AAA Walking Tours in CharlestonExploring Charleston on foot allows you to peek into hidden gardens and walk through churchyards and parks and along cobblestone streets. A city ordinance stating that nothing older than 75 years may be torn down has preserved a city full of meticulously restored buildings, churches and houses, each with its own tale. Plaques from the Preservation Society of Charleston attest to the year in which the owner restored the building to its original state as well as interesting facts about the property and past residents.
Each walking tour will take 2-3 hours, allowing for a leisurely pace and stops for photography and plaque reading. The best way to see the city is to combine the walking tours with stops at the attractions along the way. Names of sites listed in the Attractions section are printed in bold type. Even if you don't tour a listed site, reading the listing when you reach that point will make the tour more interesting.
Park just north of Broad Street on Meeting Street, and walk a few steps south toward the intersection of Meeting and Broad. This intersection is known as The Four Corners of Law—buildings on each corner represent municipal, state, federal and religious law. City Hall, said to be the second oldest in the country, is on your left on the northeast corner; the northwest corner is occupied by Charleston County Courthouse; the southwest corner houses the U.S. Post Office and Federal Court; and the large white church on the southeast corner is St. Michael's Church. The church has an interesting history: During the Revolutionary War, its steeple was used as a target for British ship gunners, and the lead roof was melted to make bullets. Enter the church to see the cedar pews—used by George Washington and Gen. Robert E. Lee—and read the tombstones in its churchyard, where you'll find the graves of John Rutledge and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, two signers of the Constitution.
In front of the post office and church you'll likely see ladies weaving and selling sweetgrass baskets. An African craft, basket making has been practiced throughout the Lowcountry since the 18th century; artisans use indigenous materials—sweetgrass, pine needles, bulrush and strips of palmetto-tree frond—to create the baskets.
Continue south on Meeting past St. Michael's Alley. On your left, the two-story building with the white columns is South Carolina Society Hall, which houses the fraternal and benevolent organization founded by French Huguenots in 1737. The Adamesque building was built in 1804; its portico, columns, dual staircase and iron filigreed railings were added in 1825. Glance up to see the Palladian window at the top of the portico.
To the right at 69 Meeting St. is the three-and-a-half story Adamesque Poyas-Mordecai House, built circa 1788. This is a good (albeit large) example of a single house—meaning that the house is a single room wide. Many Charleston houses were built in this style to make the most of bay breezes in summer. When the front and back doors or windows were open, the breeze would pass through the house and cool it. Note the front door, called a privacy door. It grants access to the porch (called a piazza by Charlestonians), rather than the main house, allowing residents to relax on the porch without interruption from neighbors. The main entrance is off the piazza. In summers past, piazzas served as outdoor living and sleeping spaces and would protect a house's interior from the most intense daytime sun. If the gate is open, peek into the manicured garden fronting the Poyas-Mordecai House's piazzas.
The large bolts on the side of the house are called earthquake bolts—you'll notice them on houses all over the historic district. Charleston sits on the Woodstock Fault in the Middleton Place-Summerville Seismic Zone, and on Aug. 31, 1886, the earth shook with an estimated magnitude of 7 (equivalent to 6 or 7 on today's Richter scale). Two-thirds of the city’s brick buildings were either damaged or destroyed. To save those with large cracks, long rods were inserted completely through the buildings and connected in the middle with a turnbuckle in order to draw the walls into a more upright position.
Walk past Ropemaker's Lane to Tradd Street. On the northwest corner of Tradd and Meeting is the 1750 Branford-Horry House, a fine example of a double house (two rooms wide). The piazza, built over the sidewalk, was added in 1830. Iron railings on the second floor have the same pattern as those at the South Carolina Society Hall.
Turn left and walk down Tradd, a street chock-full of historic properties, many with Preservation Society of Charleston markers. Now that you can recognize single and double houses, practice picking them out among the architectural gems here. Note the shutters; historically, first-floor shutters were solid in order to minimize noise, smells, dust and sunlight. The upper stories were equipped with louvered shutters to catch the refreshing breezes. The narrow lane, gas lamps and hidden gardens make Tradd—which runs the width of the peninsula—one of Charleston's prettiest streets. By looking to the west, you can see the Ashley River, while the Cooper River is visible to the east. The distance from river to river is approximately 1 mile.
