Recently, we traveled, for the first time, to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Our group consisted of three (3) couples and we stayed at a Marriott resort on the island. Our trip only lasted a week but was memorable in many respects.
Hilton Head is a lovely island, and is intent on preserving its ambience, so zoning laws and building codes are strictly enforced. All commercial properties must be set back and much of the island foliage must be left growing so that these locations are somewhat difficult to see from the road. In addition, signs are muted and there is no neon lighting. It actually took us some time to get used to spotting places that we wanted to find.
Our first outing upon arrival was to the western end of the island, known as Sea Pines. There is actually a daily admission to this area, obviously designed to discourage a large influx of visitors. We went down to the harbor area and strolled the numerous shops. Sea Pines is an affluent area, and indications of this were apparent throughout our visit here.
On Tuesday of our week, we took made our first day trip — to Savannah, Georgia. Savannah is very close, only about 45 miles, so we had an entire day to explore this elegant southern city. Gary designed a walking tour (see below) which we used as our guide throughout. Savannah was originally designed by Oglethorpe (Georgia’s founder) around 24 squares, 21 of which have been preserved by the city. It is a unique design and very amenable to walking, since the squares provide greeenery and shade in a place that experiences much warm weather (we did not have to worry about heat, since we visited in November).
All the squares are lovely and different, but the most impressive is Forsyth Park, with its beautiful fountain and walkways shaded by large live oaks, draped with Spanish Moss.
In our walk, we incorporated lunch at the interesting and unusual Mrs Wilkes Dining Room. Here, patrons find authentic southern cooking presented family style on large tables. Food was delicious and extremely plentiful (loosen your belt at least one notch if you go). Thankfully, someone at our table was a regular customer and she briefed us on the situation prior to our sitting down and also described many of the dishes. All six of us were truly impressed with everything and very pleased that we chose this venue instead of Lady and Sons, which, according to reports, has suffered from its huge popularity and gone downhill considerably.
The end of our walking tour brought us to the riverfront area, which has also been carefully preserved and upgraded. The girls enjoyed browsing in the shops and guys did some people-watching.
On Thursday, we took our last and longest excursion — to Charleston, South Carolina, a distance of about 120 miles. We arrived in the late morning and went immediately to the Visitor Center to see the film, Forever Charleston, which is a "must" for travelers since it provides background necessary to understand the history of the city and to appreciate the visit.
Once again, Gary designed a walking tour which took us about 2 hours to complete (see below). Highlights were "Rainbow Row" and the "Battery," as well as some of the elegant mansions for which the city is famous. We completed our walk with a beer at the Southend Brewery & Smokehouse and then had supper, on our way out of the city, at California Dreamin’, an excellent restaurant on the Ashley River in the western part of Charleston. The ribs were exceptional.
The remainder of our time was spent just relaxing at our resort, walking the grounds and beach, playing shuffleboard, etc. The guys even played golf one day, since Hilton Head is famous for its many quality golf courses.
A great time was had by all!
Walking Tour of Savannah
From the Parking Lot on West Congress St, proceed eastward on West Congress (before going too far, stop by at Lady & Sons restaurant, 102 West Congress, to make a reservation for later in the day) to Johnson Square. Note Christ Church (at Bull & East St. Julian Sts). The original structure on this lot was the first church in the Georgia Colony (1733). This later building was constructed in 1838.
Continue east on Congress St, past Reynolds Square to Warren Square. Take a right onto Habersham and proceed to Columbia Square. Turn right again and notice, at 324 E State St, Davenport House (1820) whose preservation in 1955 spearheaded the city to cherish and restore its history, resulting in the situation today where much of Savannah’s past is on display for the world to see and admire.
Continue westward on State St to Oglethorpe Square (named after the colony’s founder), then left onto Abercorn St. At #124 is Telfair’s Owens-Thomas House (1816) where the Marquis de Lafayette was a guest in 1825.
Continue westward on State St to Wright Square, then take a left onto Bull St. The Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low is located at 10 East Oglethorpe Ave. She was the founder of the Girl Scouts of America.
Continue southward on Bull St past Chippewa Square (made famous at the beginning of the movie, Forrest Gump, although the bench was only a prop and has been removed) and down to Madison Square. As you circle Madison Square, note the Green-Meldrim House at 14 West Macon, which served as General Tecumseh Sherman’s headquarters during the siege of Savannah in 1864. Then proceed eastward onto East Macon St to Lafayette Square. The Andrew Low House is at 329 Abercorn St and was the adult home of the same Juliette Gordon Low who established the first Girl Scout troop in 1912. The Hamilton-Turner House (330 Abercorn) was featured in the novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and is reputed to be haunted. Note also the Cathedral of St John the Baptist (222 E. Harris St), one of the south’s largest cathedrals.
Retrace steps westward on East Macon St then left onto Bull Street, then right on West Jones Street. At 107 West Jones, get in line and stop for lunch at Mrs Wilkes Dining Room, and incredible experience and authentic Southern food.
When finished, retrace steps to Bull Street, take a right and proceed south to Forsyth Park. Stroll the lovely square-turned-park, checking out the beautiful fountain, erected in 1851.
Afterwards, hop on a CAT Shuttle (free) headed back toward the riverfront. Get off at City Hall, at the junction of Bull and Bay Sts.
Next, wander the riverfront area, strolling along Factor’s Walk and River Street, stopping occasionally to browse in the many shops. Notice, in particular, the Waving Girl Statue, on River Street (a reference to Florence Martus, who, in the early 1900’s, promised her sailor sweetheart that she would wave to every ship until his return).
Riverboat cruises are available at the River Street Riverboat Company, near the Visitor Center.
