festival of houses and gardens

The Historic Charleston Foundation offers a tantalizing look at some of America's finest architecture, interiors and gardens with its 63rd annual FEstival of Houses and Gardens, from March 18 to April 17. This event is especially popular for the rare opportunity to tour Charleston's historic private homes, and the festival will feature dozens of locations in a variety of historic neighborhoods. Exquisite details in woodwork, iron, plaster, brick, and wall coverings dating from the 18th and 19 th centuries will offer fabulous backdrops to mansions brimming with crystal chandeliers, 12-foot ceilings, marble mantels, cypress paneling, and parquet floors. One of the most interesting ingterior styles is the "side-hall" house popular among wealthy Charlestonians in the 1840's and 50's, featuring massive arched doorways between ballrooms that can be opened to make the entire floor en suite. 

  The formal gardens have long been a major attraction for visitors to Charleston, and with the guidance of foundation docents, people can learn about the varieties of blooming species and their origins. People may be surprised to find out, for example, that our famed camellias, azaleas, and even our Confederate Jasmine come from Asia. Expert gardeners came to Charleston from  England and France during the city's historic heyday to plan formal gardens for the enjoyment of downtown residents, and that enjoyment is available for the price of a tour ticket today. 

ground mole plot Broad Street

 For anyone who thinks Charleston is too low in elevation for underground tunneling, think again. In the Fall of 1802, a man by the name of Withers concocted a plan to dig beneath Broad Street  to the old South Carolina Bank on the northwest corner of Church Street. The buildig, which still stands, had vaults on the first floor, and Withers' idea was to begin a tunnel in one of the grated street drains to the raised basement. He apparently would enter the drain each morning, pull the grate back over hime and dig, getting food and water from an accomplice who dropped them into the drain, and exit after dark each night. After nearly three months of work, Withers had burrowed under the street, but was discovered after his cohort in crime got to verbose while describing the caper in a local tavern.

 Another view from below ground on Broad Street can be seen from the provost dungeon of the Old Exchange. Built as a storage area for the Exchange in 1771, the vaulted brick cellar lies atop remains of gthe old city sea wall, and looking through the opening to BRoad Street, the layers of successive construciton can readily be seen as you stand a full five feet below the Broad Street pavement.

Take a trip to Beaufort, SC

European settlers who first came to this area in the 16th century had the right idea – find an attractive coastal location with and a wealth of waterways and natural beauty, settle in, and enjoy it. So Beaufort still beckons today, offering historic charm amidst a spectacular landscape of pristine natural serenity.

Visiting Beaufort from Charleston is a pleasant hour and a half driving experience once you enter the ACE Basin area on U.S. Highway 17 south of the Edisto River. ACE stands for the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto rivers that meander through 350,000 acres of protected land that includes a National Wildlife Refuge. This former expanse of rice plantations and timberland attracts increasing numbers of bald eagles, swans, geese, ducks, and deer, and a detour down Bennett’s Point Road to St. Helena Sound is one of the most enchanting drives in South Carolina.

Nearing Beaufort, man-made beauty provides worthy stops as well. The brick columns of Old Sheldon Church, just off Highway 17, are as compelling in ruins as any building is complete. Flanked by towering oaks in the hushed perfection of a shady glade, the colonial church has a fascinating history as described on an historical roadside marker, and is a perfect spot for a short stroll or picnic. Turning down U.S. Highway 21 to enter Beaufort across the mesmerizing vista of Whale Branch Creek, it’s worth making a quick detour on road S-7-42 to the old railroad village of Seabrook, whose classic siding and other historic buildings seem as though you’ve returned to another era.

The jewel of the journey is Beaufort itself, with its grand antebellum houses and churches, majestic moss-draped oak trees, and wonderful waterfront promenade and park along the sparkling Beaufort River. A sidewalk showcase of stately mansions is an easy stroll in a sight-packed historic district that also features museums and such elegant interiors as the 1790 John Mark Verdier House, where the Marquis de Lafayette fell in love with Beaufort nearly two centuries ago.

With so much more to enjoy at nearby St. Helena Island and its famous Penn Center, as well as the fabulous “mobile” lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park, it’s well worth a night’s stay in Beaufort. The lively café district along Bay Street features colonial taverns and chic restaurants, and the City Loft Hotel is a comfortable, upscale accommodation in the heart of the historic district on Carteret Street. Complete with espresso bar, morning pastries and a micro spa, this invigorating boutique hotel complements sensory Beaufort mornings with dolphins splashing along Waterfront Park and Carolina wrens whistling sweetly in Magnolia trees.

If you are planning on staying the night book your reservation