Charleston was a battleground during both the American Revolution and the Civil War. 1779’s Battle of Charleston was one of the last British victories over the American colonists. South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union when state officials, unhappy with the election of President Abraham Lincoln, met in Charleston on December 20, 1860 and voted to cede.
President Lincoln retaliated by having the Union Navy blockade Charleston. Confederate forces retaliated by shelling Fort Sumter; a key Union outpost in Charleston Harbor, on April 12, 1861 and the Civil War was underway.
What is not as well known about Charleston is that it was a bastion of religious tolerance from its founding in the 17th century. Prior to 1800 there were more Jews living there than either in New York or Philadelphia. Congregation Beth Elohim was founded in 1740, and its current home, a magnificent Greek Revival structure, was completed a century after that.
The oldest continuous house of worship in Charleston is St. Michael’s Episcopal Church that opened in 1761. Both George Washington and Robert E. Lee attended services there.
Charleston officials have always been concerned about preserving the city’s rich history and have strict regulations over the construction of new buildings that require them to be in an antebellum style.
You can certainly walk all over Charleston’s sizable historic district from its battery where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet to form Charleston Harbor to its famous City Market where vendors selling food, clothing, and the market’s most famous product, sweet grass baskets.
While exercise is certainly encouraged, I heartily recommend guided tours of the area to get the most out of your visit. If you want to learn Charleston’s history and simultaneously feel as if you are back in the 18th century I highly recommend Palmetto Carriage Tours that use horse and mule-drawn coaches. It is best to take a ride in the early morning before the city’s heat and humidity kicks in.
A great way to beat the heat as well as learn about the city maritime history is to enjoy a 90-minute Charleston Harbor Cruise that goes around Fort Sumter.
If you want a more personalized excursion, Janice Kahn, a lifelong Charlestonian, will take you in her car and show you not only the points of interest such as the famous military college, the Citadel, but she’ll also give background stories and anecdotes that very few know about. You will feel like an area insider after spending a couple of hours with her. Kahn Tours can be reached at (843) 556-0664.
The South Carolina Aquarium opened on the Cooper River in May 2000. While there aren’t any big mammals such as whales and dolphins here (you can generally see a dolphin in Charleston Harbor), there are lemurs, various sharks, area fish, and even an albino alligator.
The Charleston RiverDogs are the Yankees South Atlantic League affiliate and they play their home games at Joe Riley Stadium that opened in 1997. The season runs from early April to Labor Day. The RiverDogs got a lot of attention recently when Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez played a few games there.
Aside from history, Charleston is getting known by foodies for its fine restaurants that have attracted James Beard Award-winning chefs. Fleet Landing, located right on the Cooper River, has a large festive outdoor dock, and is renown for its reasonably-priced freshly caught seafood. I recommend the crab cake and the she-crab soup. The Charleston Grill and 82 Queen are fine dining restaurants that offer both seafood and chops.
There is a wide array of lodgings that fit all budgets. The Mills House, located on Meeting Street, is nearby to all of the historical sites and it has spacious rooms, an outdoor pool, and offers a complimentary breakfast to all guests. If you want a five-diamond experience without having to pay through the nose, Charleston Place, located across the street from Congregation Beth Elohim, is highly recommended.
Queens’ own JetBlue started service from JFK to Charleston last February and the flying time is roughly 90 minutes. JetBlue has two daily flights.
For more information, log onto www.explorecharleston.com or call the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 868-8118.