Walking Tour of Charleston
On the way into the city, stop at the Visitor Center (375 Meeting Street) to see the orientation film, Forever Charleston, a 36-minute introduction to the city’s long and distinguished history.
Park the car at the lot on the right-hand side of Meeting St, just after its intersection with Queen St. Exit at Meeting St and take a left to Cumberland. Take a right on Cumberland and note the Powder Magazine at 79 Cumberland. It is reputed to be the oldest public building in the Carolinas (1713). It was within Charleston’s old City Walls which once was the area bounded today by Meeting Street, Cumberland Street, East Bay Street and Water Street, in this, the oldest part of the city.
Continue down Cumberland and take a right onto East Bay Street, then a left on Vendue Range (just south of this intersection, slaves were sold at an outdoor public auction block). Continue east to Waterfront Park, which once was the launching area for almost half of Colonial America’s exports until the advent of steam-powered ships (which required deeper harbors).
Walk south through the park and turn right on Mid Atlantic Wharf. Turn left onto East Bay Street and continue southward. Notice the Moorish Revival Architecture of #141 East Bay. The Old Exchange Building is at #122 East Bay. This was where imports and exports were processed before distribution and was also where the Declaration of Independence was first read to cheering townspeople in 1776. This building also served as a dungeon, a meeting house, and city hall, and was where President George Washington was lavishly feted during his visit in 1791.
Continue on East Bay to “Rainbow Row,” a cluster of waterfront tenements (#’s 79 -107 East Bay) which were restored in the 1920’s. Continue southward to the Battery. When you reach the intersection with Atlantic Street, cross the street to the water side and climb the steps to the elevated walkway (known as the High Battery). Stroll south along the High Battery noticing the many antebellum homes across the street.
The Edmundston-Alston House (1825) is at 21 East Battery. Prince Charles of Wales and the Emperor of Japan have been entertained at the William Roper House (1838), #9. The “hot pink” house at 5 East Battery (1848) was built by John Ravenel (whose brother, William, owned the house at #13).
Stand near the plaque at the end of the elevated walkway and look out at the harbor. The plaque will point the way to Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island (the island with a lighthouse on the left side of the harbor). The British attacked this fort six (6) days before the Declaration of Independence was signed, in 1776.
Far out at the entrance into the harbor is the flat shape of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began on April 12, 1961.
On Morris Island, the land mass to the right of Fort Sumter, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Col Robert Shaw, suffered heavy losses in an attack on a Confederate battery — the basis for the film, Glory.
Cross the street to White Point Garden which displays several interesting artifacts: Keokuk Gun, in the northeast corner, was salvaged from a Union ironclad which attacked Charleston harbor in 1863; two Confederate Columbiads, part of Fort Sumter’s arsenal, on either side of the walkway at the east edge; the Capstan of the Maine.
Walk west and then head north on Meeting Street. Note the two windows on the south end of #2 Meeting St, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The Calhoun Mansion (16 Meeting St) (1876) was used in filming the miniseries, North and South. It is the city’s largest single-family residence and contains 35 rooms, each with a fireplace.
Next door (18 Meeting) is the Thomas Heyward House (1803). He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Note the three (3) types of columns on the house at #26 Meeting: Doric on the ground floor; Ionic on the 2nd floor; and Corinthian on the top floor.
Take a left onto Lamboll Street, then right on King Street. The O’Donnell House (#21 King) is an Italianate mansion built for his fiancée who was elsewhere when the house was completed, following the Civil War. The Miles Brewton House (#27) is one of the finest Georgian (1769) residences in America. British Generals, Clinton and Cornwallis, stayed here when English forces occupied the city.
Next, take a right onto Ladson Street and go back to Meeting Street. Head north to the Nathaniel Russell House (#57 Meeting). It is noteworthy in the United States as an excellent example of Federal architecture. Walk back a few steps and turn left onto Water Street, then take another left onto Church Street.
Numbers 56-58 Church are known as the James Veree Houses, named after the carpenter who built them. At the Thomas Rose House (#59 Church), Doctor Joseph Ladd’s ghost still reputedly haunts the staircase. The First Baptist Church (at #61) was designed by Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument.
The Richard Caper House (at #69) is a “double” house. Peek into the garden to the left of the house.
Walking north, you will reach the Heyward-Washington House (#87) (1772) where George Washington stayed during his visit to the city in 1791. Numbers 89-91 Church Street are known as “Cabbage Row” because residents used to advertise and sell produce on the street.
Just to the north, take a left on Elliott Street, then right on Meeting to its intersection with Broad Street. Here are the famous “Four Corners of Law”: City Hall (representing Local Law), said to be the oldest in the United States, is at the northeast corner; Charleston County Courthouse (representing State Law) is in the northwest; the US Post Office and Federal Courthouse (representing Federal Law) occupies the southwest corner; and St Michael’s Episcopal Church (Religious Law) is in the southeast (it’s bells were cast in London in 1764).
Take a right on Broad Street and left onto Church. On the left, at 135 Church St is the Dock Street Theatre. It used to be the Planters Hotel, where the drink, Planters Punch, supposedly originated.
Across the street is the French Huguenot Church (#136), founded by Calvinist Protestants who fled Catholic France in the late 1600’s. The congregation here dates back to 1687.
Further north at 146 Church Street is St Philip’s Episcopal Church which was Charleston’s first congregation (1680). The graveyard contains the remains of colony-founders, Edward Rutledge and Charles Pinckney, as well as statesman John C Calhoun.
Continue north to Market Street, then left to Meeting Street. Check out the shopping at City Market, behind Market Hall (188 Meeting).
Stop for lunch or a snack at the Southend Brewery & Smokehouse, 161 East Bay Street, at the corner of Queen and East Bay.