoclassical structures. The Foundation purchased this National Historic Landmark in 1955, and the house served as the Foundation’s headquarters for 37 years. Today, the interiors are restored to their original 1808 grandeur and surrounded by formal gardens.

Nathaniel Russell was born in Bristol, Rhode Island. He settled in Charleston at the age of 27 in 1765, when Charleston was a bustling seaport. By 1774, Charleston boasted a per capita of wealth nearly four times that of all the American colonies. Russell’s career as a merchant involved the shipment of cargoes to and from New England, the West Indies, South America, Virginia, Great Britain, continental Europe, West Africa and Asia.

While most of his profits came from the exportation of staples such as Carolina Gold rice, indigo, tobacco and cotton, Russell handled a broad range of imported goods. He also participated in the African slave trade both before and after the American Revolution.

In 1788 Russell married Sarah Hopton (1752-1832), daughter of one of Charleston’s wealthiest pre-Revolutionary era merchants. Two daughters were born to the Russells, Alicia in 1789 and Sarah in 1792. The house remained in the Russell family until 1857 when it was purchased by Governor R.F.W. Allston (1801-1864) and his wife, Adele Petigru (1810-1896). Later, after serving as a school for the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy from 1870-1905, the Russell House was converted back to a private residence. It remained so until 1955, when the Foundation purchased the site and opened the house for public tours.

Candlelight Tour of Nathaniel Russell House – 6:00 Tour

December 2 @ 6:00 pm6:45 pm

Enjoy a Candlelight Tour of the Nathaniel Russell House

Step back in time to witness the romance of the day’s end and the flicker of flame in this stately early 19th-century townhouse.

Gain insight into the role of the house decor in providing opportunities for illumination. Appreciate the challenges of life before modern lighting while experiencing the beautifully lit house.

The 45-minute candlelight visits use LED candles for the safety of our guests and of the house museum and its collection.

TICKETS:
Adult: $25

Buy Tickets

Charleston’s Hidden Alleys

Exploring Three Narrow Alleys: Philadelphia Alley, Longitude Lane and Stoll’s Alley

by Amy Tankersley

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The Dock Street Theatre with St Phillips Church in the background.

There are 3 public streets that don’t look like streets- they are so narrow, that people often walk right past them. They were not originally planned streets- they were short-cuts, footpaths, or alleys between 2 “real streets”. Over time, houses were built along them, and they remained narrow, and eventually they were officially made public streets. Parts of them get almost no sun, making it delightful to walk on a hot summer day. Start early in the day, because if you follow the entire adventure, I can keep you busy for hours.

History Tour in front of the French Huguenot Church.

History Tour in front of the French Huguenot Church.

Philadelphia Alley is hard to find, so read this carefully.  Find the block which is bordered by Cumberland St on the north, State St. on the east, Queen St. on the south, and Church St. on the west. The north end of Philadelphia Alley is on Cumberland and the south end of Philadelphia Alley is on Queen St. If you end up on State St., go take a book from the Little Free Library in front of 46 State St. The building is pink.  If you get thirsty, grab a soda from the convenience store at the corner of Cumberland and State. The Martschink Building at 26 Cumberland is across from the north end of the Alley. The Footlight Players Theater at 20 Queen St. is next to the south end. Inside the Alley, look for the plaque on the west wall that explains why it’s called Philadelphia Alley.

Philadelphia Alley

Philadelphia Alley

To get to the other 2 alleys, go to the intersection of Church and Queen and head south on Church. But wait. Look north and photograph the steeple of St. Phillips Episcopal Church. Then go a few feet south on Church St and stop to photograph the pink and black church of Gothic Revival architecture.  This is The French Huguenot Church. They were Calvinist Presbyterians who were being persecuted by the Catholic French Monarchy, and many escaped and came here. Then look at the Dock Street Theater across the street. I love the detail work at the top of the columns and the teal-colored iron-work. All that in just a few feet.  Continue south on Church St. By now you have guessed why it’s called Church St., I hope. Get your camera out, because you will cross Chalmers Street, one of the few ballast-stone streets still uncovered.  While at that intersection, make a reminder to come back to it later, and see The Old Slave Mart Museum, at #6 Chalmers St, dedicated to African-American History and Culture. (It’s between Church and State.) Or maybe go to it immediately, and find the other alleys later. It’s your adventure, after all. The building was a slave brokerage house run by a slave broker named Thomas Ryan in the 1850’s. Listen to voice recordings of former slaves who gave oral autobiographies in the 1930’s. They were very old by then. Read about how some slaves cleverly influenced their own sale to their advantage. They are not open on Sundays.

Slave Mart Museum

Slave Mart Museum

If you go to the museum first, then return to the intersection of Chalmers and Church, and continue south on Church St.  You will get to a main east/west street called Broad St. You will wait for your crossing signal and then cross, and continue south on Church St. You will now enter a really charming area of houses from the 1700’s and 1800’s. Slow down to look at each house. Look on the left for goat.sheep.cow at 106 Church St, and run inside for a sandwich. The house at #105 Church St is so adorable, it looks like a sweet, shabby little granny. I would never re-paint it. You’ll see what I mean. Keep going south on Church St. Cross the next street and look at the cute bridal shop on the left. Then you’ll get into one of my favorite sections. Stop and stand still in front of #97 Church St. Those 3 houses in a row- #’s 95,97 and 99. They were all built at the same time in 1907, by a developer, in a late Victorian Style.

