One of the joys of being a writer is the time spent after returning home from a travel experience and reflecting on what I experienced. Much of the knowledge I gather from my trips is learned days, weeks and months later as I try and piece together a story from my photos and information obtained from the days I visited a place. Unplanned and unanticipated connections are threads to be woven into a tapestry of travel memories.
My tourist style is not fine dining, fine arts entertainment and tourist excursions. There are plenty of travel sites for that kind of information. My interests are connections between the place I see, its significance and connection within history and how a place came to be the place we see today.
What happened in the past in this place? Who are the key people we know, or should know about in history, and why are their names memorialized in the culture of the place?
I think back to a book I read as a teenager, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a scene in the book where the writing professor tells his student suffering from writer’s block over the class assignment to simply focus on one brick in one building on the street. Every picture has a story. The challenge is to discover that story.
Charleston is a city of pivotal history for the American experience. I came to Charleston with basically one item on my travel wish list being a trip to Fort Sumter. I never made the harbor ferry ride to the island fort where the first Civil War battle was fought. Fort Sumter is on an island in the middle of Charleston Harbor. I saw the flags flying on the island fort from a couple of vantage points. Ultimately, my self-guided tour of Charleston was unorganized, piecemeal and a completely satisfying travel experience for me during the two days I was in the city.
Charleston is #1 destination in USA for many Tourists
The days were hot in early May 2014 and Charleston held vastly more tourists than I anticipated for the season during my mid-week stay. The city was packed with tourists.
October 15, 2013 – Condé Nast Traveler announced today the results of its 26th annual Readers’ Choice Awards, which recognizes the world’s leading travel brands and best cities. For the third consecutive year, Charleston has been named the #1 U.S. City with an overall score of 83.2 from the Culture, Friendliness, Atmosphere, Restaurants, Lodging, and Shopping categories.
Charleston CVB October 2013
CHARLESTON IS RANKED NO. 1 ON THE TRAVEL + LEISURE 2013 WORLD’S BEST AWARDS LIST OF TOP CITIES IN THE U.S. AND CANADA
Charleston CVB July 2013
Robert Mills (1781-1855), architect
I checked into The Mills House, a Wyndham Grand Hotel. My hotel review is here. This hotel ranked #10 for Charleston hotels in the 2013 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Best Hotels in Charleston list. The Mills House was the only chain brand hotel to make the ‘Top 10’ list. The Mills House is named for Otis Mills. With some difficulty, I eventually came across the history of the Mills House hotel in this article from the Preservation Society.
From my window at The Mills House I had a view of the South Carolina Historical Society building. The building was designed by Robert Mills to house the Charleston County records in the Fireproof Building. The building at 100 Meeting Street, opened in 1827, is considered the oldest fire-resistant building constructed in the U.S. standing today.
South Carolina Historical Society, 100 Meeting Street, Charleston is the Fireproof Building (1827) designed by Robert Mills to house county records.
Robert Mills is best remembered as the architect designer for the Washington Monument and he designed many other buildings in Washington, D.C. including the Department of Treasury building. That explains to me why I found this park on Meeting Street with a miniature Washington Monument obelisk.
The statue of George Washington is a 1999 recent addition to Washington Square. The 42-ft. obelisk (1891) is a memorial monument to the Washington Light Infantry with battles of the Civil War inscribed on the foundation.
This shaft commemorates the patience, fortitude, heroism, unswerving fidelity to South Carolina, and the sacrifices of the Washington Light Infantry in the War Between the States, 1860-1865. One company in peace; three full companies in for the war.
Besides the maimed, wounded and captured, one hundred and fourteen died in battle, in hospital, or on the weary wayside.
The Civil War or War Between the States is an event with constant reminders as one tours Charleston.
Poyas-Mordecai House (1796-1810) on Meeting Street.
History is told through the architecture of Charleston. The Poyas-Mordecai House is a private residence. The original structure was built by Dr. Jean Ernest Poyas in 1788 in the Adamesque style of architecture. The house was purchased in 1837 by Moses Cohen Mordecai.
Moses Cohen Mordecai (1804-1888) was born in Charleston in 1804 as a Jew. He was the most prominent Jewish businessman in antebellum Charleston. As owner of Mordecai & Company and the Mordecai Steamship Line, he was an importer of fruit, sugar, coffee and tobacco from the Caribbean. His political titles included South Carolina State Assembly (1844-45) and State Senate (1854-57) representative for Charleston. He also served as director for several banks. His steamship company had the contract for services between Charleston, SC and Havana Cuba from 1848 to the Civil War.
Mordecai was founder of the Southern Standard in 1851. A Unionist paper later renamed Charleston Standard, the paper voiced editorial opposition to the secession of the States. When South Carolina seceded in December 1860, Mordecai provided $10,000 to the Confederate cause, the largest private donation for the Confederacy.
Mordecai’s steamship Isabel transported the Union soldiers who surrendered Fort Sumter to a Union ship waiting outside Charleston Harbor after the initial bombardment on April 12 and eventual surrender of Fort Sumter on April 14, 1861. Initially opposed to war, Mordecai used his steamships in support of the Confederacy as blockade runners during the war and ultimately lost his fortune.
After the Civil War, Mordecai moved to Baltimore where he amassed a new fortune with a steamship line between Baltimore and Charleston. In 1870 Mordecai transported South Carolina soldiers killed at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania back to South Carolina on one of his ships for burial at Magnolia Cemetery (1850) in Charleston.
Meeting History on Meeting Street
A series of a dozen photographs taken during my first fifteen minutes of walking around historic Charleston turned me onto key moments in U.S. history. Studying a house, reading a sign, walking in a park and studying my photographs opened up worlds of knowledge.
Mills House Hotel, 1865
American Memory, Library of Congress http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/
The story I thought I was going to tell about Charleston turned into a very different tale once I studied my photographs and began writing this piece. The photos shown here were the images I snapped in the first fifteen minutes walking out the door of The Mills House Hotel along Meeting Street towards the sea.
Travel opens eyes. Every picture tells a story. My story was meeting history on Meeting Street, Charleston, South Carolina.
Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.
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