Charleston-Days Out

As fabulous as downtown Charleston is, only minutes away you will find some very historic plantations, as well as Fort Sumter, where our Civil War began.

Charleston-Days Out

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by zabelle on July 11, 2005

Historic downtown Charleston has enough to keep you busy for at least three days--possibly more. By allowing ourselves four full days, we had enough time to visit some places beyond the city limits.

Middleton Place - Even though the main house was closed in January, there was enough to see between the gardens and the grounds to keep us entertained for several hours. Plan to have lunch here as well, since their restaurant is first-class.

Angel Oak - Located on Johns Island, this ancient oak is a tribute to the perseverance of this mighty tree. Make sure that you pick up a copy of the Historic Charleston Visitor’s Guide Map, it has Angel Oak clearly marked on it.

Fort Sumter - Part of the National Park Service, this Fort, named for South Carolina’s Revolutionary War hero Thomas Sumter, has a story to tell. You must visit the fort, which is located on an island in Charleston Harbor on a tour.

Magnolia Plantation - You really could spend a whole day hear taking all the different tours that they offer. You can tour the house, the gardens, and especially the swamp.

One of a Kind - Truly, most of the items in this wonderful little store are one of a kind. Located right on the corner of Church Street and Linguard Street, one block off Market, this upscale boutique has an artsy ambience that drew us in likes moths to a flame. I went home with two pairs of original earrings that I adore. Limiting myself to two was a challenge I was hardly up for. They offer a wide variety of unique blown glass ornaments, paintings, handcrafted jewelry and a whole lot more from over 400 American artists.

Terrace Oaks Antique Mall - Located at 2037 Highway 700, this is a fully stocked multi-dealer shop that has enough bric-a-brac to keep you poking around for an hour. ${QuickSuggestions} Where in the World are the Signers of the Declaration of Independence Buried? We played this game in St Philips Graveyard. There are a list of whose buried in the cemetery right as you enter but no map as to the location of the graves. It took us three different tries to accomplish it, but we finally succeeded.

Pick up a copy of ‘Charleston’s Key Attractions" it not only has a $1-off coupon for Middleton Place, it has a $2 coupon for Spiritline Cruises, which are the tours that visit Fort Sumter.

The Official Tours and Attractions Guide to Charleston offers a $1 discount for all car occupants to Magnolia Plantation and its gardens.

Plan, plan, and then plan some more. Charleston is one of the most culturally rich places I have ever visited. Contact the Charleston CVB and get some of their wonderful brochures before you even leave home. Once you arrive, make the Visitors Center your first stop. By using all the information that they can provide, not only will you enrich your visit and maximize your time, but you can save yourself some bucks as well.

${BestWay} Walking is the best way to experience downtown Charleston. You will need to go on an organized tour to see Fort Sumter, and there are other tours that can take you out to the Plantations. Driving yourself is the only way to visit Angel Oak. Driving is relatively easy in Charleston, and with a good detailed map of downtown, like the offical map provided by the CVB you will soon be cruising along.

While you are walking around downtown Charleston, be sure to visit the City Market. It has been a public market since the land was ceded to the city by Charles Cotesworth Pickney in 1788, on the condition that it always be a public market. You can find everything here from flea market items to brightly colored woven French tablecloths. You can spend time watching one of the local women weaving a sweetgrass basket or pick up a praline to snack on later.

Middleton Place Restaurant

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by zabelle on July 11, 2005

The Plantation Luncheon is served from 11am to 3pm daily. It is a three-course prix-fixe meal for $13.95.

First-Course Choices:

She crab soup

Oyster Stew

Okra Gumbo

Plantation Salad

Main Course:

Middleton Sliced Beet Salad

BBQ Shrimp

Roast Hen Quarter

Carolina Pulled Pork

Rosie's Pilaus

Plantation Meat Pie

Pan Seared Skirt Steak Salad


Strawberry Shortcake

Pecan Pie

Sweet Potato Pie

Huguenot Torte

There are certainly some interesting choices. I chose the she crab soup, barbeque shrimp, and strawberry shortcake. The soup was a beautiful pink color and thick with crab, and the barbeque shrimp was served over stone-ground grits, which is an inspired combination that I saw on several menus around town. The strawberry shortcake was homemade biscuit with fresh strawberries, whipped crème, and strawberry coulis. It would have been perfect if the biscuit was fresher.

Al had the oyster stew, which I had never tasted before and fell in love with. It was deliciously rich and full of oysters and potatoes. He had the Carolina pulled pork, dressed with a mustard-based sauce and collard greens. His dessert choice was the sweet potato pie, and it was fabulous, well spiced and not very sweet. The whipped cream complemented it nicely.

