Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dolphin Discovery Sunset Cruise With Barrier Island Eco Tours--A Relaxing Cruise To A Timeless Charleston Wonder

There were storms in the area, but from my experience, the sun always shines on the Isle of Palms. As I crossed the Daniel Island bridge, I could see the rain falling out over Charleston, but looking to the direction of the IOP my belief was confirmed--blue skies filled the horizon. I was traveling to the Isle of Palms Marina where I would board Barrier Island Eco Tours 49 passenger pontoon boat called the Caretta for a two and a half hour Dolphin Discovery Sunset Cruise to Capers Island. It was scheduled to leave dock at 6:00 pm.

Upon my arrival, I checked in at Eco Tour's booth, received my parking pass and picked up a couple of snacks to take on the cruise. Since it was 5:30 pm, I had an half hour to kill. While I awaited the signal to board, I sat on the red stained, wooden deck of the market and soaked in the late-afternoon marina atmosphere and humid, salty air of this popular backwater gathering place overlooking Morgan Creek. From the size of the gathering and awaiting crowd, it was going to be a full cruise.

As we boarded the Caretta, Captain Mike warmly greeted me and every person that crossed the gang plank. I took an outside seat along the rails for optimum picture taking and was joined by two other cruisers. The declining sun was still quit hot. As the boat gently rocked in the creek's ebbing current, the tour's naturalist, Sarah, welcomed everyone aboard. She delivered some opening words and ended the introductions with, "So, let's get the air conditioning going." With that said, Captain Mike fired up the engines and we eased away from the docks. The slight back water breeze and forward motion of the boat offered a welcomed cooling reprieve.

As we slowly motored in the no-wake zone, everyone on board one-by-one shared their places of origin with Germany the farthest. Sarah talked about the meaning of a tidal creek and how the level of Charleston's estuaries rise and lower on an average of six feet and added, "It does that twice in a twenty-four hour period."

Our first stop, after leaving the no-wake zone, was a nearby tributary where Sarah employed the assistance of the younger cruisers in pulling up some of Eco Tours' crab traps marked by floating buoys. Each of them enthusiastically took hold of the attached rope and dragged the trap on board. The first trap came up empty, except for two spade fish. It seemed the crabs discovered a way of escape through a damaged section of the cage to freedom. However, the second trap offered up the desired prize. She pointed out the various names people identify the captured crab by, but in South Carolina, it is known as the blue crab--a Charleston delicacy. After a few facts about It habits and identifying its sex, we headed to the open waters of a area called the Shark Hole--a deep hole, approximately 90 feet, scoured out by the constant current flowing in and out of the Atlantic channel between Dewees Island and the IOP.

Sarah asked what wildlife we hoped to see on our way to Capers Island, and of course dolphin, the bottlenose variety, was on top of the list. After all, this was a dolphin discovery cruise. She related some particulars about the dolphin. For example, South Carolina estuaries are the only place you can view the feeding frenzy called strand-feeding. One other interesting tidbit I learned from her informative narrative was that the dolphin is a highly protected marine species in South Carolina. You are not permitted to feed, catch, or hold a dolphin in captivity. Not even the South Carolina Aquarium display dolphins in their numerous exhibits. "In the wild, they are neither afraid of you or interested in you," she stated.

"Other wildlife you may see on our way to Capers is the loggerhead turtle, the opportunistic brown pelican--known for diving face first into the water to scoop up its dinner or patiently waiting for the dolphin to stir up some lunch, and a variety of other birds," Sarah informed. We scanned the sparkling waters for something to break the surface of the water. The boats expert dolphin-spotter named Hobbs, a mixed breed dog, alerted the group, but the sighting was brief. It was now time to leave the Shark Hole and head to Capers. With a thrust of the engines and spray of salty water in my face, we headed to the south-end of the island.

It was low tide. The sand that is usually covered by water was now exposed making the beach more expansive. The subtle rays of the declining sun washing over the island's sandy beachhead gave the terrain a soft glow. Not too far in the distance, the grayed timber of Boneyard Beach rose out of the sand like bleached skeletons left over from the age of the dinosaurs. The dead trees are a testimony to the Atlantic Ocean's relentless erosive power. I walked under their barren branches and photographed their fallen monarchs. The walk back to the Caretta was even more inspiring. Posing on the horizon, brushed over with the orange tint of the skylines changing evening palette, the darkened silhouette of the Caretta awaited our presence for a relaxing ride back to the Morgan Creek docks to the music and panorama of the living IOP estuary.