Longitude Lane

Longitude Lane

They are the youngsters on the block, because their neighbors across the street are 1700’s. Move south to admire the cool building at 89/91 Church St., built in 1783. Look at the cool arched tunnel going to the back courtyard. This was a popular style for apartment buildings. This building was one of the inspirations for the opera “Porgy and Bess”. Ladies, go inside the shop on the left and see if they are still selling those adorable $15.00 blouses. I have two.  The next house at #87 Church St was the home of Thomas Heyward, Jr., who was one of the 4 South Carolina signers of The Declaration of Independence. George Washington stayed there as his guest in 1791. How cool is all that? It is a house museum, and on a whim, maybe you could run in and get a tour if you are there at starting time- I think they do it every half hour. Either way, you’ll eventually continue south on Church St.  Cross Tradd St, continuing to go slow and take pictures of houses. Right after #74 is the next narrow alley, Longitude Lane.

Stoll's Alley

Stoll’s Alley

Look up and you’ll see the green street sign. Walk down it and back again, it’s only a block long, and very charming. It dates to the mid 1700’s. Return to Church St. and continue south.  At #54 Church St, you’ll get to the 3rd one, and my favorite, Stoll’s Alley. Look up and you’ll see the green street sign. This ancient brick passage was once called “Pilot’s Alley”, a reference to the maritime nature of the waterfront, and probably because harbor pilots lived there. Later, it was named for Justinus Stoll, who built #7 Stoll’s Alley around 1745. It degenerated into a slum by the 1920’s, and has since been rehabilitated. Walk all the way down the narrow end where it gets to 5 feet wide. Have you ever been on a public street that was 5 feet wide? Reach out your arms and touch the walls on either side of the street. On the hottest summer day, it feels like air-conditioning in there. Almost to the end, is # zero Stoll’s Alley, an apartment built into the high basement of a house on East Bay St. In a few more feet, pop out into the sunshine of East Bay St.

Along Stoll's Alley...

Along Stoll’s Alley…

At this point, either of these 2 options would be fun:
The first would be to run across East Bay Street, and head south along the seawall looking over the harbor and if the tide is out, there is a small triangle beach. At the second post of the railing, the wall has a foothold, so you can climb over and walk in the sand. Look for dolphins. The seawall will take you all the way down to White Point Gardens at the very end of the peninsula. The second would be to return back down Stoll’s Alley to Church St. and head south. Water Street will cross here. Water Street is a landfill. It used to be a tidal creek named Vanderhorst Creek until the early 1800’s.

Church Street

Church Street

This is why Church St. is crooked at this point. It does a slight “dogleg” to the right and continues south. At this point, Church Street is a brick street and very charming. It will cross Atlantic St, and in one more block, it will end at White Point Gardens at the very end of the peninsula. Both of these options take you to the same park. Look for the monument dedicated to pirates who were hanged in that area in 1718. The Pirate Blackbeard (real name was Edward Teach), came to Charleston that same year, but escaped and was killed in North Carolina. But enough of being on your feet. Go find a bench or a grassy spot and lay down for a nap. Imagine- this adventure started as a quest for 3 alleys, and included museums, shopping, food, a beach. Is it any wonder that I consider Charleston to be The Greatest City In The World ???

Welcoming the New Year by looking to the past….

Today is the first day of 2016 and social media is full of well wishes for the year ahead. It is supposed to be out with the old and in with the new but it is also a time to take stock of the past and reflect on how far we have come. Looking through an old Knoth family photo album, I stumbled upon a vintage New Year’s greeting card from the Milford Plantation, pictured on the front of the card.

 

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This unexpected visit to New Years Days past prompted me to dig a little deeper into the history behind the Milford Plantation and the Knoth connection to it.  The card was sent (we think in the 1940’s) to my husband’s grandfather, Robert Knoth by Emory Clark who was the owner of the plantation at the time.  Robert Knoth was a Forest Engineer and Land Surveyor for private landowners in South Carolina and managed the timber on the plantation.  Emory Clark inherited the Milford Plantation from his Aunt, Mary Clark Thompson.  Mary Clark Thompson purchased the house in 1923 from the Manning family. The house was originally built in 1839 by Nathaniel P. Potter for future South Carolina governor John Lawrence Manning and his bride, Susan Frances Hampton. According to the South Carolina Department of Archives & History  it is considered one of the most outstanding Greek Revival plantation homes in the South. Having escaped being burned by General W. T. Sherman’s troops, it remains a museum piece of the traditional antebellum south.  As noted by on the South Carolina Plantations website, it “bears a striking resemblance to the old Charleston Hotel in Charleston, which is not surprising since Millford’s builder, Nathaniel P. Potter, was an understudy for the hotel’s architect, Charles, F Reichardt.”

200 meeting street

The Charleston Hotel (200 Meeting Street) Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

The Charleston Hotel (200 Meeting Street) was constructed c. 1838, demolished 1960. The Hotel was a magnificent Greek Revival structure with giant order Corinthian columns probably designed by the Prussian-born architect Charles F. Reichardt. The demolition of the hotel c. 1960 for the construction of a one-story motor lodge, Heart of Charleston Motor Inn, prompted Charlestonians to push for an expansion of the city’s historic district. The current building on the site, Bank of America Place, was constructed in 1989-90. Designed in the modern classic style by Aubry Architects, a Florida architectural firm, this large bank building with a raised multistory portico harkens back to its predecessor on this site.

Bank of America Building at 200 Meeting Street photo courtesy of The Beach Company.