When offered for sale in 1770, the advertisement for 61 Tradd St. boasted that it was “new built.” The single house at 60 Tradd St. was built in 1732 by shipbuilder George Ducat for his daughter and her new husband; he also built 56 Tradd St. (made of brick and Bermuda stone) and bequeathed it to his grandson in 1751. The three-and-a-half story brick house at 54 Tradd St. was built circa 1740; the balcony, rescued from a building on State Street, was added in the 1920s. Note the tenement at 51-53 Tradd St.
Take a quick detour onto Church Street by turning left. The three-story brick double house on your left at 87 Church St. is the Heyward-Washington House. Note the hitching posts and stone carriage step (which looks like a cement block) out front. A formal garden (behind the house) is impressive, and the interior features a mantel and four pieces of furniture attributed to Thomas Elfe, a Colonial cabinetmaker. Just a few steps farther, on your left at 89-91 Church St., is Cabbage Row—it's the three-story, gray stucco tenement. Residents gave the building its name by displaying vegetables for sale on the windowsills. You might wonder why a red “Catfish Row” sign dangles out front. In 1924, DuBose Heyward wrote the novel “Porgy,” using the tenement as a model for the fictional Catfish Row. The book served as the basis for George Gershwin's opera “Porgy and Bess.” If you can whistle, now might be a good time for a tune—“summertime, and the livin' is easy.”
Built in 1805 by a merchant, 92 Church St. has served as the rectory of St. Philip's Church since 1908. The middle window on the first level was originally a door; this indicates that it was once a business. (If you look, you'll easily find other houses on this block that were once businesses.) Also notice the boot scrapers in front. Colorful Victorian houses at 93-99 Church St. were built around 1906-07.
Retrace your steps to Tradd Street and continue south on Church Street. On your right at 71 Church St. is the Robert Brewton House. Built in 1721, it is reputedly the oldest single house in the city. Note the quoins (square cornerstones) projecting from the building; the wrought-iron balcony; the key blocks over the windows; and the cornice, which is made from shaped bricks. An 18th-century-style garden is in the rear.
Next door at 69 Church St. is the Richard Capers House, a notable Georgian double house that differs from others in this period because the windows on the third floor are the same height as those on the lower two stories. The house has had various owners and occupants dating from the mid-1700s, including Jacob Motte, who served for 27 years as the Public Treasurer (local banker). Since there were no banks at the time, the Public Treasurer personally held and distributed governmental funds. We assume he also kept busy with his 19 children. Peek into the garden to the left of the house.
A few steps ahead and across the street at 56, 58 and 60 Church St. are three wood frame houses known as the James Veree Houses, named after the local carpenter who built them. First Baptist Church, the large white building with wide columns and an iron fence, is on the right at 61 Church St. The church, dedicated in 1822, is said to be home to the oldest Baptist congregation in South Carolina and is decidedly Greek in style—note the Doric portico and pediment—yet the arches are Roman and the columns are Tuscan. During the Revolutionary War, the building was overtaken by British troops and used to store provisions.
Scared of ghosts? Then walk quickly past the early Georgian Thomas Rose House, 59 Church St.—the ghost of Dr. Joseph Brown Ladd, mortally wounded in a duel in 1786, is said to roam the halls. Continue to the Joseph Ball House, 53 Church St., where there is a great view of the two-story piazza.
Now walk a few steps to Water Street, named after Vanderhorst Creek, which once ran here but was filled after the American Revolution. Thus far along your tour, you have been exploring the section of Charleston known as the walled city. From 1690-1720 Charleston was enclosed to protect it from French, Spanish and Native American invaders as well as pirates. The walls extended from Cumberland to Water streets (north-south) and from East Bay to Meeting streets (east-west). The earthen fortifications to the north, south and west were gradually dismantled beginning in the early 1730s, but the brick harbor wall was maintained until after the Revolution. However, an invisible boundary still exists: Most of the city's cobblestone streets and narrow alleys can be found within or very near the original walled city.
As you cross Water Street, look left (east) toward The Battery for a lovely view. Then continue south on Church Street. The second house on your right at 41 Church St. is the A.W. Todd House, built in 1909; notice the garage entrance through the base of the chimney. Next door is the George Eveleigh House, at 39 Church St., brick with white columns. When the home was built in 1743, the creek was present—the mooring posts in front of the house date from this time. The house itself has an asymmetrical floor plan, which is unusual for this time period, and was rumored to have a secret staircase. Its original lot extended to Meeting Street, where the owner also built 34 Meeting St.
