Charleston and Savannah

Sunday, 15 December 2013 15:30
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Lovely southern oaksVisiting two iconic southern towns.


As I’ve been doing lately, I stuck to the coast on my way down from Wilmington and Oak Island to Charleston, and it was a pretty drive, as expected. The weather was starting to cooperate, so I put the top down at the beach in Oak Island and left it down until I got to my stop for the night. I drove through Myrtle Beach (pretty normal closed-for-the-season touristy beachside town) and Georgetown (not as touristy, and pretty cute), and eventually got into the greater Charleston area around nightfall. I had another Airbnb stay for a couple of nights there, and this one was a pretty nice little suite off of the back of a larger house, complete with gated off-street parking, so both me and the car were pretty happy with our lodging.

My Charleston visit mostly consisted of going on walkabout for a couple of days. I mostly wanted to see the houses and the parks and the history and whatnot, with a good smattering of local food in there for good measure. Charleston did not disappoint—the houses were lovely, and the live oak, Spanish moss, and palmettos everywhere were reminders that I was getting well into the deep south.

Porches, palmettos, and magnolias... Nice balconies Lots of cool church steeples
Some of the architectural features were pretty unique No men ever behaved better Confederate Army memorial
Rainbow Row Cool pediments all over town The Customs House. Important for a port city.

I had a great southern selection of fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, and apple pie at “Slightly North of Broad” my first evening, and it was a fantastic meal. (I think I'm developing a shrimp and grits problem, actually.) I also had some surprise supplemental food, as I got there very early in the dinnertime period and one of the sous chefs was sitting at the bar next to me. The guys in the kitchen kept bringing her the specials for the evening to try out, and she couldn’t eat all of it, so I got all of my dinner plus half of what they brought her. I could barely breathe by the time I got out of there, but it was amazingly good. During the subsequent days and evenings, I also ate at Martha Lou’s, Magnolias, FIG, and Hominy Grill, all of which ranged from ‘really good’ to ‘amazing’. Easily the best food I’ve had on the trip so far, and that’s saying something. 

I did not go for the "Blow a Hole in Your Drawers" spices   More cool pediment action  A nice lineup 
 More steeple stuff  The Round Church  Pediment, again
 Local fire department  Sky blue  Not everything was occupied
 This is where the pirates live  Gaslamps  Christmas in the downtown park
 My nemesis, shrimp 'n grits    Sour cream apple pie, with walnuts and caramel sauce

 After my walkabout day, I ventured out into the surrounding countryside to check out some of the plantations. I first drove out to Botany Bay, but that area was closed for a hunt, so instead I headed back sort of northwest-ish to see Drayton Hall and maybe the Magnolia Plantation/Gardens if I had time. While I was on my way over there, I drove past a little abandoned church on one of the back roads which looked interesting, so like I’ve been doing pretty much the whole trip, I turned around and went to check it out. It was another example of some of the abandoned buildings and houses I’ve been photographing lately, although this one had the additional interest of having an old piano inside as well. I wandered around a bit, took some pictures, and then continued on to Drayton Hall.

Near Botany Bay Closed for huntin', unfortunately Sunset on Sullivan Island, north of Charleston
Abandoned church Inside the church More inside
Keys Hammers More interior, playing with a little selenium tone
Hammers again Spidery keys Always fun when a random stop turns into something cool

Drayton Hall is an old plantation house along the Ashley River, built in 1738. It’s the only plantation house in the area to survive both the Revolutionary and Civil wars, and it’s in remarkably good shape considering its age and history. The mission of the current Trust that’s in charge of the place is preservation, not restoration, so the idea is to just keep it in as close to original condition as possible. This means that the ceilings and woodwork and even the paint are either original or in the condition they were in when last modified, and it was really interesting to see that kind of preservation work for a change. Again, it was mid-week/off-season, so I was the only guy on the tour, which meant I got to wander around more than usual and check out some of the details. One of the rooms contained the only remaining 18th century hand molded/hand carved plaster ceilings in the country, but the same room was missing its fireplace mantle, as that had been stolen back in the 1970s when the property was more or less abandoned. It’s pretty remarkable it’s in the condition that it is when you consider that before the Trust took possession, it was a hangout for local kids to come to party and drink in. There was also an adjacent graveyard down the road a bit from the house where the slaves that worked there were buried when they died. Many of their descendants were also buried there, and while they had headstones, the slave graves were only marked by depressions in the earth where the pine coffins had collapsed underground over time. There were dozens of them scattered throughout a small wooded area.