Bank of America Building at 200 Meeting Street photo courtesy of The Beach Company.

Near the end of the Civil War, the Millford residence was threatened with destruction by Union troops on April 19, 1865, but was saved by the intervention of their commander, Brigadier General Edward E. Potter of New York. His exchange with Governor Manning was recorded as follows:

Potter: This is a fine structure.
Manning: Well, the house was built by a Potter (Nathaniel Potter, the architect) and it looks as though it will be destroyed by a Potter.
Potter: No, you are protected. Nathaniel Potter was my brother.[6]
When General Potter spared Millford, he did not know that Manning had a copy of the Articles of Secession in his desk. The story of Millford’s survival might have ended quite differently had he known.

The mansion was donated in December 2008 to the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, a foundation established by Jenrette to: “Preserve, protect and open to the public examples of classical American residential architecture, fine and decorative arts of the first half of the 19th century.” Millford continues to be open to the public the first Saturday of every month. Guests can spend an afternoon at this idyllic historic site – visiting the house, exploring the gardens, and having a picnic on the grounds. Admission is $15 per person (16 and under are free).  For more information click here.

For Directions from Charleston to the Millford Plantation and a downloadable map, click here.

Millford Plantation photo courtesy of

Millford Plantation photo courtesy of The Historic American Buildings Survey

Christmas Craft Ideas from Marion Square

Bottle-Bells for Christmas
by Amy Tankersley

You’ve got your “Nature Lovers”, your “Environmentalists”, your “Recycle Freaks”, and your “Arts-n-Crafts Geeks”, (each in varying degrees).  I am all of those, especially Arts-n-Crafts, which, in my opinion, is a REASON TO LIVE.  And when Christmas rolls around, my pulse quickens and my scalp tingles, as I break out the glue and glitter.  My poor husband groans and claims that glitter shortens the life of his vacuum cleaner.  I always say, “Husband, there is no life without glitter. You can always buy a new vacuum cleaner.” And to prove my point, I wrote a poem about it.

Has Christmas got boring? Is your life sad and bitter?
It’s your own fault, you know. Don’t be a couch sitter.

Stop watching “Three’s Company”. Say bye to John Ritter.
Get off your phone and forget about twitter.

Do Arts-n-Crafts. Be a creative critter.
Cuz everything looks great in spray paint and glitter.

What does this have to do with you? Follow my train of thought here: If you’ve made the wise decision to come here to T.G.C.I.T.W. (Charleston, SC) during the holidays, then go up to Marion Square and see the lights.  The giant Christmas Tree light cone is so cool to walk inside and look up.  Marion Square is bordered on 3 sides by King Street on the west, Calhoun Street on the South and Meeting Street on the East.  For two hours of free parking, go to CharlestonArts.org. There’s a parking garage on King St. facing the park, and it’s in between The Francis Marion Hotel, and St. Matthews Lutheran Church. I won’t say ”you can’t miss it” because it’s a pain in the Aspen to find, but it’s there.  If you’re hungry and thirsty, a new restaurant on Calhoun St., facing the park, makes killer fish tacos and serves excellent craft beers.  Their coasters even say, “Get your fizzy yellow beer off this coaster”.  They are on the 2nd or 3rd floor, and have balcony seating looking over the park. CarolinaAleHouse.com.

IMG_0732Back to Marion Square…there are some real christmas trees set up with ornaments made from recycled cans, bottles, and other cool stuff. Well, you know me- I went bonkers. I took pictures, wrote notes, and raced home to pull plastic soda bottles out of the recycle bin. I’ve made “bottle bells”, and they are adorable, if I do say so myself.

If you’re staying through New Years, sign up for one of my Holiday History Walking tours, and pray for temps below the 70’s, cuz I’m gonna wear a period dress of green velvet, so if I swoon, someone please catch me. I’ll have some of my bottle bells on display, and if you beg nicely, I might give you one. I’m also thinking of all of us singing christmas carols (I’ll bring music), and hot apple cider.

Have a Super Sparkly Holiday, Amy

A Charleston Must Visit Eatery: Butcher & Bee

No trip to Charleston would be complete without at least one stop at the lunch and late night craft sandwich spot, Butcher & Bee.  The industrial style seating and communal tables fit right in with the aesthetic of this popular spot on upper King Street.   The menu is updated daily and is artfully presented on a large chalk board as you enter.  They serve lunch daily which includes locally sourced ingredients and many vegetarian options.  And if you are looking for a healthy alternative to fast food after a night out on the town, look no further.  Butcher & Bee is open until 3am on Friday and Saturday nights and is BYOB.  On our latest visit, we tried the Veggie Burger made with beets, which is definitely the brightest, not to mention most unique and tastiest veggie burger I have ever tried.  Sticking to the vegetarian theme, we tried the Mushroom “Dip”, the vegetarian version of the French Dip made with a thick french roll, 4 different kinds of sautéed wild mushrooms, melted gruyere, and a side of mushroom “jus” for dipping the whole thing in.  I promise you won’t miss the meat!  Butcher & Bee is kind of off the beaten path if you are staying in the historic district, so if you are not renting a car, hail one of the bicycle cabs from the downtown area.  And if you are in the area and looking for breakfast, do try The Daily by Butcher & Bee which is just across the lot.  They serve the best breakfast sandwiches and coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters.  Oh, and if you do go to The Daily, don’t forget to pick up a jar of their Smoked Onion Jam to take home with you. It is great added to your favorite sandwich or just on its own!