Unless you own a boat or know someone who does, some of Charleston's more secluded natural wonders are out of reach. Barrier Island Eco Tours Dolphin Discovery Sunset Cruise to Capers offers you the opportunity to see one of them firsthand. The cruise aboard their Caretta is a relaxing evening jaunt to one of Charleston's most beguiling and picturesque barrier Islands. While you are enjoying the scenery, the naturalist on board shares with you their knowledge of what you are observing giving you a greater appreciation for the wildlife and the estuaries that make Charleston the number one destination in the world. Our naturalist for the evening delivered an informative presentation laced with a good balance of humor and included the younger ones in the activities. Somewhat disappointing, we did not see much in the way of dolphin activity. Possibly, it was the low tide, but that is the nature of things when it comes to wildlife in their natural habitats. It is a matter of timing. Capers Island did not disappoint. The low tide and setting sun enhanced the timeless beauty of the island's Boneyard Beach.

Offered Sunday-Friday from 6:00-8:30pm, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Offered Sunday, Wednesday and Friday year round. Times vary with sunset.

$36 for adults, $26 for children 12 and under, 2 and under are free
Purchase tickets

Barrier Island Eco-Tours 50 41st Avenue
Isle of Palms, SC

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Serene Bed And Breakfast Nestled Under The Moss Covered Trees Of Wentworth Street With A Ghost Story

I found this bed and breakfast while walking Wentworth Street toward beautiful Wentworth Mansion to take pictures. If it wasn't for its modest sign pinpointing its location, I would not have discovered it. Many of the houses in this part of Harleston Village on Wentworth Street are of comparable style built of brick, stucco, or clapboard, except for the few large mansions. 1837 Bed and Breakfast is a fine example of a Charleston single house one room wide with gable end to the street and tiered piazzas. It’s not known for a celebrated history, but like many homes in Charleston, it has an attention-grabbing but sad ghost story associated with it.

It was built by cotton planter Henry Cobia in the 1800's, and I am guessing more specifically 1837, but this is more implied than a stated fact. Henry Cobia is also credited with building the house at 128 Wentworth Street circa 1840. Built in the Federal-style, the house has three floors. It is accompanied by a two-story brick carriage/kitchen house. It was converted to a bed and breakfast in 1984.

The main house has a total of six guest rooms--three on the second and three on the third floor. Rooms on these floors entail walking up one or two flights of stairs. Each floor has open piazzas. Common rooms, such as the kitchen, dining room, and parlor are on the first floor.

Room 202
The carriage/kitchen house has two individual rooms on the ground floor with open beam ceilings and a one bedroom suite on the second floor, which is up one flight of spiral stairs and also has a small, private balcony. Originally separated from the main house as a safety precaution to protect it from accidental cooking fires, which was a common construction practice in the early years of Charleston, it was attached to the main house at the turn of the century.

Room 102
Each room is decorated with period furniture featuring queen canopy rice beds, armoires, local artwork, and oriental rugs. All rooms have private entrances and private baths. Amenities include cable TV in each room, free wireless internet service, and refrigerators. There is free one car per room on-site parking for small cars. A sumptuous, complimentary breakfast is prepared every morning and served starting at 8:30 am--for each days offerings go to daily breakfasts. It is reasonably priced with rooms ranging from $139 to $259 a night in the main house and $129 to $275 a night in the carriage house.

1837 is highly spoken of by most of its previous guests, but has one peculiarity--guests and employees have reported seeing a little boy playing around the halls, then disappearing from sight. The employees have affectionately named him, George. Now, some may view this as unsettling and others may view it as alluring, but according to the staff, apparently friendly George just engages in harmless mischief.

These are the sorrowful events that have become the supernatural story of 1837. Like many cotton planters, Henry Cobia owned slaves. During the 1830s, a male and female slave lived in a room on the third floor of the house along with their nine-year-old son. In 1843, due to financial difficulty, Cobia was forced to sell several of his slaves, which included the boy's parents. The next day, the little boy walked down to a dock on Charleston Bay and asked a man where his parents were taken. He was told that they had been transported to a ship that was currently docked in the middle of Charleston Harbor. Motivated by the hope that he might be reunited with his parents, the boy stole a rowboat and rowed in the direction of his parents' ship. All at once, the little boat capsized, and the boy drowned.

A concierge of the bed and breakfast states that George's mischief includes opening doors, rocking chairs and turning lights on and off. Most of the disturbances take the form of mattress shaking or the radio turns on in the middle of the night.

