Hilton Head, SC

Vacationer's Mecca

As a resort Hilton Head is only 50 years old, and the island isn't really technically considered as one of the barrier islands but rather part of a glacial moraine and a sea island from long ago deposits. What it definitely is is a year round playground.

There are at least 2 dozen golf courses on this 55 square mile island with many of the courses garnering considerable fame in the golf world for hosting some of the biggest PGA tournaments. 

Come sit a spell. There are 15 gated communities on the island so that should tell you something about the target age group.

Popular with the avian set, this flock of Brown Pelicans are beginning to display their breeding plumage wherein the head coloring becomes more pronounced. The cormorant at far right is just plain jealous. The range of tides can be seen on the seawall. Tidal swings can hit 10'.

 Garden neighbors seem pretty peaceable don't they? There were certainly enough of the little red flowers to go around

This is a Fiddler Crab. It is the mark of the specie to have one claw markedly bigger than the the other. Large claw distribution can be 50-50 right or left. They are a good indicator of marsh health, which is their habitat.

As small as they might be, they produce these oversized spheres of waste. Known as "detritivores", the fiddler crabs use their claws to bring any kind of detritus to their mouths. The sediment left ends up being formed into the balls. 

Ralph Eschelman did a great job of describing the history, culture and natural life as our cruise nosed through the ICW of South Carolina, Georgia and N. Florida. Did he find an old football helmet here? No, it's the shell of the prehistoric looking Horseshoe Crab. More on that crab on a future post. Hopefully Ralph will give me high marks for getting what he told us this day correct. Any errors are mine and not his : > )



A Town Preserved

Beaufort before the Civil War was one of the wealthiest plantation cities and trade centers of the South. In the early months of the war the city residents fled when Union troops invaded a nearby port. With the city and area in Union hands the city remained untouched by cannon fire. One of the many antebellum buildings still in use is St. Helena's Anglican Church, celebrating its 300th anniversary this year. Not many southern cities were so fortunate to escape unscathed from that war.

The grounds of old churches cradle the long dead. William Henry Cory was a veteran of two wars. Born in England in 1831, he was old enough to be part of the horrific Crimean "Charge of the Light Brigade." Cory relocated to the colonies and later fought for the Rebels during a 3 year span. The image was taken on Veteran's Day and thus, Union soldiers who fell nearby and were buried in the same churchyard are also honored with flags of their country.

Beaufort churches are busy places on Sunday. When doing a search for the number of churches in the area, there were too many to count.

Not as old as St. Helena's, the Beaufort Inn is a beautifully kept Victorian style former mansion. It was built in 1897 for a summer retreat for a congressman's family. They lived large then and they live large now, don't they.

Most evenings we had entertainment. Our evening in Beaufort we had a very competent local actress run us through the extensive way women would use fans as a communication device during the 1800s. She got many in the audience involved. For more see:
I'll stick with texting.

Watching the top of mast and waving at the sailboat's passengers, the bridge tender has a eagle eye for all the river traffic. Night and day we passed any number of bridges. From New York to Florida there are 7 different kinds of bridges and you must request an opening at each bridge to pass.

First light at Beaufort with the swing bridge now serving car traffic. 

We have pulled away from our docking wharf and as usual Captain Snyder is on the starboard bridge wing making sure clearances are maintained. This man has had a captain's license since he was 18. His hobby is raising horses.



Charleston To Beaufort

Colors like these don't really exist do they?

 They do in the backwaters of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) when the sun goes down and the sky and water nearly become one.

This is a land that Ospreys and other water dependent birds rule. People on boats are the transients. 

Sometimes people on boats are also accidents waiting to happen. 
Likely this boater was caught unprepared by Hurricane Sandy. The mast is lying in the mud behind the boat.

If there are birders out there who know what this bird might be, I'd love to know as I can't find it. 
Perhaps hard to see is the small fish in its curved beak.

Looks pretty idyllic, doesn't it. Every once in awhile we'd pass the occasional home. Finding road access and high ground together is a rarity in the swampland. When slavery provided cheap labor there were many rice plantation in the coastal plains. Now there is little farming until you go inland a ways.

Otherwise the animal kingdom rules here as a heron patiently awaits another meal.



Flash Point

Long silent now, these big cannons fired some of the first shots of the Civil War. The irony is that they were defensive shots. Charleston was a stronghold of the secessionist movement but the fort was still in Union hands. On April 12, 1861 the newly organized Confederate army pulled the trigger on an artillery attack on the Union garrison at Fort Sumter. Less than 36 hours later the Union surrendered the partially completed fort and the war was on. 

Begun after the War of 1812 as a coastal fortification against foreign invaders, Sumter sits on 70,000 tons of imported New England granite piled atop a sandbar. Construction of the fort was slow. Even by 1861 the fort was only partial armed and some walls not finished. 

During a succession of failed Union invasions and bombardments in an attempt to retake the fort, much of the structure was turned to rubble but still occupied and actively defended by the Rebs. Only with Sheridan's march through South Carolina on the way to Atlanta in early 1865 was Charleston evacuated and the fort abandoned.

This is tabby with some brick added. Tabby was an early form of low grade concrete with oyster shells taking the place of lime. The material was a common building material in the coastal South but very labor intensive to make. Tabby was commonly faced with brick or stucco to hide its uneven appearance and we saw quite a bit of it on our travels along the old towns served by the Intracoastal Waterway. 