Continue walking south along Church Street for one block to Atlantic Street, then turn left. More single houses line Atlantic. Peek down Zig Zag Alley (on your left). When you reach East Battery Street, cross the street and climb the stairs to the elevated walkway running along the water. You are now in the area known as the High Battery. In 1755, the earth wall was held together with sticks and topped with grass, and wooden platforms along the top supported guns. In 1787 work began to extend East Bay Street south to create East Battery Street (the use of cannons here during the War of 1812 is purported to have given East Battery its name). After improvements were made to the wall—for example, using ships' ballast instead of mud—a granite wall was completed in 1820. Building along East Battery was possible after the wall's completion—the majority of the mansions were constructed 1820-50.
The elevated walkway overlooks Charleston Harbor, where the first shot of the Civil War was fired April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter. During the bombardment that ensued, only one house along East Battery Street was destroyed; it sat at the corner of Atlantic and East Battery streets (a large pink Victorian house occupies the property now). Stroll along the walkway, enjoying the breeze and the antebellum mansions. Notice the Edmondston-Alston House, (the fourth house from Atlantic at 21 E. Battery St.), built in 1825 by merchant Charles Edmondston. Greek Revival elements were added by Charles Alston after his father, William, purchased the house in 1838; the roof parapet displays his family's coat of arms. General Beauregard watched the bombardment of Fort Sumter from the second-floor piazza.
When the Italian villa-style house at 19 E. Battery St. was built in 1920, it was one of the most expensive houses in Charleston. You can probably understand why. Look at the porte cochere (porch roof projecting over the driveway) at the William Ravenel House, 13 E. Battery St.; it runs underneath a gigantic drawing room rather than fronting it. This design enabled the huge house to be squeezed onto a relatively narrow lot.
Built in 1838, the brick Greek Revival William Roper House, at 9 E. Battery St., was the first on this section of the High Battery. Its huge white portico and Ionic columns can be seen from the harbor. Initials on the front door belong to Rudolph Siegling, publisher of the News and Courier, who purchased the house in 1877. Two details to look for are the earthquake bolts (covered by decorative plaques in the shape of lions' heads) and the ropelike trim around the front door. What you can't see is a 500-pound piece of cannon, said to be lodged in the attic since the Confederate evacuation in 1865, when a gun blew up at the corner of East Battery and South Battery streets.
The hot pink house at 5 E. Battery St. was built in 1847 by John Ravenel (if the name sounds familiar, it's because his brother built the house at 13 E. Battery St.). After being hit by the 1886 earthquake, it was rebuilt by a later owner, who added Victorian Italianate features popular at the time. The house remained in the hands of the Ravenel family until 1953. At the corner of East Battery and South Battery streets is the Louis Desaussure House, also damaged during the evacuation in February 1865; during repairs, a portion of the same gun was found in the upper section of this house.
To your right is White Point Garden, named for the immense mound of oyster shells and white sand that covered the area in the city's early days. Continue along the elevated walkway to the bend, where a plaque set in the pavement points out the position of the harbor's forts: Sumter, Moultrie, Castle Pinckney and Johnson. Confederate forces first fired on Fort Sumter from Fort Johnson. Just past the bend on Murray Boulevard you will see stairs; descend the stairs here and cross Murray Boulevard, entering the park. Once a low, marshy area, the public garden was transformed and first enjoyed by residents in 1837. The live oaks that you see were planted in 1863; under their branches you'll find monuments, a gazebo and cannons that were part of Fort Sumter's “three-gun battery.”
Cross the park to South Battery Street near Church Street and marvel at more antebellum castles, built mostly by bankers and merchants. Head west to Meeting Street. At the corner of Meeting and South Battery streets is a large Victorian house built around 1892 by Martha and Waring Carrington. When the couple married in 1890, Martha's father, wealthy merchant George Williams, gave them a $75,000 check to use toward their first home. Not to be outdone, the groom's parents supposedly sent the couple on a 2-year tour of Europe. Two stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany were a gift from Waring to Martha to celebrate the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary. The house is now a bed and breakfast called 2 Meeting Street Inn. Turn right onto Meeting, heading north.