Drayton Hall Arriving at the Hall From the front
The main room at the front. The house is symmetrical around center. Detail of the moulding around the top of the room Preserved, not restored
The hand carved, hand molded plaster ceiling Different angle on the main room More detail. This ceiling was put in in 1850
From the balcony Going up the stairs A grave of one of the slave descendants
Door to nowhere   Door to somewhere

After my plantation experience, I headed back to Charleston, had a nice dinner at Magnolias, and in the morning had an equally nice breakfast at Hominy Grill, then got on my way down to Savannah. I did a lot of wandering through the “low country” on the way, which is mostly swamps and pine forests, and a very pretty drive in many areas. There was a lot of backtracking around dead end roads and estuaries, but I had a good time on the drive.

I’ve been trying to do most of my traveling during the daytime and get to wherever I’m sleeping by nightfall, as there’s not generally a lot to see in the dark anyway, and Savannah was no exception. I got to town right around sunset, and got settled in at one of the more interesting Airbnb spots so far. I was in an 1885 brick Victorian, upstairs where the attic had been converted to a loft. It was a pretty neat place, and in really good shape, with very friendly and accommodating hosts. I had also made contact with another Roadster owner, who generously came by the house with his family and we all went out to dinner at Paula Deen’s brother’s place, which was pretty good. Afterward, I wandered over to Tybee Island to check out the lighthouse, then drove back through Savannah under the Spanish moss to my room and turned in.

My Savannah Airbnb stay The lighthouse at Tybee Island


I spent the entire next day walking around Savannah. It’s really a beautiful city—the historic downtown area has a number of beautiful squares every few blocks, and Forsyth Park is really pretty. Surrounding all this greenery and statuary are some very nicely preserved homes and public buildings, going back to the Revolutionary War era. Savannah has been an important southern port since then, and the Savannah River provided easy access to the Atlantic for the cotton trade and other commerce. A lot of the charm and history is still around because while Sherman’s army occupied Savannah during the Civil War, he didn’t burn it to the ground, which meant the city’s structures survived. 


Lots of really pretty houses Great details everywhere Another house. I know, lazy caption.
A street on one of the squares A church on the square At the center of a square
Steeple #1 Steeple #2 Steeple #3
Another nice place Old downtown department store More downtown architecture

Luckily, I had arrived in Savannah for both “First Friday” and the big holiday weekend parade and waterfront activities. (I also lucked out with the weather, as pretty much everything north of me was freezing to death.) Most of the shops and restaurants around the squares downtown had free food and other goodies out for sampling, and the City Market and other artsy areas had lots of art out for display and sale. On Friday evening, there were fireworks and holiday caroling down along the river, and on Saturday the City Market area had a choir, face painting, a booth that was doing girl’s hair in the Whoville style, and Santa going around in a horse and carriage talking to the little kids. The free food fest from Friday also continued, which was definitely fun. 

Anything but your wits Along the waterfront Sunset over the Talmadge Bridge
Savannah City Hall, with gold leaf rotunda Dangerously historic Back alley downtown
Fireworks! Christmas festivities More fireworks!
City Hall, from the waterfront And a little more fireworks Waterfront at night
Real freight still moves in and out of the Savannah harbor Everybody was decorated for Christmas Nighttime carriage ride
Whoville Hair Salon Santa with a client The citizens of Whoville
Luckily, I stayed in the red part   No no no no to these beers

Later in the day on Saturday, I went and walked around inside Forsyth Park and picked up some snacks at the farmer’s market there, then took a walk around the perimeter to check out some of the houses. I was staying in St. Augustine, FL that night, so I continued down the coast in that general direction. I made a pit stop at Wormsloe Plantation where there was a gorgeous long lane of Live Oaks as well as a pretty nice hike. I ran into one local guy who was insistent on buying the car, but I told him it wasn’t for sale, and after a bit of chatting about his 510s and 240Zs, I headed off for sunny Florida. 

