Saturday, March 10, 2012

Charleston's Festival of Houses And Gardens-See the History, Touch The History

I have one overwhelming impulse. Well, one that I will readily admit to and believe to be quite innocent, but at times can be distracting. Upon entering an establishment for the first time, I irresistably begin to check out its distintive architecture and the craftmanship employed in its creation. This impulse is driven by many years of exposure to the contruction trades and time spent as a finish trim carpenter on the Isle of Palms and Mt. Pleasant. Couple this with a passion for working with everything that grows green and explodes into an array of colors and you have the required ingredients of an individual who would be the perfect candidate for Charleston's yearly Festival of Houses and Gardens. The festival has been a yearly event, now in its 65th year.

Charleston's landmarks and beautiful homes are collectively some of the more obvious reasons why visitors and residents are drawn to this number one destination in the country known for its historic charisma. A walk through the Holy City gives you a glimpse into a past you otherwise could only read about in books or see in old photographs and well preserved art. Charleston contains an unbelievable amount of history. A history you can personally touch and visually experience. A history that goes all the way back to the early days of tall ships and horse drawn carriages. So, here are a few reasons visitors and residents are drawn to this charming Southern city by the Atlantic Ocean.

Pink House
The oldest standing tavern building in the South can be found at 17 Chalmers Street in the French Quarter, an area that was originally within the walled part of old Charles Towne. The old tavern was built in the mid 1690's. It was constructed from Bermuda stone, a West Indian coral stone with a natural pink cast to it. Thus, it became known as the Pink House. Another unique feature of the tavern is the tiled roof made from terra cotta tile of an ancient vintage. The little tavern has been extremely versatile surviving both an earthquake and hurricane virtually unscathed while buildings around it crumbled. In its inception, the groggerie served seamen whiskey, wenches, and wittles. Today, it is an art gallery.

The oldest estate garden in the Western Hemisphere is just outside Charleston at famed Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. The plantation hosts a number of spectacular horticultural treasures. Some sections are more than 325 years old, making them the oldest unrestored gardens in America. The original main house, which was built before the Revolutionary War, still remains.
terra cotta tiled roof

Down the road from Magnolia Place is Drayton Hall, the oldest preserved plantation house open to the public in the country. The house was built between 1738 and 1742 and considered one of the finest examples of Georgian-Palladian architecture in the United States. Drayton Hall will be host to this years Festival Plantation Picnic on Friday, April 6 and  Sunday, April 15, 4:30-7 p.m. You can purchase tickets here.

The William Rett House located on Hasell Street just off Meeting was finished in 1716. It is considered the oldest house in Charleston and part of the old sugar plantation acquired by William Rett. It has been restored and is now privately owned. The buildings on the plantation surround a beautiful, formal, English garden featuring a beautiful pond. There is a gate house and a carriage house that can be rented. William Rett is best known for his capture of the infamous Stede Bonnet, the  "gentleman pirate", but the more notorious Blackbeard eluded his capture.

The Calhoun Mansion, built in 1876, is the largest residence in Charleston and considered one of the greatest antebellum homes on the eastern seaboard. Some of its more striking features are a stairwell that reaches to a 75 foot domed ceiling and a music room with a 45 foot covered glass skylight. It also boast some beautiful gardens.
Calhoun Mansion

The Festival of Houses and Gardens, March 22 to April 21, offers guests a rare opportunity to wander the private residential interiors and gardens of more than one hundred distinctive and historic downtown homes. Scheduled house tours will take you into areas like Ansonborough, the peninsula's first neighborhood established in 1745. Although much of Ansonborough was destroyed by a fire in 1838, it was rebuilt with houses owned by some of Charleston's oldest family names. The House and Garden tours will feature 7 to 10 properties each day in one of 11 different neighborhoods. Purchase tickets here.

Other events are The Glorious Garden tours, Morning History Walks, and Luncheon Lecture Series. If you like pirate stories, don't miss the "The Notorious Exploits of Three Female Pirates" lecture at the James Missroon House at 40 East Bay Street Monday, April 9. Purchase tickets here. Concerts, wine tasting, and harbor cruises are also a part of the festival.

On top of all this, the festival takes place during Charleston's spring peak blooming season. Native varieties flowering include dogwood, redbud, and fringe trees, as well as azalea, yellow jessamine, and bignonia. Come and join the culture and fun that makes Charleston number one.

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