On your left at 7 Meeting St. is the Josiah Smith House, built of wood and brick, with a hipped roof and cupola. When the city fell into British hands in 1780, Smith, a rich merchant, was arrested and exiled to St. Augustine, Fla., returning to Charleston after the Revolution. A few houses farther at 11 Meeting St. is an 1850 pink Italianate house, which is covered with stucco scored to look like stone (this was a cheaper process than importing actual stone).
John Edwards, another exile, built 15 Meeting St. Aside from the brick basement, the rest of the house is cypress; the facade also is cut to resemble stone, and the portico is embellished with Corinthian columns and a double staircase. George W. Williams Jr., later purchased this house, which is why it is often referred to as the Williams House. His father owned the 1876 Calhoun Mansion, which is the huge brick mansion across the street. (Recall, “Dad Williams” is the same banker who built 2 Meeting St. for his daughter). This 24,000-square-foot mansion, the city's largest building constructed as a single-family residence, contains 35 rooms (each with a fireplace), 14-foot-tall ceilings, a hand-carved 75-foot-tall staircase, and a ballroom with an elaborate skylight. The exterior also features cypress carved to look like stone.
Next door, at 18 Meeting St., is the Thomas Heyward House, a three-story Adamesque single house built around 1803 by Nathaniel Heyward for his brother Thomas Heyward Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Cross Atlantic Street and note the three single houses on the left (23-27 Meeting St.), built 1750-88. Across the street at 26 Meeting St. is a formal, Regency-style house displaying three types of columns on its piazza: Doric columns are on the ground floor, the second story has Ionic columns and the top level is graced with Corinthian columns. The Isaac Motte House, another classic single house at 30 Meeting St., reputedly was occupied by German Hessian mercenaries during the British occupation; it is rumored that men hid in the fireplace to avoid being evacuated with the British following the Revolutionary War.
Continue past Water Street to the Nathaniel Russell House, at 51 Meeting St. Completed in 1808, the most impressive feature of this Federal structure is a free-flying mahogany staircase, which spirals up three floors. Notice the NR monogram on the front wrought-iron balcony. A few steps farther, at 53 Meeting St., is the First Scots Presbyterian Church. The present building, erected in 1814, employs twin towers topping the column-lined portico. Look at the stained glass window over the main door—displayed is the Church of Scotland's seal.
You are now a few steps away from Tradd Street, where you turned off of Meeting Street. Continue north on Meeting for about two blocks to Broad Street, which is where you began your tour.
Park at the lot on Cumberland Street between Meeting and Church streets. Four walls enclosed Charleston for protection against unwanted visitors during most of the time the settlement was owned by the English. This was called the Lords Proprietors period, after the eight noblemen who were granted joint ownership of what is now North and South Carolina. The fortification sheltered the area from Cumberland Street south to Water Street and from Meeting Street (near where you parked) east to East Bay Street (fronting the Cooper River). The riverside structure was a single wall, but the other three blockades consisted of double barriers separated by a moat; the city was accessed by two drawbridges at the intersection of Meeting and Broad streets, and wharves extended from East Bay Street. The following walking tour explores this area. To get your bearings, walk to the southeast corner of Meeting and Cumberland streets—the northwest corner of the walled city—where there is a plaque showing a map of the original city plan.
Now head east on Cumberland by turning right. It is believed that the stucco house on the right at 83 Cumberland St. was the first brick house erected in the city and that Chief Justice Nicholas Trott lived here. Some surmise that 83 is the kitchen to the original building at 85 Cumberland St., based on the location of the chimney.
Walk a few steps to the Powder Magazine at 79 Cumberland St. This structure, said to be the only surviving building from the Lords Proprietors period and the oldest public building in South Carolina, was Charleston's main storage facility for munitions and gunpowder. Note the steep hip roof, gables, brick vaulting and pan tiles on the roof. Although replaced by a new building in the mid-1700s, it was still used during the American Revolution, and it is rumored that paintings of George I were stored here for safekeeping during the war.
