May 30, 2017: On to South Carolina, the Real South?
South Carolinians seem pretty adamant that their state is the “real” South. In a discussion with a South Carolinian we mentioned coming from Texas – he says, “Welcome to the REAL South.” OK then. We did notice pretty much right away that many of the lawyers and real estate agents on billboards (at least the men) are wearing bow ties in South Carolina.
Beaufort was founded in 1711 and prospered in a plantation economy producing Carolina Gold rice and sea island cotton.
Now a tourist information center and home to the Beaufort History Museum, this building, the Arsenal, was constructed in 1798 to house the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery, veterans of the Revolutionary War:
The streets of Beaufort’s historic center are lined with beautiful 19th-century homes.
Beaufort’s Civil War history is interesting. Just a few months after the Civil War started, Beaufort was occupied by Union forces. As a result, many of the wealthy planters abandoned the town and their slaves, and the town avoided the destruction that much of the South endured. (Early Union occupation is a not uncommon shared history among some of the better preserved Southern towns today.) Some 10,000 of those slaves became the first people freed as a result of the war. Some of those freedmen were among the first black troops to fight for the Union; others cultivated abandoned plantations as part of the Port Royal Experiment. Schools such as the Penn Center developed to educate freed slaves. One of those former slaves, Robert Smalls, became one of the first black Americans to serve in the U.S. Congress. Unfortunately, as is the case in much of the South, the rapid progress that the freedmen and their children made after the war was curtailed and rolled back by Jim Crow laws enacted after Reconstruction.
As part of our Harvest Hosts membership that we talked about previously, we spent a night at the Grapefull Sisters Vineyard. It’s actually in North Carolina, but close to the border. This vineyard also has an RV park, so we had a free RV site for the night. How was the wine? Well…they use exclusively muscadine grapes which are native to the area. The wines were all quite sweet. We appreciated the free night’s stay and enjoyed our visit to the tasting room, but didn’t take any wine to go, just a jar of their excellent chow chow.
It seems like Myrtle Beach has a reputation as a tacky beach destination crawling with bikers, kids and spring breakers.
As these pictures of wide open spaces indicate, that was not our experience. It seems that post-spring break in late April is not high season in Myrtle Beach. That made for an ideal time for us to enjoy the area’s beautiful beaches.
We spent three nights at Myrtle Beach State Park, which, as you can see from this picture, starts right at the edge of town:
It must be an oasis when the town is crawling with tourists. In fact, it was really nice to be there even with the town almost abandoned. We found out only after we got there that the hotels and resorts on the beach are ridiculously cheap during this slow time. Still, we don’t regret having stayed in the park.
The beach here forms these interesting tidal pool formations in the sand at low tide.
In some spots there are what seem to be millions of shells.
We got out early enough one morning to see the sunrise in progress. We didn’t have much company.
In our normal RV life, we don’t do a lot of traditional “camping” activities. We’re not sitting around campfires roasting s’mores. And giving up grilling has been one of the hardest sacrifices of the mobile lifestyle. But we finally broke down and felt like having some meat and so Michael improvised grilling solutions. He made a foil chimney to get the charcoal going, and we had delicious steaks using the steak on coals method as explained by Alton Brown.
Speaking of food, after our time in Myrtle Breach, we made a stop on the way to Charleston. A few months ago we were watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and saw Scott’s Bar-B-Que featured. Since we were somewhat in the neighborhood (we were in the same state), we decided to check it out. It was definitely a good decision.
Scott’s was everything we had hoped for. We are of the somewhat heretical position that BBQ done right is near a perfect food, and therefore the best BBQ joints are essentially indistinguishable, aside from the particular variety of meats they smoke, and the sides and sauces they provide. The meat itself, if cooked correctly, tastes about the same in Texas as it does in South Carolina. Or Kansas City. Or Minnesota. There’s really good BBQ all over the country, and it’s silly to say you have to go to a particular place to get the best.
But if you find yourself in South Carolina, we recommend you swing by Hemingway and judge for yourself. You probably won’t be able to say that you’ve had better.
Eventually, we made it to Charleston, South Carolina. In the past, it was common to refer to Charleston and Savannah as sister cities, both being English colonial ports, about 100 miles apart, with Charleston being the somewhat older and larger city.
Charleston has a bustling farmers market. It includes local produce and lots of other products, both food and otherwise, like locally made hats and soap. There was also live music. It reminded us somewhat of our cherished farmers market in St. Paul, MN.
See? Bowties were everywhere!