A History of Christmas in Charleston

Charleston’s Christmas Past
by Amy Tankersley

Every Christmas season, we all do our usual holiday routine: shopping for gifts, wrapping gifts, planning the big dinner, putting up the tree, sending out cards, the list goes on. Christmas might end up being exactly the same from year to year, if it wasn’t for one important variable- HISTORY. Every year, your life and your family’s lives have changed. Deaths, births, marriages, divorces, new jobs, lost jobs, re-locating, etc.  Big events of the previous year in your town, state, and country are also in the back of your mind.  And every Christmas, in those quiet moments between the holiday hustle and bustle, most of us do reflect back over the year that’s gone by. I often wonder what would have been on the minds of Charlestonians in the past during the yuletide seasons of important years of Charleston’s history….

“Charles Towne” was founded in April of 1670, but their voyage began 8 months earlier in August of 1669, when a group of 3 ships left England. Why so long to reach the “Carolina Lands”? Because of money, business, and bad weather. The venture was financed by a group of investors during the reign of King Charles II, and the ships had orders to stop in several places to take on more passengers and attract more investors, and these stops lasted days or weeks. And so, they went to Ireland, then down to Barbados in the Caribbean, arriving in late October, and staying till February of 1670. Barbados was an english colony that had been settled a few decades before, and some of their people wanted to join the “Carolina Expedition”.

Christmas 1669, in Barbados: A tropical Christmas had to feel strange for these people from England’s cold climate. Also, the anticipation of the wilderness they knew lay ahead in Carolina, must have weighed heavily on their minds.  They left Barbados in February, making stops at other islands with English colonies, and arrived in Charles Towne in April 1670, and started building a wooden fort. In August, they successfully fought off an attempt by the Spanish to destroy them.

Christmas 1670, in Charles Towne: The weather was cooler than last year’s Christmas in Barbados, but still much warmer than an English Christmas. Fear of the Spanish was always at the back of their minds as they spent this first year building a settlement.  The colony grew and prospered, despite setbacks like hostile Indian attacks, more trouble from the Spanish and French, hurricanes, fires, and epidemics of malaria and yellow fever. In the first decade of the 1700’s, they built a defensive wall around the city. In 1715, 100 white settlers were massacred by Indians. In 1718, Edward Teach, (AKA the pirate “Blackbeard”), blockaded the narrow mouth of the harbor with 4 ships, and held the city under siege as he looted all ships coming and going for several days.  Christmases in those years would have been accompanied by worry, grief, and fear.

Now, let’s jump ahead to the American Revolution.

1775: The newly-appointed Royal Governor, Lord William Campbell, abandoned his post and fled the city after only 3 months, as anti-british sentiment and intimidation grew stronger. For many, Christmas would have been tainted by worries over the growing political divide among Carolinians, as Patriots and Loyalists grew farther apart.

1776: South Carolina declared itself an independent state in March. In June, the Charlestonians successfully defeated an attack of British Warships in the harbor. In July, in Philadelphia, the 4-man delegation from South Carolina voted in favor of, and signed, The Declaration of Independence. In August, the news reached Charles Towne.

Christmas of 1776: Imagine your country in transition, your world turned upside down, fear and worry over who will win this war. If the British win, the punishments would be severe.  In May of 1780, The British captured Charles Towne, and held it as an occupied city for the last 2 and a half years of the war. 3 of the 4 South Carolina signers of The Declaration of Independence were imprisoned by the British until the end of the war, and released. Charlestonians were made to suffer during the occupation.  Spirits were low during that period, and Christmas would have been difficult for many, as properties were siezed, deaths mounted, and hopes faded.  But we know the outcome- we won. During 1782, patriots won more and more battles, and the British slowly retreated. On Dec 14, 1782, the last British forces evacuated the city.

Christmas of 1782: It was a wild, happy, delirious time. Church bells rang for days, as crowds of celebrating revellers roamed the streets of the city, and parties were non-stop. In my earlier Blog posting, you’ll see that Middleton Place Plantation’s holiday program includes a celebration of that happy historic Christmas, and would be well worth going to. I should also add that I am what they call an “Anglo-phile”, which is someone who loves all things British- the history, the literature, the movies, and above all else- the sexy accent. So I welcome guests from “The Mother Country” to Charleston; the Most “English” of all American Cities.

Now, I will jump ahead to the Civil War.

Political divisions grew over the decades over the issues of slavery and states’ rights. On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina seceeded from The Union, the first state to do so, creating a tense national political climate. Christmas of 1860 reflected that period of uncertainty. Look at my earlier Blog Posting about the “moving play” at The Edmonston Alston House that illustrates the situation during that period. I went to it last year, and it is very good.  Over the next few months, 6 more states seceeded from the Union and joined South Carolina to form a new country; The Confederate States of America.  On April 12, 1861, the opening battle of The Civil War took place in Charleston Harbor. The war lasted 4 years, ending in April of 1865. For White Southerners, Christmas of 1865 was probably the most difficult in history, but for Black Southerners, it was the promise of a new life of freedom. The Reconstruction Era was a difficult period; in some ways, worse than the war itself. The hard feelings on all sides, north/south, black/white, faded somewhat, but never fully healed. That war ended 150 years ago, but as we have all seen in the news this year, “The Race War” is not over. It even seems to have gotten worse. It has weighed heavily on my own mind, especially since June 17, 2015.  Around 9 pm on that day, a crazed maniac named Dylan Roof murdered 9 black members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. I had been at the library till closing that day, doing research for my walking tours about Charleston’s hidden gardens. The Library is a few yards from that church. In time and distance, I came uncomfortably close to crossing paths with him. Being white, I suppose I wasn’t a target for him, but still, a monster is a monster.  After that day, I changed my library research from gardens to Charleston’s slave history, and it has been eye-opening. On my walking tours, I’ve had a few black tourists since that day, but they haven’t asked me about the slayings. I guess the topic is too sensitive. One lady (white) said it was too uncomfortable for her. But I want everyone to know that I welcome a discussion of any part of Charleston’s history, the good and the bad. I always say, Don’t be afraid of History. Talk about it. Learn from it. Or you’ll be doomed to repeat it.  This Christmas, I ask everyone to stop thinking about all that ridiculous shopping for awhile, and give some thought to these important problems, the solving of which will be a step towards peace on earth.