Joe had the okra gumbo a thick, hearty vegetarian soup. For the main course, he chose the plantation meat pie, which was a little like shepherd’s pie, with the addition of sausage. Joe liked it a lot. He chose the Huguenot torte for dessert, a spiced cake with chunks of apples. We all agreed that Al’s sweet potato pie was the winner in the dessert stakes.

We happened to come here on a very quiet day, and we were the only ones in the dining room the entire time we were there. Service was friendly and efficient. We had a lovely table overlooking the Rice Mill Pond. This is a very nice place to stop for lunch, and the atmosphere is very sophisticated and warm. It is the perfect complement to a visit to Middleton Place. Candlelight dinners are also served from 6 to 9pm.

Middleton Place Restaurant
4300 Ashley River Road
Charleston, South Carolina, 29414
(843) 556-6020

Angel Oak

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by zabelle on July 11, 2005

It takes real determination to visit Angel Oak. Talk about your being off the beaten track! It is on John’s Island, and that in itself wouldn’t be so bad, but the signs are almost nonexistent. Now, I’m sure you are wondering why in the world you would want to drive out of the city to see an oak tree. This is no regular oak tree. It is a monument to determination. Long before the white man settled the Low Country, this oak was standing. It’s nearly impossible to determine its exact age, but estimates have suggested that 1,400 years old is not out of the question.

The trunk of Angel Oak is 25 1/2 feet around and it stands 65 feet tall, but more amazing still is that its canopy is over 17,000 square feet. You will feel like a dwarf as you stand under this phenomenal tree. When you imagine all the hurricanes, lightning storms, and winter winds it has survived, you to will be awed. Not that it was unique in early America; these giant oaks are indigenous to this area. However, in the 17 and 18th centuries, their wood was highly prized by shipbuilders, and most of the others fell to the lumberjacks ax or saw.

Angel Oak was originally located on a land grant given to Abraham Waight. One of his plantations, The Point, passed through the family until it passed to Martha Waight, who married Justis Angel. The Angel family leased the property with the oak tree on it to the South Carolina Agricultural Society for $100 a year. In 1991, the city of Charleston acquired the property and opened it to the public free of charge. If you want to have a party here or be married under its boughs, you can rent the property.

There is a small but jam-packed store on the site. The road to get there is unpaved, and so is the parking lot. Don’t wait until 4:30pm to visit. When we were there it was closing at 4:30, even though it should have been open until 5pm. To get there, take route 17 to Main Road. Look for Angel Oak Road and pray that you see the signs.

Angel Oak Tree
3688 Angel Oak Road
John's Island, Charleston, 29455
(843) 559-3496

Fort Sumter

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by zabelle on July 11, 2005

Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, is a must-visit for any history buff. The fort is located on an island in Charleston Harbor and can only be visited on a tour. Managed by the National Park Service, tours leave the pier adjacent to the North Carolina Aquarium at 11am and 2:20pm. These are the winter hours, and I am sure there must be more visits during the warm months.

The trip takes a half-hour each way, and we are allowed 1 hour to visit the fort itself and the museum. You purchase your ticket at the information building and then pass through to the Spiritline Ship. In warm weather, as many as 385 people crowd aboard, but on an overcast day in January, it was closer to 50. There is an audio presentation on the way over, telling about the building of Fort Sumter and the events leading up to the confrontation. On the upper deck, seating is in plastic deck chairs, or you can stand at the bow and feel the breeze in your face. Below deck, there is a restaurant, but it wasn’t open. Coffee, soda, snacks, and hot dogs were available at the main deck snack bar.


Once you land at the fort, you can take a tour with one of the rangers, which last about 15 minutes. I would say that ours lasted closer to 30. We learned about the building of the fort and the changes it has undergone over the years. At one time, the officers’ barracks, which no longer exist, were quite luxurious. Our ranger talked about the history of brick forts and why they are no longer used. The bricks that constructed this fort were all made by slave labor. Evidently, the United States was not above using slave-made products when it suited them to do so.

There is a museum inside the fort. One of their treasures is the flag that was flying over the fort when the shelling began. Another is the flag of South Carolina. Standing on the wall, you can see other islands and Charleston in the distance. If you would rather not take the guided part of the tour, you are free to tour on your own with a map that gives very good directions.

There is a very small gift shop, both at the fort and at the information center. It has the usual park department items. I was very surprised to find no T-shirts with Fort Sumter on them.

Keep in mind that it will be a lot cooler out on the water than it is in town, so dress accordingly. Also, seasickness could be an issue, as the water was rough. There are stairs involved in getting onto the walls of the fort, but I believe that even with limitations, the lower level would certainly be accessible.