One of the paths at Forsyth Park The fountain in Forsyth Park One of the many nice homes around the park
Lots of homes had foliage on the front of the stairs Another Forsyth Park home Curved glass. Don't break one of those windows...
More homes Neat porch The entrance to Wormsloe
The path between the oaks Obligatory car photo ...and another


Postscript: Charleston vs. Savannah

Since pretty much everybody that I’ve run into since Savannah has asked me the loaded question of which city is better in the Charleston/Savannah southern charm battle, I figured I’d weigh in here with an opinion. On the beauty and charm front, I’d have to say that Savannah has got Charleston pretty soundly beaten. The squares and parks, the sheer number of gorgeous homes and building, and a really pretty great waterfront area put it well over the top there, so if you’re looking for that kind of thing and you’ve only got to pick one, I’d pick Savannah. However, on the southern hospitality and good food scores, Charleston whups Savannah pretty well. Savannah seemed a bit more touristy than Charleston, the while I certainly didn’t try every restaurant in both cities, the food in Charleston was on a whole different level than Savannah in every price range that I explored. So, though it probably sounds like a cop-out, I’m going to say it’s a tie. Visit both if you get the chance, they’re not that far apart.

Next stop: North Florida


#1 Mom 2013-12-16 04:48
wow..great post as usual. and I want to go to Savannah sometime. I just read the post now going back to see all the wonderful photos you took.
#2 Mom 2013-12-16 04:53
PS.... would love to see some of the Christmas decorations from the South.
#3 lectacave 2013-12-16 07:08
Ah, in light of the deliciousness of shrimp 'n' grits, clever captions just aren't as important, are they? Hee... just teasing you a bit. Wonderful post as always! I for one would like to check out those 7-ft scissors. I love all of the photos, and the one of the fountain with clouds overhead in particular. Also, I'd hate to see what happened to the pianist. ;)
#4 FairladySPL 2013-12-16 10:58
That Tybee Island lighthouse shot with your car is especially cool. Sat and tried to figure out how you got the light to show up from the taillights and front parking lights. Slow shutter? Good accumulation.

Piano shots in the abandoned church. All of a sudden I was hearing myself think with some echo on it. Looks like real ivory keys, and check out the old-growth lumber in the rafters. That's not kiln-dried that makes it like that. Old age and lots of heat in the attic.

Say, my brother-in-law lives at Fernandina Beach, Florida, northeastern part of the state just south of the Georgia line. Will see if he's around and will text you his number. Cool little town to see and he'd probably loan you his jetski to get around for a day tour.
#5 admin 2013-12-16 17:37
That Tybee Island lighthouse shot with your car is especially cool. Sat and tried to figure out how you got the light to show up from the taillights and front parking lights. Slow shutter? Good accumulation.
Yes, it's a 10 second exposure on a tripod @ F7.1/ISO2500. And a really good sensor in that 5d.
#6 Jennifer 2013-12-17 08:26
You have given us so many award winning photographs of places never seen though part of our nation. It gives me pause when I think of criticizing expansion and injustices. Yet my favorite photographs so far are the abandoned structures and textural surfaces shown from a disappearing history of growth, change, and loss of interest or economy. There is history everywhere and now you have such a deep understanding of the texture in it all. You might remember that I am a textile artist who loves the detail of wash and weave in both the natural setting and man made products. You give me a lot of visual candy... Thank you (-:
One of my projects has been to document the interplay between abstract art forms and the 'real world' as so often my public does not think that my abstract art reflects the 'real world' or is realism. However Scott, your photos show again and again how the world that surrounds us is full of marvelous abstraction. Thank you also for your diligence.
#7 Mom 2013-12-17 08:41
Love, Love, Love Jennifer's post, and if I could write like that it is exactly what I would have said. I too love all the abandon structures. Thanks to Jennifer for putting it so eloquently.
#8 tjp 2013-12-17 11:53
This is simply amazing. Thank you.

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