We’ve nearly completed our three days and four nights in Charleston, South Carolina. While here, we have enjoyed many tours.
On our first morning here, we took a carriage tour ($20) through the historic district. The carriage tour was highly recommended by a local artist, Lee Johnson, in Clayton, Georgia. The carriage was covered and pulled by a 2000 pound, 20-year old horse, who is expected to live a natural life of 10-15 more years. Since we toured in the morning, our carriage wasn’t jam packed, making it a comfortable ride. We learned that each carriage is assigned a route when it leaves the staging area, so until you actually leave on a carriage, you’re not sure where it will take you. Our tour took us down King Street, Market Street, and Church Street plus into some residential areas. While the tour wasn’t as good as the trolley tour we took in Savannah, it did introduce us to some of the history and the geography of the historical district. However, the tour lasted only an hour and was one of the more expensive tours. While it was good to take the tour once, I don’t think we’d repeat it.
Edmondston-Alston House ($10) — the lot for this home was purchased in the 1810s for $4500, when it was still swampland. (According to one inflation calculator, that’s about $55,000 of today’s dollars.) After the sea wall was built, the home was built in 1825 for the Edmondston family. Within a few years, it was sold to the Alston family, and has been in the Alston family ever since. The furnishings in the home are actual family pieces, which made this a very historically accurate tour. Though the home is less than 200 years old (!), it was pretty amazing. The home was built in the federal style, which means that there were four rooms per floor, with a hall running through the center of the house in both directions. So, the rooms are in the four corners, and cross shaped halls runs through the middle. It was a beautiful home on a beautiful location.
Calhoun Mansion ($15) — the Calhoun Mansion has an interesting history. As soon as the 1990s, it was empty and in a state of disrepair. It was purchased from the city for $220,000 (more or less) and about $5,000,000 later it was restored into an impressive structure again. Around 2003, it was sold for (we heard) about 4.5 million dollars. The 24,000 square feet in this home is filled with marvelous woodwork and the current owners many collections. It is not furnished in a historical fashion, so while the house may be historical, the interior is not. Don’t visit this house expecting to see it furnished as it might have been years ago, but do expect to see some awesome woodwork. (One local commented that the current owner “ruined the home”, though this local was also thankful that it had been saved from condo developers.)
Nathaniel Russell House ($10) — this tour had the best guide, Miss Jane, a former school teacher, who encouraged us all to be lodestars. If you ever take this tour, be sure to ask for Miss Jane. But back to the home. Completed in 1808, this home features an open staircase (which makes it similar to my parents’ home in Missouri). This makes the Nathaniel Russell home a little older than the Edmondston-Alston home. It is also different in that Mr. Russell used means to make the home look more expensive than it was. For instance, instead of mahogany doors (expensive), he used pine doors painted to look like mahogany. Instead of a plaster medallion above the stairwell, he had a medallion painted onto the ceiling. From the first floor, you can’t tell the difference!
Aiken-Rhett House ($10) This tour differs from the others in four significant ways. First, unlike the other homes, the Aiken-Rhett House is being preserved, rather than restored. This means that no effort has been made to restore the house to its original condition. Instead, it is being preserved in its current state. So, for instance, some rooms have many layers of paint, showing the evolution of the wall cover. Also unlike the other tours, this tour is self-guided with an iPod shuffle-like audio player. The narrator walks you from room to room and explains what is being seen. The third difference is that this home was located not in historic Charleston, but in suburban Charleston. (Or, what was at that time suburban!) And finally, this home included tour segments of the separate kitchen and wash rooms and the slave quarters.
Charleston Church Tours ($20) — by far the best tour that we took, this 2-1/2 hour walking tour was led by C. Preston Cooley. We visited six different historic churches in historic Charleston and went inside four of them. Preston discussed the architecture and history of each church building, and the history of some of its members. Given the duration and qualify of this tour, it should cost more than it does. The church tour Web site lists the churches and includes pictures of each. (Preston — in the unlikely event that you read this, then here’s my advice: your tour is worth more than the $20 you charge, especially compared to the other tours.)