It's hard to miss the church with the giant steeple in the middle of Church Street. This is St. Philip's Episcopal Church. Three Tuscan porticoes grace the structure, built 1835-38 to replace an earlier church building that burned. Following the blaze, the city wanted to widen Church Street at the expense of the steeple and porticoes. Members of the congregation argued that the steeple was surely more beautiful than a street. The compromise is what you see here: St. Philip's was moved a bit to the east, and the street curves around it.
The church took an active part in the Civil War. The English Renaissance-style steeple was used as a line-of-sight target during the Federal attack on Charleston—the church purportedly was hit 16 times. In addition, its bells were melted for cannons; the bells were not replaced until July 4, 1976.
Church Street divides St. Philip’s burial sites; a churchyard surrounds the building, and across the street is the West Cemetery. Walk through the West Cemetery to see the burial plots, which, according to legend, were reserved for strangers and other transient whites. However, some famous South Carolina residents were later buried there, including John C. Calhoun (secretary of war and vice president of the United States) and DuBose Heyward (author of the novel “Porgy”). Charles Pinckney (a signer of the Constitution) and Edward Rutledge (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) are buried in the churchyard across the street. Ornate gates protecting this churchyard are said to be among the oldest wrought ironwork in the city.
Continue to 143 and 141 Church St. These two tenements were built about 1740 by a Huguenot merchant. The house at 143 is a double tenement (two rooms wide), while 141 is a single tenement (you guessed it—one room wide). Both buildings are largely constructed of Bermuda stone.
Across Queen Street on the left-hand side of Church Street is the Gothic Revival French Huguenot Church, built in 1845. Details—such as the buttresses, pointed-arch windows and spires topped with finials—are typical of this style, but the cast iron accents are unusual and add interest. The windows are original. The house next to the church, 136 Church St., served as the church rectory until 1871. It has classic features of a single house—it is a single room wide, and the front door, called a privacy door, opens onto the veranda (called a piazza by Charlestonians) rather than into the main house. Another good example of a single house is the white clapboard dwelling at 132 Church St. Note the solid shutters, boot scraper and carriage step out front.
Now is a good time to notice the street signs, which point out that you are in Charleston's French Quarter, named for the French Huguenots who settled in this area.
A light blue filigreed balcony embellishes Dock Street Theatre, located on the site of America's first building specifically constructed for theatrical performances (the original building was likely destroyed by fire in 1740). The main portion of the current building was built in 1809 and housed Planter's Hotel; the balcony was added in the mid-1800s. Remodeled into a new theater as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s, the building took the name of the original theater (Queen Street was once called Dock Street due to the presence of a creek and a large dock).
Stroll to Chalmers Street and turn left. This is the city's longest remaining cobblestone street, paved in 1760 with creek stones brought from Europe as ships' ballast. On the right at 17 Chalmers St. is the Pink House, which served as a tavern in Colonial days. Constructed of Bermuda stone (a coral limestone) about 1712, its most interesting feature is the gambrel roof, made of clay tiles, called thigh tiles because the clay was shaped over workers' thighs.
The brick and stone Gothic and Romanesque Revival building with three arches and octagon-shaped pillars at 8 Chalmers St. was the German Fire Steam Engine Co., in use 1851-88. The fire department was one of many created after a fire swept through this area in 1838, damaging St. Philip's Church and other structures. Next door is the Old Slave Mart Museum—once an open-ended shed, part of a complex with a yard and “barracoon” (slave jail)—where slaves were displayed and sold. It opened after a city ordinance in the mid-1800s prohibited the sale of slaves north of the Exchange Building because of the disturbance caused on East Bay Street. This mart was in use for a short time, as the slave trade was halted by the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Continue to State Street and turn right. On the left (set back from the street) is a tiny two-story brick South Carolina National Bank building, which once housed one of the earliest branches of the Bank of America. A newer, three-story bank building is next door.
Across the street at 7 State St. you'll find a white, two-story Classic Revival building that was home to the Union Insurance Building, established about 1807. Look at the pediment to see the company's seal. Each insurance company had its own fire engine company, and residents would display a plaque on their house (similar to the seal) to show which company held their insurance. Although all fire companies would respond when a house caught fire, only the fire company whose plaque was displayed would be expected to fight the blaze.
