It was my first time to visit the historic port city of Charleston, South Carolina. Even though the carriage tours were tempting, we decided to take a self-guided walking tour through the historic downtown district so we could see and explore Charleston at our own pace. Here are some of the highlights.
We Began our Walking Tour at St. Michael’s Church
We started our walking tour at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. I was inspired by the beauty of this 18th-century, historic white church with a tall steeple. It’s open to visitors, so we stepped inside to see this church that had survived wars, fires, and hurricanes. Rows and rows of box-pews filled the room, facing the pulpit and the organ pipes. Pew Number 43 was used by George Washington in 1791 and by Gen. Robert E Lee in 1861.
St. Michael’s steeple was a target for British ship gunners in the Revolutionary War, so the church had it painted black. But it was even more visible against the blue sky. Oooops.
The graveyard behind the church is the resting place of many colonial-era Charlestonians and is historical as well. Two signers of the Constitution are buried there, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and South Carolina Governor John Rutledge. The cemetery is well maintained and we enjoyed walking through, looking at the old headstones and markers.
Peaceful Walk through Washington Square
Across the street was Washington Square, an inviting park with wrought-iron gates, a quiet place to reflect on the past. In the center was an obelisk dedicated to soldiers of the Civil War. We saw other monuments and markers dedicated to Revolutionary and Civil War heroes and heroines. The statue of George Washington was (finally) placed in 1999.
Exploring Some Historical Treasures
Nearby is the Dock Street Theatre where we stopped to go inside. This ornate building dates back to 1809 when it was built as the Planter’s Hotel. The style reminds me of New Orleans!!
As the last surviving hotel of the antebellum period, this building has been beautifully preserved. It is now the home of the largest theater production company in South Carolina.
Another historical site is the Pink House. It is believed to be the second oldest remaining structure in Charleston, built around 1712. It was a tavern built in the bordello district near the wharfs. No, it was never a HOUSE, but yes it is PINK!
One of the well-known sites in historic Charleston is the Exchange and Provost. It was completed in 1771 to support harbor commerce and was also the location of significant meetings during the colonial period. During the Revolutionary War, the British used the building as barracks and the basement as a military prison.
The Old Slave Mart is located on Chalmers Street, one of the few remaining cobblestone streets in Charleston. It is the only known remaining structure that was used as a slave auction gallery, where auctions took place until 1863. Today it houses the Old Slave Mart Museum. It was an opportunity to reflect on the past and the atrocity of slavery.
See the Iconic Rainbow Row!!
I enjoyed strolling along Rainbow Row. This is a stretch of 13 colorful houses along East Bay Street, probably the most famous residential block in Charleston. These row houses date back to the 18th century when merchants operated stores on the ground levels and lived in the upper levels. The rainbow of houses is an iconic site in Charleston.
St. Phillips Episcopal Church and Graveyard
Another beautiful church towering over downtown is the stuccoed brick St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church. The colonial congregation built a small church in 1681, but the current building was built in 1835. Many notables are buried in the graveyard, including Charles Pinckney, signer of the Constitution, and Edward Rutledge, signer of the Declaration of Independence.
I also enjoyed seeing the carriage steps (upping stones) around Charleston. These were used by women and children getting in and out of horse-drawn carriages. These could still be handy!!
Historic Heyward-Washington House
These carriage steps in the picture below are in front of the historic Heyward-Washington House, which was the home of Declaration of Independence signer Thomas Heyward. President George Washington was entertained at the house in May 1791 while visiting Charleston.
Beautiful Sites Along our Walking Tour
One of the things I enjoyed the most about our walking tour was the stunning visuals with almost every turn. There were beautiful gardens, lovely walkways and courtyards, colorful buildings, and historic landmarks.
We definitely experienced the southern charm and learned about the history of Charleston. I definitely recommend seeing Charleston on a self-guided walking tour!