This Christmas, I will be giving 2 walking tours on Christmas Day. Come join me. See what I will be wearing. (It’s gonna be a “doozy”) Ask me uncomfortable questions.

From T.G.C.I.T.W., Amy

Classic Southern Christmas Recipes

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A Classic Southern Christmas Pie
by Amy Tankersley

If you go on my walking tour, you’ll burn up enough calories to break even at the end of the day after eating a piece (or two) of this Lowcountry holiday staple. And when you see me, don’t ask for any baking tips, because I don’t cook. I got this recipe from one of the free publications you can pick up anywhere in town, “Charleston Gateway”.  But I have eaten this pie, and so I am qualified to say, “It’s Fabulous”.

Chess Pie

Pie crust for one crust pie
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter or margarine, melted
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, lightly beaten

Fit pie crust into a 9 inch pie plate, fold edges under, and crimp.  Bake at 425 degrees for 4 to 5 minutes, using pie weights (or dried beans), in
aluminum foil-lined crust. Remove weights and foil, and bake 2 more minutes or until golden. Cool.  Stir together next 8 ingredients until blended. Add eggs, stirring well.  Pour into pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes, shielding edges with aluminum after 10 minutes to prevent excessive browning.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

Do you see what I mean? I could build a treehouse faster than that, and I have built a few. I mean, whoever heard of a “pie weight”? But if creating a great mixed drink counts as a “domestic skill”, then I am saved. Mix up this bad-boy and serve it to your significant other one chilly night, and see what happens.

Cranberry Christmas Toddy

You’ll need Cranberry Juice Cocktail, an apple, cinnamon sticks, and Bourbon.  Heat up the juice on the stove, and put in cinnamon sticks and cut-up apple chunks.  Heat until you think the apples and cinnamon flavors are infused into the juice.  Pour into 2 mugs, leaving plenty of room to top off with bourbon. I suppose you could use another liquor if you want, but I don’t want to hear about it. I will
assume you have already created the proper setting. Fire is crucial- whether a real fireplace, or lots of candles. Music is mandatory. Now “Make Merry”.

Wishing you Yuletide Cheer,
Amy

Christmas in Charleston – Events and Plantations

DSC_1311If my other two lists of events and things to do in Charleston for Christmas were not enough, here are more!

Dickens Dinner at Circa 1886
149 Wentworth St.
843-853-7828 circa1886.com
“Travel back in time as storyteller Tim Lowry takes guests to Victorian England
for a lively retelling of the beloved ‘A Christmas Carol’. The performance is accompanied by a four course dinner inspired by the novel.” Circa 1886 is the name of a restaurant on the grounds of The Wentworth Mansion. The house was built in 1886 in the “Second Empire” style of architecture, which was popular in the U.S. from the 1850’s to the 1890’s. The owner was Francis Silas Rogers, who made his fortune in cotton. If you go to this dinner, it will probably already be after dark.  So go back in the daylight to get a really good look at the house. It is absolutely gorgeous, my favorite mansion in the city. On the corner of Wentworth St. and Smith St. Seriously, go look at it.

The Sound of Charleston
A live concert held at a church. Special Holiday Edition.
Music of The Civil War, light classical, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz, Gershwin.
Dec 2, 11, 18, 26, 30 at 7 pm
843-270-4903 www.soundofcharleston.com
adults $28, seniors $26, students $16
The Circular Congregational Church
150 Meeting St.
If you go, it will already be dark. I insist that you go back and look at this church in daylight. The building is from 1892, and the congregation calls it “our new church building”. That is because it is the 4th building on site. The first one was in 1681. Those first 3 burned down in fires. This “new” building was built in the “Romanesque” style of architecture, a style that imitated medieval roman buildings. I take my walking tour on a short cut through their graveyard. Awesome-looking building, so go look at it.

Two more things for Kids:

The South Carolina Aquarium
100 Aquarium Wharf Chas, SC 29401
843-577-3474 scaquarium.org
A cool aquarium that showcases marine life of South Carolina from the mountains to the sea. Kids, Kids, Kids.
Special Holiday movie in 4-D, ”The Polar Express”
Kids will love the petting tank.

