Charleston is everything we love in a city.
Pedestrian friendly? Check.
Beautiful? Checkity check check check.
The only problem we could find with Charleston is there was too much to see and not enough time to see it all. It is the first place to make our “Gotta get back there list” and we really can’t wait to make it happen. In the meantime, we did our very best to see as much as we could in the short time we had.
We spent one whole day exploring Patriots Point which is located in Mount Pleasant, just across the water from Charleston. Patriots Point is an epic collection of naval history and an absolute must-see if you have even a passing interest in military history. On display are the U.S.S. Yorktown, an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Laffey, a destroyer, the U.S.S. Clamagore, a submarine, numerous warplanes, helicopters, a replica of the Apollo 8 space capsule, a Vietnam War exhibit, and several memorials and monuments to those who have served. I would venture to guess that in the five or six hours we spent there, we probably saw about 50% of what was on display.
We spent the majority of our time on the aircraft carrier, because, well, it was enormous and who doesn’t want to hang out on an aircraft carrier????
The Yorktown was commissioned in 1943 and played a major role in the Pacific during WWII. It was also used during the Vietnam war. In her prime, she carried over 3300 men and 90 planes. The ship is now divided into 5 self guided tours. Visitors can decide which areas they want to see and then follow the corresponding tour. We were impressed with how open and accessible the ship was. We literally went from the Bridge to the engine room (which is an enormous number of stairs, by the way) and only encountered a handful of signs indicating areas that were off limits. For the most part, we could go wherever we wanted to go.
Of course, the best part was the flight deck. And, since we visited on a rainy, cloudy day, we basically had it to ourselves. Not great for photography, but totally cool for checking things out.
A small sampling of the aircraft sitting on the flight deck…
There were numerous other historic warplanes on the hangar deck below and on the grounds around Patriots Point.
Additionally, crew from the Yorktown picked up the Apollo 8 astronauts after its historic flight, so there was a whole display on that event. They had an Apollo 8 flight simulator which is probably supposed to be for kids, but we took advantage anyway.
We also wandered through the U.S.S. Laffey, a WWII era Destroyer,
And we made a quick visit to the U.S.S. Clamagore, a 322 foot diesel powered submarine that was commissioned in 1945 and decommissioned in 1975.
As we were discussing our belief that crew on submarines live in the toughest conditions of anyone in the Navy, we saw a quote on the wall inside the Clamagore that said “you’re either in a submarine, or you’re in a target.” Point taken. Either way, all of those sailors, past and present, have our respect.
Patriots Point is also one of two launch points for the boats that take visitors out to Fort Sumter. So, in between running around the aircraft carrier and destroyer, we switched gears and entered another era to learn about the opening shots of the Civil War (or “the War of Northern Aggression” or the “Last Great Unpleasentness” depending on who you talk to around here.)
If your 11th grade history is a little fuzzy, like it was for me, Fort Sumter was one of several federally owned forts, built along the eastern seaboard as a result of the War of 1812. After President Lincoln was elected in 1860 and several states voted to secede, control over these federal installations quickly became a flash point. At the time of the secession vote, federal military members were staffed on a nearby fort (Fort Moultrie), but that fort was considered indefensible. So, in late December, 1860, under cover of darkness, Major Robert Anderson moved his men over to Fort Sumter and raised the American flag. Confederate leaders demanded that the Union military leave Sumter and cut off the flow of supplies to the fort.
Four months later, as supplies were running low, and with federal ships headed toward Charleston intending to resupply the fort with men and munitions, confederate forces, under the command of Brigadier General Pierre Beauregard, opened fire. And so began the Civil War. In the end, Fort Sumter was attacked for 34 hours, though miraculously, no one was killed. The Union soldiers eventually surrendered and were granted safe passage to New York. President Lincoln used the incident as a rallying cry for the nation and thousands of northerners signed up for military service.
Fort Sumter would see action several more times during the war and eventually be returned to Union control in February, 1865.
Because there are so many good options in Charleston, we decided to sign up for a food tour with Chow Down Charleston. Our guide took us to six different shops – mostly neighborhood restaurants with their own specialties. From a unique take on a pulled pork sandwich, to grits with a twist, to a savory crepe, to a “fast french” lunch, to some incredibly tasty macarons and truffles, we tried some really great stuff.
We tried a couple other places while we were in town, based on recommendations from friends and our food tour guide. Of note was the restaurant 82 Queen, a well regarded restaurant specializing in traditional southern dishes in a beautiful environment, complete with outdoor garden seating and a cozy, warm interior.
We also checked out Swig & Swine. With a sign like this on the side of the building:
…you can kindof see why Kevin was a fan.
Anyway, the BBQ was fantastic…
Finally, we hit up 5Church, an incredibly cool church converted into a bar in the middle of the City.
In speaking with the bartender, we learned that for many years after the church closed, the stained glass had been boarded up and, at one point, the place was a dive bar of sorts. The new owners removed all the boards, uncovering the beautiful stained glass windows beneath. And someone, god bless him, hand wrote the entire “Art of War” on the ceiling panels.
And you all think WE waste a lot of time….
On our last full day in town, we took a two hour walking tour. We covered a lot of ground and learned a lot about the history, people and architecture that make up this incredible city.
We learned one of the reasons Charleston is so beautiful is that during the last century, when other cities were going crazy with urban renewal projects, Charleston didn’t have the money to build new buildings. As a result, while other cities were tearing down their historic buildings in order to make space for new projects, many Charleston neighborhoods were left alone. Over time, folks began to see the value in these old buildings and attempts at preservation and restoration gained steam.
The City got a blessing in disguise, of sorts, when it suffered major damage during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Federal disaster funds poured into the city and, as a result, owners were able to properly restore their buildings and ensure the properties will remain for many years to come.
Additionally, the Board of Architectural Review keeps close control over everything that goes on in the historic downtown area. This has meant consistency between the buildings and attention to their maintenance.
Walking around Charleston, it is easy to see the value in such oversight.
WHEW! This is the longest post I’ve ever written. Like I said, Charleston has A LOT to see and do and love. Next time we visit, we’ll be sure to plan for weeks rather than days.
Next up: Savannah, Georgia!