Fort Sumter National Monument
1214 Middle St
Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, 29482
+1 843 883 3123

Magnolia Plantation

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by zabelle on July 11, 2005

Magnolia Plantation
3550 Ashley River Rd

Located just ten miles from downtown Charleston, a visit to Magnolia Plantation offers the opportunity to savor the quieter, more gentle time of the antebellum South. This is a plantation with a long family history, extending back over 300 years. Not to imply that a visit here is all about yesterday; nothing could be further from the truth. While history will always be a part of the charm of Magnolia Plantation, the conservation of the black water swamp

and the accessibility of the Audubon Swamp Garden make it a very eco-friendly and forward-looking place to visit.

Depending on your interests, you can choose to visit the gardens or the house or both, as there are different entrance fees for each. Beyond that the Audubon Swamp is an additional fee. You begin your visit by watching a 12-minute video in the orientation theater. You will learn about the history of Magnolia Plantation and the three houses that have called it home. The original burned in 1812, and General Sherman burned the second in 1865. The Rev. John Drayton barged his hunting cottage twelve miles down the river from Summerville and placed it on the original foundation of the second house. I was impressed with his ingenuity and determination to rebuild after the war. In 1891, additions were made to make the cottage the same size as the second house. (The cottage had been considerably smaller.)

Tours of the house are offered every hour, and it is an interesting home to visit. The antiques on display are of museum quality, and when you consider that the family lived in the house until 1975, it is even more amazing. It still feels very much like a family home, with photos on display and antique quilts on the beds. The fact that some of the photos were done by Matthew Brady was frosting on the cake. After your tour, be sure to visit the exceptionally fine gift shop; it offers everything from toys and books to fine art.

When we arrived, there was a talk being given by one of the docents in the slave cabin,

which is located very close to the parking lot. If you are bringing children, there is a petting zoo, a maze, and a playground for their entertainment.

With over 500 acres, there is plenty to see here. From the 17th-century English garden to the Barbados Tropical Garden, all your senses will be assaulted in a very pleasant way.

The sights and scents, even in January, were quite amazing. We particularly liked the Biblical Garden, where each plant is placed with its correct scripture.

As you are walking through the grounds, take the time to visit the family tomb

of the Draytons, which is located near the Ashley River.

Middleton Place

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by zabelle on July 11, 2005

Middleton Place
4300 Ashley Rd.

Located about half an hour outside Charleston, Middleton Place is home to the oldest landscaped gardens in America. Thought to be looted and burned by Union soldiers,

one section of the house has been restored and contains several fine family portraits. Imagine our surprise when we were told that the house was closed for their annual cleaning. Joe had purchased a combination ticket mainly so that he could visit the house. Here again is an excellent example of phoning ahead to make sure a venue is open when you plan to visit. As usual, we didn’t follow our own advice.

There are several levels of entry tickets.

$30 - house, gardens, and stables
$20 - gardens and stables
$39 - house, gardens, stables, and carriage ride
$33 - gardens, stables, and carriage ride

In addition, there are free tours of the gardens and stables offered at different times during the day. Vastly disappointed, we opted to do a self-guided tour. You follow the numbers and arrows through the grounds.

As you can imagine, January is not the best month to appreciate the beauty of gardens, but luckily for us, it was the warmest January most people can remember. After leaving the parking lot, you will arrive at the refection pool. It nicely frames the formal gardens.

We didn’t follow the numbers exactly at this point, since we could not enter the house. We went instead into the secret garden and then to Arthur Middleton’s tomb. Walking through the avenues of camellias was striking, even with only a few blossoms. We crossed the ruins of the main house and walked the parterre and terraces.

We climbed down to the flooded rice fields and by the butterfly lakes on our way to the Rice Mill. Be sure to read the plaques describing what a labor-intensive crop rice is.

We walked up the woody azalea hill and across the Rice Mill Pond Bridge. Joe crossed the lawn to visit the chapel, while Al and I headed for the stable yard. Here we met several of the staff, who were more than happy to give us a little history

lesson about life at Middleton before the Civil War and after.

We finished our tour at Eliza’s House. It is a two-family duplex, lived in by both slaves and freedmen.

The last occupant was Eliza Leach, who died in 1986 at age 94. It is believed that former slaves Ned and his wife Chloe may have once occupied this same cabin. Half of the house is furnished, and the other half is a museum dedicated to telling the story of the slaves from Africa to emancipation.

There is a garden center, a very fine gift shop, a restaurant, and a snack bar at Middleton.

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