Interestingly enough tabby made for a good fort wall as cannon balls would only sink into the material and not shatter it. In many cases after a day's shelling, soldiers at night would go out and pry out the cannon balls embedded in the tabby. They then fired the very same shot back at their enemy the next day.

After the Civil War the fort was in ruins. Partial reconstruction took place to ready the fort for some functionality during the Spanish American War. This fortification, called Battery Huger, was added in 1910 and sits entirely inside the old fort. During WW I & II most all the weaponry was stripped for use in Europe. Today Fort Sumter National Monument receives over 800,000 visitors and most all of them come by concession-operated ferry.

Almost as an emphasis on how warfare has changed over the intervening 150 years, the USS Yorktown sits not far away. Retired from service in 1975, it is also a popular tourist attraction.



Southern Living

This isn't a museum, this is a house that is still lived in by descendants of the original owners. The owner, a widow, is good friends with the small tour operator that brought us here. It might as well be a museum for all the old furnishings that are still in use. We were told the handmade rug alone was worth more that all the antique furniture in this room.

Nearly every home has a veranda and almost universally they are perpendicular to the street. Long ago when these stately structures were built, the taxing authorities billed you by the frontage of house that faced the street. The solution was to build a narrow but long house. Ironically this home (and a loarge percentage of Old Town houses) are called "singlewides" as all room widths are the same as what is seen from the street - they are not split internally.

That same seawall picture from the last blog entry showed the tidal flats exposed. Now, later in the day, the tide is deep enough to fish those same flats. This man was maximizing his efforts with three rods. After touring the home above I saw him walking away and asked what kind of luck he had. Thumbs down was his answer.

This home embodied my idea of what southern living should look like. 

This ornate palace is known by locals as the Wedding Cake House. 
More formally it is called Two Meeting Street Inn and rooms run $250 to $450

The Manigault House is now a museum operated by the Charleston Museum. It dates back to 1803 and marks some of the Huguenot heritage of Charleston. Our bus tour did not stop here so there are better pictures (& full history) of this notable house at:

This is the back side of St. Michael's Anglican Church. It is the oldest surviving religious structure in Charleston and was erected in the 1750s. The approach we made to town was by water and we could see that the skyline is pierced with quite a few church spires. It is said there are over 400 places of worship in the greater city limits. For this reason one of the town's nicknames is "The Holy City".



On And Off Shore

This outbound trawler was likely going to be looking for shrimp.

Though overall Charleston is only ranked 39th in cargo volume, they are near the top on the east coast for "Ro-Ro" traffic as it is called. Roll on and roll off vehicle delivery is big in Charleston. That's what these slab sided ships are unloading.

Charleston is popular with pleasure craft, some of whom are transiting the Intracoastal Waterway as we are. 

Proximity to the ocean and rivers means that their climate is quite moderate. Enough so that we found numerous flowers in bloom.

 Pineapples play a symbolic role signifying hospitality and Charleston has a beautiful waterfront "Pineapple Fountain." 
The house behind the fountain is the only modern one we saw in the Old Town. It stuck out like a sore thumb.

Flanking the Pineapple Fountain there is a leafy waterfront walk. 

View from the adjacent walkway. It is nice that the public can enjoy this spectacular shore. 
The tidal swell can run up to 10 feet up and down. Here the tide is out. 

 A reminder of the importance of defending any busy port from invaders - this BIG mortar is a Civil War relic.



Commercial Charm

Daughter of the Confederacy? No but that's the name of the upstairs museum that Beth is standing in front of. More formally the structure is known as the City Market building. The market extends back for at least three blocks and begins under the archway. Many of the merchants were offering higher end goods - artwork and the like.

Some of the items unique to this area (and found at the City Market) are sweetgrass baskets woven by local blacks. There is a whole culture including a separate language called "Gullah". This term also describes the name they give themselves. Learning that there is even a long established Gullah culture came as a complete surprise to me. For more go to

Charleston has made great use of most all of their historic buildings. Built in 1861, this is the old Rice Exchange which has been converted to a convention center.

 City hall was nearly ruined by Hurrican Hugo in 1989. Now it practically shines. As an aside, we took advantage of their public restrooms and found them to be the cleanest and most modern facility that we'd ever seen. It was a pleasure to, ah, sit for a spell.

A pretty typical commercial block of shops. There is only one building over 4 stories (seen at far right) in Old Town so there is a pleasing uniformity to the district. Charleston actually has several divisions to its Old Town: colonial, antebellum and post civil war.

This is the first of two custom houses in Charleston's history. The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon served first as a colonial trade building and dates back to 1771.  Not many buildings in America can boast of having a dungeon. Though started by the colonial owners, the Brits, the dungeon was later used to imprison them during the Revolutionary War. Talk about karma. Some sources also say that this building housed a brothel after the Civil War.

This second custom house looks more like a courthouse than anything else. Started before the Civil War but not completed until well after in 1879. It survived a major 7.0 earthquake in Charleston in August of 1886. This bought an "End Time" crazy out of the woodwork. A man known locally as the Ottawa Prophet, emerged to proclaim that a more powerful disaster would occur at 2 pm on September 29. His believers freaked, quit working, put on their "ascension robes" and waited for the end of the world.

Talk about a town with more than their share of architectural, cultural and American history!