Children’s Museum of The Lowcountry
Winter Wonderland
25 Ann St
Dec 21 to 31
843-853-8962, ext 221 www.explorecml.org

And now, here are 5 Plantations that are open year-round and I’m pretty sure all of them have some special holiday extra events going on. They are off the lower peninsula, so you will need a car. Three of them are on the same road:

Drayton Hall
3380 Ashley River Rd. Chas. SC 29414 www.draytonhall.org
843-769-2600 843-769-2638
Drayton Hall (1738) is holding their annual holiday event: “Spirituals Concert”
African-American spiritual music Dec 5, 6, and 12 3 pm- 5 pm

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
3550 Ashley River Rd Chas, SC 29414
843-571-1266 800-367-3517
www.magnoliaplantation.com

Middleton Place
4300 Ashley River Rd. Chas, SC 29414
800-782-3608 843-556-6020
www.MiddletonPlace.org
Middleton Place is presenting “Grand Illumination: Christmas 1782” on Dec 17, 18, 19
Arthur Middleton was one of the 4 South Carolina signers of The Declaration of Independence. The Christmas of 1782 was extremely festive, because the Revolutionary War was ending and the British were leaving. Arthur Middleton had spent a year in a british prison and was now released and coming home. Re-enactors tell the story by firelight. I drove the horse drawn carriages at Middleton Place for a year, and so I can state from experience, that their special events are definitely worth attending. One time, they were having a musket-firing demonstration that I almost wasn’t told about, that would occur near where I would be dropping people off. Horses don’t like gunshots. A barn hand came running to divert my route to another area. All went well, and I was able to get my 2 horses off the carriage, and into their stalls in the barn before the guns went off.

This next one is on James Island:

McLeod Plantation
325 Country Club Dr. Chas, SC 29412
843-795-4386 CharlestonCountyParks.com

And east of the Cooper River:

Boone Hall Plantation
1235 Long Point Rd. Mount Pleasant, SC 29464
843-884-4371 boonehallplantation.com
Boone Hall is doing a holiday extravaganza called “A Lowcountry Christmas”. From the photos in the newspaper it will be quite a thing to see, and this is the first year they’ve done it. The website is alowcountrychristmas.com

All of these plantations have gardens, walks along the river, tours of the Plantation House, and programs that tell you about the lives of the residents in the 1700s and 1800s, both black and white. Crafts such as pottery, spinning wheel, and blacksmith are demonstrated. Farm animals to pet, food to eat, gift shops to browse. Get yourselves out to one of these plantations no matter what time of year. There are actually more christmas events in the outer lying areas, but I have run out of steam. Come visit. I am doing 2 walking tours on Christmas Day, so come join me.
Your loyal servant, Amy

Christmas in Charleston – Theater and Music

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Footlight Players Theater

In my last post I mentioned that it is oyster season. In the City Paper today was an ad for a shop on King Street that sells tabletop christmas trees made from oyster shells, and they are very cute. Other oyster shell things I’ve seen in shops include christmas ornaments, picture frames, candle holders, and chandeliers.  Historically, oyster shells were used in a type of concrete called “Tabby” that they used to build defensive fortifications. Who knew that such a homely shell would become a classic Charleston icon?

And now, cool “Christmas-y” stuff to do that costs money. But like they say, “you can’t take it with you”, so be a good American and leave it here. Most of these next events will definitely appeal to adults and maybe teenagers who can appreciate things like live theater, making it worth the money. But for families with small children, the concern is obviously whether the child will be interested enough to pay attention, justifying the cost of taking them. I’ll try to keep that in mind as I list each event, but parents can also check websites and decide for themselves.

Charleston Stage Theater Company (estab. 1978) in residence at the historic Dock Street Theater
135 Church St. (843) 577-7183 or 577-5967
www.charlestonstage.com.
Parking garage at 90 Cumberland St. Mention code ”RCWINTER” to get half-price tickets.  I walk by this gorgeous building on my walking tour and tell about it’s origins in 1736. Just to see the inside is almost worth a ticket price. Ask me about its weird connection to Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. For December, they have 2 great christmas plays for both kids and adults. The first is “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”, the classic story of The Herdmans, the worst kids in town.  The second is “A Christmas Story”, based on the classic movie about Ralphie, who wanted a Red Ryder Air Rifle (“You’ll shoot your eye out !”) and his father’s “major award”, a hideous leg lamp (“F-R-A-G-I-L-E, Frageelee, it must be Italian”)

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Philadelphia Alley

The Footlight Players Theater Company (estab. 1931)(They’re in their 84th year, folks!)
20 Queen St.  (843) 722-7521 or 722-4487 or 723-7334
www.footlightplayers.net
A quirky little theater-only 50 seats, adults and kids alike will love it. Volunteer audience participation. Book and gift shop. This old brick building was an “antebellum” (meaning it pre-dates The Civil War) warehouse. It’s a 5-minute walk from The Dock Street Theater. On the left side of the building you’ll see a shadowy brick-n-stone ally. It is actually a public street named “Philadelphia Ally” that is only one block long, from Queen St. to Cumberland St. Walk down it and look for the plaque on the wall that tells about its history. Their Christmas productions are “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Black Fedora”. Parking garage at 90 Cumberland St.

Comedy Mystery Theater. “The Kriss Kross” A merry madcap mystery- clean humor for families. Hilarious “whodunit” mysteries.
164 Church St. Chas, SC 29401
(843) 937-6453 www.CharlestonMysteries.com

Charleston Music Hall
37 John St.  800-514-3849 or 843-853-2252 or 843-416-8453
CharlestonMusicHall.com
“The Charleston Christmas Special” produced by Brad and Jennifer Moranz is a high energy song and dance production with comedy skits. Family Fun.Dec 5th through 20th.
Also at the Charleston Music Hall:
Jazz Artists of Charleston presents The Charleston Jazz Orchestra’s annual “Holiday Swing” Big Band arrangements of favorite tunes.