Turn left onto Broad Street, logically named because it was once the broadest street in Charles Towne. It is still one of the city's main business streets, and residents jokingly refer to locations as SOB (South of Broad) or SNOB (Slightly North of Broad). Head to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, the large Palladian-style building with the cupola at the end of the street. Since Charles Towne was a port and royal colony, this large exchange and customs house was completed in 1771 to manage trade activities. Once located adjacent to the Cooper River (the bay was later filled in, extending it east for two blocks), the exchange was where merchant ships docked and paid tariffs. Many historical events took place in the exchange's Great Hall. The yellow “don't tread on me” flag flying out front was designed in Charles Towne by Col. Christopher Gadsden. In the dungeon—created to store goods, but later used as a prison by the British during the occupation of 1780-82—you can see a portion of the original battery that surrounded the city.
On the north side of the Old Exchange, across Gillon Street, you can see another section of the original wall; it contains earthquake bolts and fronts a parking lot, facing East Bay Street.
Walk south along East Bay Street. The streets to your left are named for the warehouses and wharves that once stood there, before the bay was filled in. Catch a glimpse of the river by peering down one of these streets.
At Elliot Street, look back at the row of houses numbered 79-107. Known as Rainbow Row, these colorful stucco houses are said to be the longest cluster of intact Georgian houses in the United States and are a favorite subject of artists. They were built 1723-40 by merchants who operated shops on the first floor and lived in the upper stories, reached by staircases from an inner courtyard. Once slums, they received the nickname in the 1930s when the facades were painted in pastel shades. Note the ropelike trim on one of the houses, which is the sign of a merchant—the thicker the rope, the richer the merchant.
Continue down East Bay Street to Tradd Street (opposite cobblestone Adgers Street) and turn right. Quaint Tradd Street runs the width of the peninsula—looking ahead, you can see all the way to the Ashley River, Charleston's west boundary. In 1778 a fire destroyed the portion of Tradd Street from Church Street east toward the Cooper River; many homes here have been rebuilt. Markers, bestowed by the Preservation Society of Charleston, detail their history. Stroll along Tradd, reading the markers and peeking in the walled gardens as you pass.
The double tenements at 5 and 7 Tradd St. were built in the early 1700s. Destroyed by fire in 1740 and 1778, they were rebuilt both times according to the same plan. Notice the numerous earthquake bolts. At 14 Tradd St. you can see a fire plaque that shows the fire company to which the resident subscribed.
Continue to Church Street and turn right. On the left at 87 Church St. is the Heyward-Washington House, built in 1772 by Daniel Heyward for his son, Thomas Heyward Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington stayed here on his tour of the city in 1791.
Two doors down, at 89-91 Church St., is Cabbage Row, nicknamed because its residents once displayed vegetables for sale on the windowsills. The tenement provided inspiration for DuBose Heyward when he wrote the novel “Porgy”—characters in the book live at Catfish Row. The story, which later was the basis for George Gershwin's opera “Porgy and Bess,” is set in a slum during the 1920s, and its main character, Porgy, was modeled after a Charleston resident named Samuel Smalls. The author lived at 76 Church St.
Built in 1805 by a merchant, 92 Church St. has served as the rectory of St. Philip's Church since 1908. The middle window on the first level was originally a door; this indicates that it was a business. Also notice the boot scrapers in front. Embellished single houses at 93-99 Church St. were built around 1910.
Continue on Church Street to St. Michael's Alley (opposite Elliott Street), turn left and walk down the alley to Meeting Street. As you walk, watch for cars; the last section of the alley is quite narrow. At 8 St. Michael's Alley is a Palladian-style building with brown shutters. Note the star-shaped earthquake bolts.
Once at Meeting Street, turn right, heading toward the large white church. Ahead you'll probably see women weaving baskets. An African craft, basket making has been practiced throughout the Lowcountry since the 18th century. Harvested from local marshes and swamps, sweetgrass is used as the basis for the baskets.
Stop at the corner of Broad and Meeting streets. You are now at the intersection known as the Four Corners of Law, because the buildings on each corner represent religious, municipal, state and federal law. The large white church to your right is St. Michael's Church. City Hall, said to be the second oldest in the country, is on the northeast corner. The northwest corner is occupied by Charleston County Courthouse; and to your left, on the southwest corner, is the U.S. Post Office and Federal Court. The church's most notable features are the giant portico and 186-foot-tall steeple, which was painted black during the American Revolution in an attempt to mask it from British ship gunners; instead, it became an easier target. City Hall, erected about 1800 in the Adamesque style, served as a branch of the first Bank of the United States. Inside, a gallery contains portraits of historical figures, including one of George Washington.