On a quiet Sunday morning, we took a walking tour of Charleston’s historic district through Free Tours by Foot. This is a name your own price tour company that operates in several U.S. and international cities. Assuming our experience was indicative, we highly recommend it (although that is quite an assumption). We had a very knowledgeable and fun guide who seemed to know half the folks we encountered on the street.
One of Charleston’s most notable structures is St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, where many of the city’s bluest of blue bloods gather on Sundays.
Among the notables buried at St. Philips are Edward Rutledge, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution, and John C. Calhoun, a US senator and vice president of the US, the intellectual champion of Southern slavery, as responsible for the US Civil War as any one man could be said to be. (Kind of makes you wonder why they named a lake in Minneapolis for him in the first place.)
A different specimen of blue bloods, French Hugenot to be exact, gathers at the French Protestant Church:
This “house” is one of the oldest in Charleston (and one of the oldest masonry houses in the US, apparently) and is for sale. House is a term to be used loosely here, as it doesn’t presently have a kitchen. It can be yours for about $1 million.
Frankly acknowledging Charleston’s history as a major slave trading port, our tour included a stop in front of the Old Slave Mart. Now a museum, its owners constructed this building in 1859 as an indoor slave auction in response to an 1856 city ordinance banning outdoor slave auctions in the city. Our guide informed us that some 40 of these indoor auction houses went up shortly after the enactment of the ban, giving a sense of the import of that trade to Charleston’s economy.
We were told all about the quarantine island where the incoming slaves were kept to be fed and strengthen from the brutal transatlantic journey before going off to the auctions. However, we later realized that the importation of slaves into the US was outlawed in 1808. These markets were built to sell slaves who were already in the US, right? We got some incomplete information. Something else to try to learn.
Lots of homes in Charleston appear to face their next door neighbors, not the street on which they sit. This position allows the wide facade and porches to catch the breeze from the ocean, helping to combat the brutal summer temperatures. You’ll notice that the main door off the street leads to the open porch, rather than to the interior of the house:
This row of houses sits along the Battery, a fortified seawall along the southern tip of the Charleston peninsula. Most of these houses were constructed before the Civil War and stand today in spite of the war, fire and earthquake damage the city has sustained over time.
After all the other forts we’ve seen in the Southeast, we visited probably the most important, Fort Sumter National Monument. The Civil War started here on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired on this federal fort in Charleston Harbor. While of great historical significance, the site itself was less interesting than others that we’ve recently visited.
A large part of the reason the fort is relatively dull (though there’s a really good museum inside) is that during the Civil War, Union guns pulverized the 3 story fort, and now only the first story remains. As we previously wrote, forts in Alabama and Georgia were quickly compromised by the Union’s new rifled cannons. Fort Sumter’s high walls were smashed by Union guns, leaving enormous piles of rubble from which the Confederate defenders nevertheless mounted an effective defense, and, remarkably, held the Union off (and protected Charleston) for more than 500 days.
Fort Sumter is accessible only by boat, so we had a nice ride out and back, taking in the harbor scenery.
We got a view of the USS Yorktown. It now calls Patriots Point home, a naval and maritime museum located across the harbor. We didn’t visit Patriots Point on this trip. Perhaps some other time.
Across Charleston Harbor is Mount Pleasant. We (and several other RVs) spent a couple of our Charleston nights at their Wal-Mart. It was one of the quietest Wal-Mart locations we’ve encountered.
Mount Pleasant is also home to Westbrook Brewing. It’s hard to throw a rock without hitting a craft brewery these days. We enjoy the availability of good beer (this was really good) but have entirely given up on trying to keep up with what’s hot in beer. There’s just too much of it.
Also in Mount Pleasant, we spent a couple of hours at Shem Creek Park. The park largely consists of a series of boardwalks along the creek and through the surrounding wetlands. There were lots of people fishing and boats to see and even a couple of dolphins fishing in the creek.
We finished our tour of South Carolina at Dreher Island State Park. This park is on dam-created Lake Murray. It was a scenic, quiet spot to spend a few days.
Again, while not in South Carolina, our tour of the Southeast ended in Augusta, Georgia. This visit was all about people. First we had lunch with Melissa, one of Laura’s high school buddies.
Then we spent a couple of days with Brett and Nathalie. Brett is an Army guy who we have visited in Germany, Hawaii and now Augusta. No offense Augusta, but you were the least exotic of these destinations. When we last saw these guys, they were a family of two. Now they have added two more humans and a very friendly lab. Time flies!
That’s it for the South Carolina, and for the Southeast. Where we end up next is anyone’s guess.
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