As described by the concierge and reported in an article by Dr. Alan Brown, a paranormal investigator, one of the funniest incidents at the 1837 Bed and Breakfast took place in May 2002: "We had a lady come down at breakfast, and she said, 'Did we have an earthquake last night?' And I said, 'I don't think so.' She said her bed was moving. I said, 'Was the chandelier moving too?' She said, 'No.' I said, 'Well, that's not an earthquake.' I didn't tell her about the ghost. Chances are that it was George acting up again. She asked me to call the earthquake people, and I did, and they said we didn't have an earthquake. She accused them of covering it up."

1837 Bed and Breakfast is the Charleston package made up of old southern charm with ghostly implications. It is located in a quiet area of the city, but not far from King Street and Charleston Place. According to most reviews, its staff is hospitable and attentive. It was awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2015 and highlighted on History and Travel Channel. New York Times called it "A perfect place to unwind."

126 Wentworth Street
Charleston, SC 29401
Phone: (843) 723-7166

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

One Man's Sold Dream Becomes Another Man's Great Gain--Wentworth Mansion

The Second Empire Style bricked behemoth, characterized by its mansard roof and dormers,
benevolently stands four stories above Charleston's intersecting streets of Wentworth and Smith. To get a complete photograph of the impressive mansion, I had to cross over to the other side of Wentworth and Smith where I took an angled shot for the best panorama. Beyond the mansion’s encircling black wrought iron enclosure, the beautifully landscaped grounds beckoned me to enter through its front gate. I accepted the enticement and stepped over the threshold into the present past.

Constructed by the finest artisans of the day, the nearly 24,000 square foot architectural treasure was completed just in time to have its infrastructure rocked and its constitution tested. In August of 1886, The Great Earthquake of Charleston struck with violent fury. While bricks rained down onto the streets of the Holy City, the magnificent Wentworth home of wealthy cotton merchant, Francis Silas Rodgers, emerged from the upheaval virtually unscathed. It is considered one of the finest homes in Charleston.

Francis Rodgers had a dream. Not the kind you conceive in your sleep and awaken from, but more along the lines of a concept. With a family of 13, Rodgers had envisioned that the mansion be used to live in by his children and their children. He employed architect Daniel G. Wayne to bring it to reality.

Rodgers spared no expense in the building of his lavish mansion. The exterior was covered in Philadelphia pressed brick and the windows and quoins were finished in stone. Interior features included inlaid floors, two grand matching Italian chandeliers from Europe, marble mantles carved by sculptor Emile T. Viett, elaborate wooden staircases, a double parlor, Louis Comfort Tiffany glass panels, and a rooftop cupola with panoramic views of the city. A bas-relief cornice above the dining room window depicts a cotton plant, representative of Rodgers' business.

In regards to the two commissioned grand matching chandeliers, which still hang today in the grand mansion suite, it is said Rodgers brought back their maker to ensure proper installation.

The family flourished, but 34 years later his heirs sold it for $100,000 to the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association, who in 1940, sold it to the Atlantic Coast Life Insurance Company. The insurance company used it as their office headquarters until 1996, when Richard Widman had a dream of his own, purchased the unappreciated mansion, and changed its destiny.

Widman renovated the mansion with the noble resolve of preserving its famed historic features. Modern conveniences were added like gas-lit fireplaces, king-size sleigh beds, whirlpool tubs, and double glass-walled, walk-in showers, and air conditioning. After 18 months and 7 million dollars, the grand historic mansion opened as a 21-room, award- winning luxury hotel offering guests a true taste of Southern hospitality in an unsurpassed setting. Wentworth Mansion is a must-see for history buffs and a one-of-a-kind authentic Charleston experience where patrons are immersed into luxury living and good ole Southern hospitality at its best. The year was 1998 and this was only the first phase of Widman's plans.

In 2000, Widman converted the carriage house behind the home, which once housed the stables and carriages, into Circa 1886, today a AAA Four Diamond, Forbes Four Star award-winning restaurant. In 2004, the structure that was originally used as the stable for the Mansion was renovated to house the Spa at Wentworth Mansion. The 1,000 square foot spa offers patrons a full range of treatments.

Wentworth Mansion has been named the #1 Small City Hotel in the U.S. in the 2015 Travel and Leisure World's Best Awards, #2 Best Hotel in Charleston of the Top 25 Best Hotels in the U.S. in the 2015 Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards, and One of the Top 50 Hotels in the U.S. in the 2015 US News.

Amenities: Southern breakfast served from 7:30-10:30 a.m. at Circa 1886 restaurant; afternoon tea and lemonade from 2-4 p.m.; evening wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres from 5-6 p.m.

Specials and packages.

Average rates depending on room selection: August--$440-$595, January--$359-$800, April--$460-$610.

(All photos are original work except the photo of the chandeliers--courtesy of Wentworth Mansion.)