Since the Charleston County Courthouse was first built in 1753 to serve as the capitol for the colony of South Carolina, it has been modified several times. It is said that the Declaration of Independence was read from its second-story balcony overlooking Meeting Street. The U.S. Post Office and Federal Court building was constructed in 1896 in the Renaissance Revival style—featuring local gray granite, a rustic base and quoins, balconies with heavy balustrades and large double doors—in an effort to mimic an Italian palace.
Cross Broad Street and walk to the wrought-iron fence on the right that encloses Washington Square. The small, oak-draped plot features a monument to the Confederate military, among others. After exploring the park's brick paths, continue north on Meeting. Just past the park is the Fireproof Building—it's the large Palladian-style building with a Doric portico and double staircase at 100 Meeting St. Created to safely house public records, it is so solid that it suffered little damage in the 1886 earthquake. The South Carolina Historical Society occupies the building. Inside, an oval hall contains a stone staircase lit by an overhead cupola.
At Chalmers Street, look to the left to see Hibernian Hall, the white building with large Ionic columns. It was built in 1840 as a meeting place for the Hibernian Society, an Irish benevolent organization. Gilded harps are found in the panel over the front door and on the iron gates. A stone from Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway, a world heritage site in County Antrim, also is in the portico. When the Mills House Hotel, 115 Meeting St., was originally constructed in 1853, it offered running water, among other amenities. Many famous people have stayed here, including Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1861, when a fire ravaged the street. It is rumored that hotel staff saved the building from destruction by hanging wet blankets from the windows.
Continue past Queen Street. The Gibbes Museum of Art, 135 Meeting St., houses an impressive collection of miniatures as well as other notable works. The stunning Beaux Arts-style building is constructed of local granite and limestone and the red tile roof accents a large dome. A few steps farther, at 141 Meeting St., is a white Palladian-style building built about 1876 for the Charleston Gas Light Company.
Continue along Meeting, looking across the street to locate the Romanesque Circular Congregational Church at 150 Meeting St. Settlers of Charles Towne dissenting from the Church of England—English Congregationalists, Scottish and Irish Presbyterians and French Huguenots—founded the independent church about 1681. The first church building, in the Pantheon style, was called the White Meeting House, which gave the street its name. Various changes were made to the structure until it burned in the fire of 1861, but the ruins stood until the 1886 earthquake, after which the Romanesque building you see was built, using the same bricks. Despite the name, the church is shaped more like a cloverleaf than a proper circle. The graveyard is said to be the oldest in the city; headstones date from 1690.
The next street is Cumberland. At this point, you can turn right to go to your car, or, if you'd like to shop, cross Meeting Street and walk down Horlbeck Alley to King Street for antique shops, boutiques and clothing stores. You also can cross Cumberland Street and walk up Meeting Street to Market Street, where restaurants surround the market.
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5055 International Blvd. North Charleston, SC 29418
The 9 percent sales tax rate in Charleston consists of 6 percent South Carolina state sales tax, 1 percent Charleston tax and 2 percent special tax. There is no applicable county tax. There is an admissions tax of 5 percent on most amusements and a 2 percent accommodations tax.
Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital, (843) 402-1000; MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina), (843) 792-2300; and Roper Hospital, (843) 724-2000.
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Hertz, (843) 767-4554 or (800) 654-3131, is at the airport and offers discounts to AAA members.
The Amtrak train station, (800) 872-7245, is at 4565 Gaynor Ave. in North Charleston.
Service is provided by Southeastern Stages and Greyhound Lines Inc., (843) 744-4247 or (800) 231-2222, at 4565 Gaynor Ave.
Cab companies include Safety Cab, (843) 722-4066; and Yellow Cab, (843) 577-6565. The fare is $5 for all trips that pick up and drop off on the peninsula. A $2 surcharge is added for each additional passenger. Outside of the peninsula, the fare for the first 2 miles is $4 and 35c for each succeeding one-fifth mile. A $1 surcharge is added for each additional passenger. Cabs must be ordered by phone.
Bus service is provided by Charleston Area Regional Transit Authority (CARTA); phone (843) 724-7420 for information about routes and schedules.