Historic Charleston should be enjoyed at a genteel, measured pace

Art Weber

        Charleston, South Carolina, has played a big role in shaping our world.
        Big, but not as big as some locals would make you think. They’ll wink and tell you that historic Charleston is on a peninsula bounded by the Ashley and Cooper rivers, which converge to form the Atlantic Ocean.
        Actually, it kind of looks that way. Standing at Waterfront Park, in the shadow of history, the welcoming view is a huge expanse of water. The Cooper River is in the foreground, the Ashley comes in from the south to form the expansive Charleston Harbor, which stretches into the distance merging seamlessly with the Atlantic Ocean.
        It may not be the source of the Atlantic Ocean but historically the city has been a very big deal. The artifacts of that rich past are well-preserved in the Charleston Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark.
        Fort Sumter, one of four forts you can see from Waterfront, was built in 1829 and, from its strategic island location successfully protected Charleston’s bustling harbor, guarding against would-be invaders until April 12, 1861. After 34 hours of bombardment by Confederate artillery, the Union surrendered, marking the end of the battle and the beginning of the opening of the Civil War. Today it stands as a poignant symbol of the events that have shaped the freedom we enjoy today.
        English colonists had settled Charleston nearly 200 years earlier. It wasn’t long before plantations were producing rice and indigo for export and Charleston was on its way to becoming one of America’s most important seaports. Sadly, Charleston was also the South’s major port of entry for the slave trade, a dark chapter in the city’s history that today is confronted openly and honestly.
        Two weeks before the Boston Tea Party, a precursor to the American Revolution, Charleston had the first tea party, but with a less dramatic and more practical outcome. Colonists highjacked a shipment of tea to avoid paying the King’s exorbitant taxes. Rather than dump the shipment in the harbor, the contraband tea was hidden under the noses of the British in the harborside custom’s house – the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon -- until it could be sold to help finance the fight for independence.
        The Old Exchange still stands. So does Fort Sumter, the Old Slave Mart, Charleston City Market, the French Quarter, various churches, multiple old plantations, the Old Jail, and the list goes on. Many are open to tours, many of them stand along the original cobblestone streets traveled today by the city’s famously abundant horse and carriage liveries. They tell the story of a culture that is both Southern charm and, in some cases, unspeakable brutality, contradictory faces that have nurtured a fertile breeding ground for ghostly tales told by a legion of tour guides, climaxing at Halloween.
        Historic Charleston is a place to be enjoyed at the measured pace of the genteel South, savored for its history, accommodations, and extraordinary restaurants.
        There’s no place quite like it.


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