6.02.2012

a weekend in charleston

Memorial Day weekend was spent in Charleston, South Carolina.  It was my first ever visit and given my wonderful experience there, I would love to go back soon.  Despite the threat of a tropical storm hitting (which thankfully missed us by a few days), I found the overall atmosphere of Charleston to be incredibly relaxed.  It felt like everyone around us was taking a true pleasure in their surroundings, whether we were visiting a plantation home, the picturesque downtown or even the site of the start of the Civil War, Fort Sumter.  Here's a recap of our stops in Charleston:

Drayton Hall
We first visited Drayton Hall, which was not technically a plantation, but rather a family estate with a grand house and large piece of land on which to grow crops to feed the family.  John Drayton was only 23 years old when he decided to build this grand house. Influenced by Andrea Palladio's The Four Books of Architecture, Drayton's plan followed a strict classical style of perfect symmetry and proportion.
Drayton Hall, built between 1738 and 1742.
The Drayton Family spent seven generations here before donating it and the surrounding 125 acres to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1974.  The house has been preserved, rather than restored, in its near original state. 
The driveway for Drayton Hall would have originally come to the base of the stairs.
According to our tour docent, the interior paneling was only ever painted three times in its 270 year history.  The most recent coat of paint is flaking off everywhere but is not retouched in accordance with the Trust's mission to preserve, rather than restore.
The Great Hall at Drayton.
The ceiling of the Great Hall, or main reception room, is decorated with applied plaster work.  As some of the plaster details fall off, they are not put back.  This is actually the third ceiling of this room, installed in 1850.
Applied plaster ceiling at Drayton Hall's main reception room.
The woodwork is extremely fine and detailed.  The alternating flowers are thought to represent dogwoods and daisies.
Detail of the Doric order columns, egg and dart trim and other carved details in the Great Hall.
 In a Withdrawing Room off the Great Hall, the painted paneling continues, here with carved mahogany accents over the windows, and the original 1742 carved plaster ceiling still beautifully in tact.
The Withdrawing Room at Drayton Hall.
The staircase behind the Great Room was also intended as a impressive architectural statement.  The dark wood is carved mahogany.  Because this room faces the river, visitors to Drayton who arrived by boat on the Ashley would have been greeted here.
The Stair Hall at Drayton.
The warm mahogany contrasts nicely with the cool blue-green of the paneling.
The panels are painted a deep red behind the carved mahogany stair end pieces.
Descending the staircase...
The ethereal blue-green is grounded by the mahogany base.
Upstairs, a large bedroom...
The large windows allow for a nice cross breeze.
A glimpse into another bedroom upstairs...
Deep window seats.
A column on the front portico is visible from the Upper Great hall.

Looking towards the grounds at the front of the house.
Huge live oaks dot the property.
The rear facade of Drayton adheres the the same formal symmetry of the front.  Since guests would often arrive from the river side of the home, it was just as important to have this view be as impressive.

Goodbye, Drayton Hall.  May we meet again soon.
Live Oaks covered in Spanish moss lead away from the house down to the Ashley River.


Middleton Place
Another plantation estate we visited was Middleton Place.  The gardens were begun here in 1741.  This huge live oak attests the age.
Beyond the oak, lies a flooded rice paddy and the Ashley River.
Ancient trees and draping Spanish Moss create a mood as you walk along the river.
The path follows the edge of the rice paddy well away from the main house.
A pond reflects the Mill on the property.


Another pond in which we spied a small alligator.


Finally a peek at the main house from across the gardens.


And closer still.

We didn't tour the house museum but I was charmed by its style.  Originally this "flanker" house, or secondary gentleman's quarters, stood beside of the original main house which was burned beyond salvage in the Civil War.
Middleton Place House, image from the official website.
The aerial shot of the grounds below shows how the house that still stands is off center from where the main house once stood.  The gardens are known mainly for the dramatic terraces that lead down from the house toward butterfly-shaped lakes at the bottom.  These lakes are impressive as viewed from the air, certainly, but I found them to be somewhat ungainly and ungraceful in person. The wing shape is not a classical design and rather reminds me of the human anatomy of a rib cage and lungs.
Aerial view of the grounds, image from the official website.
 Nonetheless, the Middleton Place gardens were a fun stop on our Charleston weekend.

Downtown Charleston
I have never been to a more charming city in America than Charleston.  The buildings are mostly all still very old and very loved.  The colors, the palm trees, the double story porches... All such wonderful and civilized details for a city to have.

Quintessential Charleston in fine colorful form.


Gray works, too.  How about those different little balconies on each level?
Even this somber style looks good so perfectly proportioned.


But let's face it, I prefer color to drab.


Pink even under the eaves.
Faded earthen red with black shutters, a striking combination.
Who wouldn't want to stay at this hotel?

Just a couple of handsome friends.


Yes, that hot orange!
A little more serious, but excellent still.
Close together houses make for a sweet three foot wide garden.
A six foot wide garden.
Another secret garden.

Husk Restaurant (sadly didn't get to eat there as it was booked out for weeks).

A style wholly different, but still great.
A little street scene.

Wonderful slight recess on the arched windows and the Greek key motif below.
I could have taken a million more photographs of Charleston's excellent architecture and street scenes...
 Fort Sumter
I would never have thought to go, but to appease my 12 year old nephew, we also spent an afternoon at Fort Sumter.  I could appreciate the historical significance of the site, but what I found most striking is how the necessity of function, even in war-time, lends itself to attractive form.
The curved metal strips served as tracks for rolling canon wheels.


These areas would have covered originally but obviously suffered major damage in the battle.
I wonder if the mish-mash of materials was a result of war-time material shortages.
Like I said, I hope to revisit Charleston again soon, just not during the burning heat of summer or the hurricane-riddled fall season...See you there next Spring?

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