SOUTH CAROLINA TOURIST INFORMATION: (800) 346-3634
Statehouse, Columbia (803) 734-2430
Designed by Baltimore architect John R. Neirnsee in 1854, construction on this Capitol began in 1855 but ceased during the Civil War, and though cannonballs had pierced the half-built exterior, construction slowly continued until completion in 1907. (Neirnsee may have been clairvoyant, having designed 52 front steps for the building that took 52 years to complete.) The Capitol building had been Niernsee's life work. He estimated taking five years to complete, but hadn't factored in a Civil War. His work on the statehouse was suspended when the nearly completed white Italian marble exterior received six cannonballs from Sherman's troops. Today, brass stars mark the places where cannonballs struck in February 1865. In 1888 Niernsee returned to Columbia to pick up the pieces and continue work on the statehouse, but his death prevented him from seeing its completion. His successor departed somewhat from the original design, crowning the capitol with a gleaming copper dome rather than the planned 200-foot tower with a colonnade square base and octagonal lantern. The grounds, planned by Niernsee were also completed in 1907. Today the finished Capitol's portico is lined with 22 blue granite columns, quarried locally in Columbia. These columns are the largest monolithic columns in the United States, each one a solid block of blue stone. Inside, the building is equally elegant and majestic. Twin cast iron staircases lead to the joint legislative meeting room, a large foyer of lustrous wood and stained glass. Charles C. Wilson, the last architect on the statehouse proclaimed it "one of the most notable buildings in the world." Its Corinthian columns designed by Neirnsee were, in Wilson's words, "wonderful, nothing finer in France or Italy."
Check it out . . . . . . The front side of the Capitol faces Main Street, a sweet little avenue that can still handle diagonal parking pointing into storefronts. Among the modern buildings on this street are some charming turn of the century buildings that seems shoe-horned in between the modern mediocrity. Spanish Gothic, glazed terra cotta buildings with ceramic tiles brighten an otherwise boring section of the street while English Regency, Tudor Gothic, French and Italian Renaissance and Romanesque buildings add depth to today's bland buildings. Some of the older buildings are being restored, although some seem to have held up fairly well, without restoration. For example, the Capitol Cafe, which has been a restaurant since 1905, still serves its meals as though the clock stopped and the calendar froze. And be sure to walk through the 1903, L-shaped Arcade Mall, Columbia's first enclosed mall, a Renaissance Revival building of marble and terra cotta. It's central two-story passageway is trimmed by charming balconies on the second floor and lighted by a pitched roof skylight. This unrestored mall has held up remarkably well. Oddly enough, its obvious age and wear adds to its charm.
South Carolina State Museum, Columbia (803) 898-4967
The state museum is advertised as, "South Carolina under One Roof," which indeed it is. Four museums: The Lipscomb Art Gallery, The Natural History Museum, The Science and Technology Museum, and the Cultural History Museum tell all about the state's industry, history and culture in this four-story brick Mills building, a former 1894 a cotton mill, the first totally electric textile mill in the world.
Charleston Historic District, Charleston (843) 724-7474
Preservation rules in Charleston. From the pastel stucco rowhouses on Rainbow Row lining the waterfront, to the antebellum mansions farther up along the Battery Promenade, to the uniquely Charlestonian "single houses"(one-room facades facing the street, yet extending six-rooms deep, with a long piazza overlooking the side yard), the history of Charleston's aristocratic colonial world is clearly evident in its historic buildings that survived two American wars and wildly erratic Atlantic weather. Charleston's historic district encompasses more than 2,000 buildings, 73 predate the Revolutionary War, 136 are from the late 1700s, and 600 are from the period between the Revolutionary and Civil War. A religiously tolerant city in Colonial days, was Charleston, dubbed "The Holy City" because of all its churches. It's skyline has more steeples and church towers than clouds. And the beauty of all these buildings is matched by the exquisite gardens of Charleston properties. No matter how big or how small the land surrounding the home or building, it is adorned by a lavish garden draped in the sweet scents and colors of the South. As Rhett Butler said to Scarlett in the movie, Gone with the Wind, he wants to go back to Charleston, "where there's a little bit of grace and charm left in the world."
Tip: There are three ways to tour historic Charleston: tour bus, horse-and-carriage, or by foot. The tour bus seems the most distant. The carriage rides add a nice dimension of transporting the visitor back in time along with the viewing of the architecture. But the self-guided Walking Tours show the intricate details the best. One has the time to stop and examine the fabulous wrought iron work on gates, the fantastic use of color in the gardens, and the architectural minutiae that makes this Southern town so charming.