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The new Gaillard Center

The Gaillard Center
95 Calhoun St. Chas, SC 29401 843-242-3099
www.gaillardcenter.com Interesting fact: The Gaillard Center sits on the location of an old village named “Middlesex”. When the city built the first Gaillard Auditorium in the 1960’s, some houses in bad shape were torn down, but some were relocated to vacant lots throughout the city. And so the old village of “Middlesex” is now disbursed all over Charleston.  Shows throughout December include Charlotte Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”, the Vienna Boys Choir, Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s “Holy City Messiah”from Handel’s “Messiah” and “Holiday Swing”.  Check the website for dates and times.

The Sottile Theater
44 George St. or 327 King St. (it’s on the corner)
The Sottile Theater building has an interesting history. First it was a building from 1855 built by a german grocer. In 1923, an add-on was built, and the whole complex became The Gloria Theater, where a 1939 premier of ”Gone With The Wind” was shown. Charlestonian actress Alicia Rhett attended. She played the role of India Wilkes. Her ancestor, Col. William Rhett, is where Rhett Butler’s first name came from. I walk past his grave on my walking tour and tell about him. Remodeled in the 1990’s and named after Albert Sottile, the “theater king” of the early 20th century.  Below are some of their Holiday Productions.  Please consult the website for times and dates.
The Charleston Ballet presents “The Nutcracker”
843-469-2080 www.charlestonballet.com
“Little Match Girl” Ballet performance
843-864-4809 www.charlestondanceinstitute.com
“Night Before Christmas” is a classical kids concert and sing along presented by Chamber Music Charleston
wwwchambermusiccharleston.com
843-763-4941

Thirty Four West Theater Co. A 60-seat venue with snacks and drinks for adults.
200 Meeting St. Chas, SC 29401
843-901-9343 34west.org is presenting a comedy called the “Jingle Bell Hop”

The Village Repertory Company in residence at The Woolfe St. Playhouse
34 Woolfe St.
843-856-1579 www.woolfestreetplayhouse.com presents “The Santaland Diaries” based on David Sedaris’ book. I’ve read it. He’s hilarious, and not for kids.

Pure Theater The upper King St. area is the new hip place to be. Find out what Pure is doing this season.
477 King St.
843-723-4444 puretheater.org

Threshold Repertory Theater is a high-caliber live theater in an intimate setting. These little theaters are so cool, so see what they are doing this month.
84 Society St.
843-277-2172 charlestontheater.com

Theater 99 Charleston’s home for Improv comedy. Adults. Wed, Fri, and Sat. nights.
280 Meeting St.
843-853-6687 theater99.com

Edmondston-Alston House presents “Christmas 1860 Holiday Candlelight Tour” This is a year-round house museum built in 1825. I walk past it on my walking tour. The play is a “moving play”. The audience moves from room to room, as the actors ”come to life” and speak their parts. Christmas of 1860 was very significant, because on Dec 20, 1860, South Carolina seceeded from the Union, the first state to do so. So that Christmas season was a politically tense period. Over the next few months, 6 more states joined them to form “The Confederate States of America”, and The Civil War began in Charleston Harbor in April of 1861. I went to it last year and loved it. It’s for adults who are history buffs.
21 East Battery
843-722-7171 or 843-556-6020
www.edmondstonalston.org
www.middletonplace.org
Two fridays- Dec 4 and 11 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.

Some of the other house museums might be doing something extra for the holidays, so if you are a history nut like me, look them up. I walk past 4 of these year-round house museums on my walking tour. Here’s a list:
Aiken-Rhett House 48 Elizabeth St. www.historiccharleston.org
Joseph Manigault House 350 Meeting St. www.charlestonmuseum.org
Heyward-Washington House 87 Church St. www.charlestonmuseum.org
Nathaniel Russell House 51 Meeting St. www.historiccharleston.org
Calhoun Mansion 16 Meeting St.

Here are some other museums to check out, and see if they are doing anything special for christmas.
The Charleston Museum 360 Meeting St. www.charlestonmuseum.org
Children’s Museum 25 Ann St. www.explorecml.org
Confederate Museum 188 Meeting St.
The Powder Magazine 79 Cumberland St. www.powdermag.org I love this one
Old Slave Mart Museum 6 Chalmers St. www.oldslavemart.org I love this one
Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon 122 East Bay St. www.oldexchange.org love this one

More later, Amy

Christmas in Charleston – Free Events

DSC_1289by Amy Tankersley

In Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic tale, “A Christmas Carol”, Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by 3 spirits:

  • The Ghost of Christmas Past
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present
  • The Ghost of Christmas Future

Well, I’m going to write about “A Charleston Christmas” in reverse order:

  • Charleston Christmas Future (2015)
  • Charleston Christmas Present (2015)
  • Charleston Christmas Past (you’ll see)

“Charleston Christmas Future” is referring to your near-future Christmas Trip to Charleston , TGCITW (The Greatest City In The World), with the highlight of your trip being a walking or carriage tour with us.  If I am lucky enough to be your tour guide, I’ll tell you which well-known symbol of Christmas was introduced by a Charlestonian in the 1800’s. If you twist my arm, I’ll make a slight detour to show you his ancestor’s house from the 1700’s. (When we pass Elliott St., give me a shove and make me turn left) You just make sure to wear comfy shoes as we bee-bop down old colonial streets and burn up a calorie or two.

