Historic Sites of the Holy City Just Around the Nearest Street Corner
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
History buffs and first time visitors to Charleston alike will find inspiration in any amount of time in Charleston, South Carolina. Simply take a stroll down any of the Holy City's busy streets or through quiet residential neighborhoods, and one can't help but encounter living history in nearly every park, building, and stately home. Learn and explore as you go, or stop by the Charleston CVB on Upper King Street for help planning your historical Charleston itinerary. Travel back in time on foot by visiting Charleston's downtown historical sites, like the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon on East Bay and Broad, the Old Slave Mart Museum on cobblestone Chalmers Street, or the Dock Street Theatre and French Hugenot Church in the elegant French Quarter. Sample local food and grab some Charleston craft souvenirs at the historical Charleston City Market to catch a break from the Charleston heat.
Venture outside of Charleston's peninsular downtown for a visit to Magnolia or Boone Hall plantations, take the ferry across the harbor to the site of the fist shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, or the family oriented Patriot's Point Naval Museum. Looking to get in touch with Charleston's natural history? Don't miss making a drive out to the 1500 plus year old Angel Oak, the lowcountry's favorite tree.
Dock Street Theatre
Located on the corner of French Quarter Queen and Church streets, the Dock Street Theatre has a rich Charleston history spanning four centuries. On the National Register of Historic Places as the first building in the U.S. designed for theatrical use, The Dock Street Theatre first opened in 1736, and hosted the first opera performance in America with Flora. The original building is said to have burned down in the Great Fire of 1740, and finally succumbed to disrepair following the Civil War. The theatre was rebuilt and reopened in 1937, with another final third reopening after extensive renovations and modernization in March of 2010. The Dock Street Theatre is now owned by the City of Charleston and home to Charleston Stage company, and is easily recognizable for its beautiful brick and ironwork facade. (843-577-7183)
Charleston City Market
The Historic Charleston City Market is perhaps the most visited destination in downtown Charleston. Always bustling with shoppers and sightseers, the City Market is open 365 days a year, and showcases local Charleston vendors, their unique wares and crafts, and casual and fine dining take-away fare. Stop by the Charleston City Market to pick up souvenirs, snack on local goods, or just to leisurely stroll and people watch. Charleston's famous sweet grass basket weavers can be found practicing their craft along the Market's open air stalls. The Market was constructed between 1804 - 1830, and originally used as a meat, vegetable, and seafood marketplace. ((843) 853-8000, (843) 937-0920)
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
Patriot's Point Naval & Maritime Museum is home to the USS Yorktown, USS Laffey, and USS Clamagore, all retired WW2 watercraft now at home in the Charleston harbor. Open daily from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Patriot's Point is a unique way to experience life at sea aboard these ships during World War 2, and learn about the history and brave missions of their American crews. Located just across the Ravenel Bridge from downtown Charleston and just 5 minutes by car, the Patriot's Point Naval & Maritime Museum is fun for the whole family and a convenient venture outside of the city. (843-884-2727, 866-831-1720)
Old Slave Mart Museum
Listen to the haunting real stories and view original artifacts and writings in this striking historic building once used for slave auctions. The museum's legacy as a part of a slave auction complex built in 1859 provides a unique home for the moving artifacts and disturbing personal histories that tell the story of slavery beginning in American colonial times. Charleston was a major port of call for the Middle Passage avenue of slave trade nearly up until the end of the civil war. Here, visitors can trace the African American experience in South Carolina from 1670 through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. (843-958-6467)
Home to the country's oldest public gardens, this 17th-century Charleston plantation also boasts one of the nation's largest collections of vibrant azaleas and camellias. Both the nature train and boat tour offer visitors an expansive tour and views of all of the plantation's breathtaking wetlands, lakes, forests and marshes. Two previous main houses were destroyed by fire during a raid by Union troops, and the current house, furnished with period pieces, dates to 1873. Magnolia Plantation is arguably one of the most serene, picturesque places in Charleston and South Carolina as a whole, so be sure to pack your camera. (843-571-1266, 800-367-3517)
Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
Purportedly home to countless ghosts and legends, this museum and historical landmark is one of the oldest buildings in Charleston. The historic attraction's tales of pirates, patriots, elegant Southern ladies and countless African slaves are told by the costumed docent guides as visitors explore the elegant Palladian exchange and the dank, barrel-vaulted dungeon. Many consider the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, built on the site of the 17th-century Half-Moon Bastion, to be one of the most historically significant buildings in all of early colonial America. Be sure to check out the site's webpage at www.oldexchange.org for seasonal events and more information! (843-727-2165)
This impressively massive live oak is believed to be more than 1500 years old, having survived many hurricanes earthquakes. The incredible heights stretch up 65 feet, with a trunk 25 feet in circumference, and twisting, crooked limbs that extend out over 160 feet, and provides shade over more than 17,000 square feet earth. Named for the family who once owned this John's Island property, the Angel Oak now occupies a public park tended by the City of Charleston. The Angel Oak is believed to be the oldest living thing this side of the Rocky Mountains, and is a truly beautiful piece of Charleston's natural history. (843-559-3496)
Fort Sumter National Monument
Fort Sumter, visible across the harbor from Waterfront Park and the Battery, is the famous site of the first shots of the Civil War. Sumter was taken by the Confederate Army in 1861, and became a Southern stronghold for most of the Civil War, even towards the end of the conflict. The fort is only accessible by water: daily ferries run informative trips back and forth, leaving from the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square and Patriots Point, year round. Nearby Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island, is also worth a visit. The Visitor Education Center, with extensive historical information on both forts, is at Liberty Square, on Concord Street downtown. (843-881-7337, 800-789-3678)
Boone Hall Plantation
An iconic row of ancient live oak trees welcomes you to one of America's oldest living and working plantations, and one of the most famous plantations in the Southern states. The majestic Boone Hall Plantation, set on 783 acres and established in 1681, and opened to the public in 1956, has been the filming location for dozens of movies TV series with its historic buildings and old slave cabins still perfectly intact. Boone Hall offers guided tour group tours of the elegant house, a carriage tour of the grounds or self-guided tours through the slave quarters and the extensive gardens. (843-884-4371)
Charles Towne Landing
Set on the very same land where the Carolinas' first permanent British settlers made their homes in the year 1670, this extensive 664-acre park offers not only beautiful natural surroundings but a living history lesson for the whole family. A natural habitat zoo featuring area wildlife that these early colonial settlers would have encountered, along with a replica sailing ship, an experimental garden, and an authentic replica common house can all be found and explored on this historic site. Along with these, you'll find picnic areas, hiking and biking trails, and beautiful regional plant life, including azaleas, camellias, and sprawling live oaks. (843-852-4200)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and north to Boston before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches and ever-growing food and craft beer scene. Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.