Angel Oak Park, Johns Island (843) 559-3496
Angel Oak Park just outside of Charleston is home to "the oldest tree east of the Mississippi." Although the age of Angel Oak has long been reported to be in excess of 1400 years, the actual age has never never been scientifically substantiated, because live oak trees have tendency toward heart rot, which renders the core samples unusable. The Angel Oak is a live oak, a native tree of the southeast lowcountry, especially the sea islands. Live Oaks are not tall trees, however, their canopies are exceedingly wide. Only in the very oldest specimens, like the Angel Oak, do you find massive limbs, heavy by the weight of the years, resting gracefully on the ground, like the fattened arms of an old ballerina, too aged and weary to hold her pose. Many people mistakenly believe the name "Angel Oak" refers to a type of Live Oak, but actually this name comes from a family name, Martha and Justis Angel, the previous owners of this property. The dimensions of Angel Oak are as follows: Height - 65 Feet, Circumference - 25.5 Feet, Area of Shade - 17,000 Square Feet, Largest Limb - 89 Feet Long, 11.25 Feet Thick.
Tip: An unassuming brown shack beside the tree contains a delightful gift shop that could be easy to miss if one isn't looking for it. Take a look inside at some of the unique gifts, some not available anywhere else. The proceeds support the maintenance of Angel Oak and the park which are both open to the public free of charge. The front porch of this shack has rocking chairs and an old-fashioned front porch swing to allow guests to sit, pause, gaze at the ancient tree and ponder on one's insignificant little life.
Cypress Gardens, Moncks Corner (843) 553-0515
Oh, how can I begin to describe the ecstasy of this place? I'll begin first, with the Butterfly House. The entrance is entrancing as a feast of flowers, fluttering butterflies and chimes of chirping birds greet your eyes and ears like the threshold of a magical kingdom. The delicate colors, fragrances and sounds in this small conservatory fill the air with the fleeting, dancing, playful side of life. In a small corner of the room is a quiet little cabinet with a sign on the door like the story of Alice in Wonderland, the door reads "Open Me." When you open the door, you see a close-up view of bees at work on a honeycomb. Does life get any sweeter than this? Just as you're lulled into the rhythmic harmony of this gentle life, you are rudely introduced into the harsher facts of life as you leave the Butterfly house and pass the "Alligator Pit" on the way to the aquarium. Any feelings of peace and forbearance are shattered by these sinister beasts and the aquarium further emphasize the dangers of life with its exhibits of poisonous snakes and threatening sea life. Slightly agitated by these exhibits, the you now proceed to the Blackwater Cypress Swamp for a flat-bottomed boat ride through the black waters and eerie trees, draped in gossamer Spanish Moss, where alligators float by like harmless logs, hiding their dangerous jaws. After the boat ride, a calming walk through the pure white, dazzling pink and brilliant red Azalea and Camellia Gardens, will quiet you once again as Mother Nature nurtures your soul with these wonderful flowers. All along these garden paths hang the sweetly scented, ever-present purple Wisteria, spilling down from trees, or twisting around bushes and shrubs. These garden paths lead past native wildflowers growing along bridges and arbors that rim this the mystical Cypress Swamp. The swamp was once the reservoir for an 18th century rice plantation. In fact, the last garden on this loop garden tour is of an inland rice field.In the early 20th century, Mr. Benjamin Rufus Kittridge, a wealthy Californian, bought the the neglected plantation as a winter home for his bride who was homesick for the lowcountry of her birth, and as a duck-hunting vacation home for himself. Surprisingly his love for gardening equaled his love for hunting and the Cypress Swamp was soon filled with an exquisite flowering landscape, thus changing the name to Cypress Gardens. When the Kittridges died, their son donated the garden to the city. Today the graves of Mr. & Mrs. Kittridge are trimmed in hedgerow, part of the garden path loop trail.
Check it out . . . Quite a few movies were filmed on location here at the Cypress Swamp, such as Swamp Thing, Rear View Mirror, North and South, and The Yearling. Today a reconstructed "ruin" of a church remains in the middle of the swamp, a leftover from the new Mel Gibson film due out in July 2000, called The Patriot.
Tip: Betrothed couples are invited to exchange their marriage vows at the Victorian gazebo in the Wedding Garden on the grounds.
OUR CAMPSITE FOR THE WEEK
Oak Plantation Campground, Charleston (843) 766-5936
RVs are squeezed tightly together, offering little privacy. On the plus side, however, the office has modem hook-ups and their weekly rates are good. The grounds are meticulously maintained, and the campground is close to two major highways leading to all the interesting points in South Carolina. So if you want an immaculate, convenient, low-priced site, this fills the bill.