“Charleston Christmas Present” means all the great “Christmas-y” things to do here during your visit. First things first- it’s Oyster Season. Oysters and shrimp are harvested locally, and so you can expect them to be fresh. Ever been to an Oyster Roast? A classic Charleston winter season activity, it’s usually outdoors. Oysters are roasted and then thrown onto a table. Everyone grabs their oyster knife. You pry open your oysters and eat them with crackers and cocktail sauce washed down with copious amounts of beer, which is served for medicinal purposes only. Accompaniments usually include a number of side dishes, wine or other medicinal beverages to keep you warm (it is chilly outside after all), music, and friends (with or without benefits).

You may also enjoy your oysters in a warm cozy restaurant, so look for them on the menu. All the seafood restaurants do have several good non-seafood items on the menu for the one person in your group who lives an unfortunate, non-seafood life. And now for cool “Christmas-y” stuff to do, let’s start with free things:

The Farmer’s Market at Marion Square. Usually it’s on Saturdays only, but for the holiday season, they are doing it holiday-style on both Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am to 3 pm, at Marion Square for the first 3 weekends in December.  Farm-fresh produce, food, drink, arts, crafts, live entertainment…it’s worth going. Marion Square is bordered on 3 sides by Meeting St., Calhoun St., and King St.
Dec 5-20. 180 Meeting St 843-724-7305 free.
www.charlestonfarmersmarket.com

Second Sunday on King. Dec 13, 1 pm to 5 pm. On the second sunday of every month, King St. is closed to auto traffic and opened up for pedestrians only from Calhoun St. down to Queen St. A lively street fair. It starts at the intersection of King and Calhoun, which is at the southwest corner of Marion Square, so you can go directly from the Farmer’s Market to this event on Dec 13. free.

Art Walk in the French Quarter Fri, Dec 4, 5 pm to 8 pm. Always on the first friday of March, May, October, and December. You stroll from one art gallery to the next and look at art while consuming free wine and appetizers. Amazingly, the art gets more and more gorgeous as you go, no matter which gallery you start at. Free. www.frenchquarterarts.com 843-577-7101 Download a free map from the website.

Chanukah in The Square Sun, Dec 6, 4 pm to 6 pm. Marion Square. Music, dancing, lighting of the 9-foot Menorah by Charleston’s Holocaust survivors, and traditional jewish foods like latkes. Marion Square will really be hopping that day, as this event will follow The Farmer’s Market. (The pigeons will eat well.) Free.
843-724-7305  See their Facebook page here Chanukah in the Square

Holiday Parade of Boats Charleston Harbor. Sat Dec 12, 5 pm to 7:30 pm.  A Charleston Christmas tradition. People can enter their boats in the parade. It’s a flotilla of boats decorated in Christmas lights. It leaves from the Mount Pleasant side of the harbor, at the mouth of the Cooper River, on the east side of the peninsula, and floats around the peninsula to the mouth of the Ashley River on the west side of the Peninsula, and so there is no lack of viewing spots available. This event is awesome. Dress warmly. Free.
843-724-7414 www.charlestonparadeofboats.com

Annual City of Charleston Holiday Parade Sun Dec 6, 2 pm. Starts at Barre St. and Broad St. which is at the western end of Broad. Will proceed east on Broad, and turn left on King St. and head north, ending at King and Calhoun, which is at the southwest corner of Marion Square. Free.
843-724-7305 www.Charleston-sc.gov

Happy New Year in Marion Square Thurs, Dec 31, 4 pm to 10:30 pm. A family-oriented, alternative New Years celebration. Music, comedy, dance, street entertainment, children’s activities. Dress warmly. Free.
843-724-7305 www.charlestonarts.org

These seven events I just listed are all free, and are all in the historic district, walking distance from each other. This next one is not free, but it’s cheap. It is not in the historic district. You’ll need a car. But it’s worth it, so get your tail out there.

Holiday Festival of Lights James Island County Park. Seven nights a week till January 3rd. Sunday through thursday- 5:30 to 10:00 pm
Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11:00 pm
$15.00 per vehicle, (a maximum of 15 people per vehicle)
vehicles with 16-30 people= $40.00
vehicles with 31+ people = $100.00
871 Riverland Dr., Charleston,SC 29412 843-795-4386 or 843-795-7275
www.ccprc.com or CharlestonCountyParks.com
This is a 3-mile, slow-driving adventure through a wonderland of lights.
700 displays, and 2 million lights. One of the top holiday light displays in the country.
You can simply do the drive-through only, or, once inside, you can also park your car at the Winter Wonderland, and do some walking through the Enchanted Forest, ride the train, visit Santa’s Sweet Shoppe, roast marshallows, browse the gift shop, and look at displays like the giant sand sculpture (which is what we use instead of snow to build cool and awesome winter sculptures, cuz, baby, we got sand, and lots of it) You might be waiting in a long line of cars to get in, so go ahead and expect it now . Go Zen. Relax. Have music and pleasant conversation in the car. Tune your radio to 102.5 FM. Don’t get all “road rage-y”. Breathe. Chill. (And go to the bathroom before you go). If you are one of those “ultra A-types” who cannot sit in a long line, please stay in your hotel. This magical winter wonderland is not for you, unless your family can maybe give you a mild sedative and let someone else drive.

Well, that’s some of the free and cheap stuff, and by now, you can see that we don’t need snow to have a great Christmas southern style. In my next post, I will list things that cost money. But spending money is good for the economy, so be a patriotic American, and leave some money behind in Charleston, (TGCITW)

As Tiny Tim said, “God Bless us, everyone”
Later, Amy

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