A travel journal
to Charleston by Taylor Shelby
Quote: Charleston is a city best seen by foot. In my first walking tour guide, I will point out some of the most interesting sites on one of Charleston's most beautiful streets.
Lest you think I'm telling you lies, I am a licensed tour guide of the city of Charleston, and all of this information is based on official documents and well-researched books. I have made an effort to allow you to go on a tour that lets you see what you want and take as long as you want.
Church Street gets its name from St. Philips Church, which was built on this street in 1710. It was one of the original streets in the first plan of Charleston, drafted in 1672. Today, it houses three important churches, a very large number of colonial homes, and America's first theatre building. This beautiful, quiet street is often overlooked by visitors, but it should not be missed.
Church Street runs parallel to and between Meeting and East Battery/East Bay Street. It begins at the battery and runs to the market. For the purposes of this tour, I am ending my commentary at St. Phillips Episcopal Church. You can always take it backward if you are so inclined.
The good thing about this is that it is free! There is one house that you can pay to go in and see and there are a couple of little shops, but that is all optional, of course. If you spent too much on that dinner last night (I know, I've been there also!), this will save you some money.
Attraction | "Dock Street Theatre - 135 Church St."
The building that you see today is a replica of America's first theatre building built in 1735. The theatre was christened with a performance of The Recruiting Officer in 1736. Sadly, in 1740, most of the historic French Quarter was destroyed in a great fire. Dock Street Theatre was most likely lost in that fire.
In 1809, a new building was built on this site to house the new Planter's Hotel. In its heyday, before the Civil War, the hotel was a mecca for the wealthy, elite, and powerful who visited Charleston. It was famous for its food, and Planter's Punch was invented here. One of the famous guests was Junius Booth, a travelling actor and father to the notorious John Wilkes Booth. After the Civil War, the hotel fell into ruin.
In 1935, the city made a move to restore the original theatre, and they rebuilt the building using plaster and woodwork for historic buildings that were being torn down. In 1937, the theatre reopened with a revival of The Recruiting Officer.
Make sure that you go into the theatre. The people who work there are very nice about letting people who wander in off the street look around. The interior is beautiful, and my picture is too dark to do it justice. Make sure you look at the drawing room above the stairs to see the salvaged architectural features of the building. On the first level to your left there is a small gallery. When I was there, it had very beautiful hand-blown glass. Make sure to peek in and check it out.
Today, Dock Street is home to the Charleston Stage Company. Seeing a performance here is a really good nighttime activity. If you can't get a dinner reservation until late, think about seeing a show first. There performances are always excellent, and you will feel very pampered sitting in the beautiful, historic theatre. You can check out their season at the Charleston Stage Website. Tickets run about $20 to $35 depending on the show.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 10, 2005
Dock Street Theatre
135 Church Street
Charleston, South Carolina 29401
Attraction | "French Huguenot Church - 136 Church St."
The first building on this site was started in 1687. It stood for over 100 years, but in 1796, during a great fire, the church was blown up to provide a fire break. It didn't work, and most of the neighborhood was burned anyway.
The congregation quickly rebuilt, and a second church was raised in 1800. It is said that the services at the church were timed with the tides so that the many planters who worshiped here could sail in from their plantations on the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. In 1823, the church was closed due to declining membership.
In 1844, Hugenot descendents who wanted to return to the faith of their fathers revived the congregation. They tore down the old structure and built the one that you see today. This building was designed by noted Charleston architect Edward Brickell White, who departed from his traditional Greek-inspired designs to build Charleston's first gothic-revival building. The iron features are unusual but reflects the fact that it was very difficult to get carved stone in Charleston during the antebellum period.
For the majority of the 20th century, the church was only used occasionally for special events like organ recitals and weddings. In 1983, and active congregation was revived. Today, it is the only French Calvinist congregation in the U.S. The church is open to the public and very beautiful on the inside. Make sure to take a look at the cemetery, too.
French Huguenot Church
136 Church Street
Charleston, South Carolina 29401
32 Church Street - Many notable Charlestonians have lived in this home:
1804 - Carpenter Robery Lindsay
1817- Rev. Andrew Fowler, founder of many churches in the south, pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church on Edisto Island, and publisher of a weekly Episcopal newspaper
1920 - U.S. congressman Turner Logan
37 Church Street - Traditionally, it is said that the owner of this house used to keep his money in a cask on the front stoop. That way, he rationalized, no thief would ever think to look there. No word on whether or not this actually worked!
39 Church Street - In 1811, a tornado ripped through Charleston. The roof of this house was torn off, and the 30-foot support beam was later found a quarter-mile away, driven into the roof of a home on King Street.
Water Street and 50 Church St. - Water Street got its name for Vanderhorst (pronounced VAN-DROSS) Creek, which used to run where Water Street is today.
50 Church St. is the site of the Old Mariner's Church. The corner of the church that used to stand here was torn off when a ship was driven up the creek during a hurricane in 1752.
When you cross Water Street, go right a little bit and you will re-join Church Street.
59 Church Street - This house is said to be haunted by the ghost of Dr. Joseph Brown Ladd. In 1786, Ladd, a 22-year-old poet and physician, was carried into this house after being severely wounded after fighting in a duel. Being a gentleman, he fired his gun into the air. His opponent did not. He died not long after. It is reported that he was fighting to defend the honor of an actress named Mrs. "Perdita" Robinson. Kids, the lesson is: Never get involved with actresses.
71 to 79 Church St. - All of these houses were owned and used by the Brewton family, one of the most powerful families in Colonial America. Col. Miles Brewton, the patriarch, is thought to be the wealthiest man in any of the 13 colonies. 71 Church St. was the home of his son, Col. Robert Brewton. Brewton was a wealthy merchant, a militia officer, and a member of the commons house of assembly. This house, built in 1721, is one of the earliest surviving examples of a Charleston Single House, the most common floor plan in Charleston.
The single house gets its name from the layout of the house, which is made up of a single room wide and is two rooms deep. The actual front doors of the houses are in the middle of the side porch (or piazza, in Charleston). These homes originated when the common English-style row homes (like Rainbow Row) proved to be poorly adapted to the Charleston climate. They were narrow, deep, and windowless on the sides. To improve air circulation and lessen fire hazards, Charlestonians separated the row homes and created the single house.
73, 75, 77, and 79 Church St. were homes and stables of Robert Brewton's brothers and sisters.
76 Church St. - In his house in the early 20th century, Dubose Heyward wrote his famous novel Porgy on which the popular operetta Porgy and Bess was based on. This was the first performance that had a cast composed entirely of African-Americans.
87 Church St. - This is the Heyward-Washington house. This home is owned and operated by the Charleston Museum as a house museum. You can read more about it here.
89 to 91 Church St. - In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this tenement house was known as "cabbage row." The African-American tenants used to put cabbages on the window sills to sell. Dubose Heyward based Catfish Row in Porgy on this area and got a lot of inspiration from the people who lived here.
Charleston, South Carolina