Saturday, December 7, 2013

Charleston, South Carolina

On Monday, December 2nd, we left Cherry Point, North Carolina, and drove to Charleston AFB, South Carolina. We had a tough time getting into Charleston since it was rush hour as we arrived and it was also after dark.  There were several car accidents blocking traffic on the highways which created a mess on the roads.  On a stress scale from 1 to 10, this was at least an 8. But we did make it in one piece, thank God.

The next morning, we walked to the Outdoor Recreation office and purchased discounted tickets for the ferry ride to Fort Sumter National Park.  The ferry left at 11:00, and we just barely made it there on time.  We arrived at the parking garage (where we nearly scraped the top of our van several times because of the low ceiling) only ten minutes before the ferry left the dock.  When we walked up to the gangplank, we were informed that our ticket was actually merely a voucher, and we had to go inside the building and get the tickets before boarding.  Luckily, we got it all done just the nick of time.

The ferry ride was fun and informative.  The ride lasted about a half hour; all the while we listened to the historical narration over the loudspeaker.

When arriving at Fort Sumter, we were allowed an hour in the national park before we had to re-board the ferry to head back.  At first I was concerned that it wouldn’t be enough time to see everything, but my worry proved to be unwarranted.

There actually isn’t much to see at Fort Sumter.  There is the outer wall which was partially restored after it was destroyed, and there is the inner courtyard with a few cannons inside.  Archaeologists are actively working at the fort, as well as restoration crews.  There was a small museum inside the inner fortress, along with a gift shop. 

Fort Sumter, as you recall, is where the first shots of the Civil War were shot.  Federal Union forces held the island-fort when South Carolina seceded from the union in December of 1860.  On April 11, 1861, Confederate General Beauregard demanded that Union General Anderson vacate the fort.  Anderson refused.  At 3:20 a.m., on April 12, the Confederates informed Anderson that they would open fire in one hour.  At ten minutes past the allotted time, the first shot was fired toward the fort.  The Civil War had begun. After 34 hours of bombardment, Anderson finally surrendered the fort.

Standing on the spot where history was made always has an impact on us. No, there’s not much to see at Fort Sumter, but it is worth visiting to just have the experience of being there and knowing that you are standing at the site in which history was made. 

The next day, on December 3rd, we decided to stay an extra day in Charleston and visit a plantation.  After all, if we are going to visit a plantation on our trip, this is probably one of the best places to see one.  After debating which one of the many possibilities we could visit, we settled on Boone Hall Plantation.

Boone Hall Plantation is one of the country’s oldest working, living plantations.  In 1681, an Englishman named Major John Boone came to “Charles Town” to establish his money-making plantation on the banks of the Wampocheone Creek.  In 1743, his son Captain Thomas Boone, took over the plantation.  This son planted two rows of live oak trees along the approach to the plantation mansion.  Over the centuries, these trees have grown to an enormous size and have created an arched canopy over the driveway.  It is this approach to the mansion that has become a symbol of Southern heritage.  And yes, the movie Gone With the Wind modeled its Tara/Twelve Oaks after Boone Hall. 

Hollywood seems to love Boone Hall Plantation.  The 1980’s movie North & South starring Patrick Swayze was filmed here, as well as the more recent romance movie The Notebook starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling.  Queen, starring Halle Berry, was also filmed here, as well as episodes of Wheel of Fortune, America’s Most Wanted, and Army Wives.

The family and descendants of Major John Boone were influential in the history of our nation.  John Rutledge, son of Sara Boone Rutledge, grew up to become governor of South Carolina and contributing author of the U.S. Constitution.  His brother Edward was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Additionally, the plantation produced bricks that were used to construct Fort Sumter.  Of course, these bricks (and all the profits of the plantation) were all made by the hands of African slaves.  Boone Hall Plantation had anywhere from 200-300 slaves.  We saw some inventories that listed the slaves alongside window curtains, bags of sugar, and tables and chairs.  Merely possessions and nothing more.  The African slaves in the Low Country were referred to as Gullah culture.  Nine of the original slave cabins were still intact at the plantation, and each cabin featured a period in black American history, from the earliest slave days to the present time.

The mansion is actually not the original mansion.  The original mansion burned down in a fire in the 1700’s.  The second mansion was blown away in a hurricane.  The third mansion (which really wasn’t a mansion, but more of a farmhouse) existed until the 1920’s.  At that time, a Canadian diplomat named Thomas Stone bought the property and tore down the decaying mansion.  He did, however, salvage many parts of the house and used them to rebuild the present mansion.  He saved paneling, doors, floorboards, bricks, etc.  So it seems as though the original house is really still there, but in a different form.

We were able to tour only the bottom floor of the mansion.  (The current owners live in the second and third floors, so we couldn’t see those areas.)  Unfortunately for us, pictures weren’t allowed inside the house, but it was quite magnificent and grand inside.  We also rode an open-air tram through the plantation grounds.  We saw the farming operations as well as the polo field, remnants of the fall corn maze, pecan grove, a dike separating the salt and fresh water, movie sets, and other neat things.

We had a nice time at the plantation.  Charleston has a lot to offer its visitors, and we only scraped the surface.  I’m glad we decided to spend an extra day (especially since that allowed Steve and the boys to take time to play a match of tennis – actually, three hours of tennis).