SC structure drew inspiration from Washington Irving

One of South Carolina’s more celebrated architectural gems began as an antebellum bank.

The Farmers’ and Exchange Bank Building, on Charleston’s East Bay Street, has been garnering the attention of locals and visitors alike since its construction in 1854.

Its Moorish design made it a novelty then and now, and it caught the eye of famed writer William Gilmore Simms, who penned an article for Harper’s Magazine in June 1857.

“It is a novelty in the architecture of Charleston, if not of the day, being Moorish in all of its details, yet without reminding you of the Alhambra or the Vermillion towers,” wrote Simms (1806-1870), regarded as a force in antebellum Southern literature. “It is of brownstone of two tints, laid alternately – an arrangement which adds considerably to the effect. The interior is finished with arabesque work from floor to ceiling, and is lighted with subdued rays from the summit. This gives a rich and harmonious effect to the whole. It is of recent erection, Jones and Lee the architects. The corporation itself is a new one, and prosperous, like all the temples reared to the god of the Mines, the Counter, and the Mint, in this virtuous city.”

The building, built to house the Farmers’ and Exchange Bank, was designed by Charlestonians Edward C. Jones and Francis D. Lee in 1853 and completed the following year.

Jones was an especially notable architect whose other works included the Church of the Holy Cross in Stateburg and Charleston’s famed Magnolia Cemetery.

The Farmers’ and Exchange Bank building has rounded horseshoe arches and a façade featuring pale Jersey and darker Connecticut brownstone, giving it a striped effect typical of many Moorish structures.

Its design is thought to have been influenced by illustrations in Washington Irving’s 19th century work, Tales of the Alhambra, a revised edition of which was published two years before construction.

The structure was built by David Lopez, who also constructed Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue and Institute Hall, where the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession was signed in December 1860.

The Farmers’ and Exchange Bank continued in Charleston until Federal bombardment of the city during the War Between the States forced the bank’s move to Columbia. It didn’t survive the conflict.

Later, the structure was used for a variety of purposes, including a Western Union telegraph office, office space for long-time Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings and, most recently, a restaurant.

By 1970 there was talk of tearing the building down to make room for parking; however Charleston banker Hugh Lane Sr. spent $50,000 to preserve the structure in the early 1970s.

(Top: Farmers’ and Exchange Bank Building, Charleston, SC.)

Works of famed Lowcountry artist go on display in Charleston

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Artist Alice Ravenel Huger Smith was both enigmatic and straightforward.

The famed Carolina Lowcountry painter (1876-1958) took classes at the Carolina Art Association in the 1890s but otherwise was largely self-taught. She disdained travel and few outside influences are evident in her work.

She has been criticized in recent years for presenting images of an idealized antebellum South, featuring “happy ‘darkies’ and benevolent masters,” according to one modern historian.

But she was also critical in helping raise the consciousness of indigenous Carolina Lowcountry culture and was at the forefront of the preservation movement in Charleston.

While Smith is best known for 29 watercolors included in A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, she painted all sorts of pictures, from portraits early in her career to simple landscapes of long-leaf pine or swamp cypress.

Beginning this week, a collection of more than four dozen of Smith’s works will be on display through next summer in Charleston, including watercolors, oil paintings on mahogany panels and several sketches.

The artwork will be on display at both the Edmonston-Alston House and in the house museum at Middleton Place, both in Charleston.

The rice plantation watercolors belong to the Gibbes Museum of Art; numerous other paintings are in private collections and rarely seen by the public, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

To be certain, Smith was a product of her times. The daughter of a former Confederate artilleryman, she sought to highlight the remembrances of the simpler pre-Civil War era that wealthy South Carolinians recalled in the decades after the war. Smith preferred to capture Lowcountry rural landscape to urban cityscapes of Charleston and enjoyed recording vanishing ways of life.

Those included the scenes from rural salt marshes, areas which had once been used for tidal rice cultivation but had been abandoned as the rice economy moved west and the land had fallen into disuse, to be reclaimed by salt water.

In addition, a small amount of rice was still being grown in the Lowcountry through the 1920s, giving Smith a glimpse of the industry that dated back to the late 17th century in South Carolina and had made many white planters wealthy and broken many enslaved blacks.

She worked with her father, Daniel Elliott Huger Smith, a historian, on The Dwelling Houses of Charleston (1917), a biography of the Charleston miniaturist and portrait painter, Charles Fraser (1924), A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties (1936), and A Charlestonian’s Recollections, 1846-1913 (1950), the last two completed after her father’s death in 1932.

Smith’s works, like the artist herself, are unique and worth taking the time to visit.

(Top: Mending a Break in a Rice-Field Bank, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith.)

Society not culpable for actions of those who commit heinous acts

Police tape is seen outside the Emanuel AME Church, after a mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church the night before  in Charleston, South Carolina on June 18, 2015. Police captured a white suspect in a mass killing at one of the oldest black churches in the United States, the latest gun massacre to leave the country reeling. Police detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

As a South Carolinian, the murder Wednesday night of nine black men and women at a historic Charleston church by a white man, an attack that appears to have had strong racial motivations, has been, to say the least, extremely disheartening.

My Facebook feed has been filled with a great deal of anguish among friends about this senseless act. As a former journalist, many of those I’m connected to see things from a different political perspective. I lean toward a libertarian stand, partly because I don’t have much faith in political parties and partly because I like to be left alone. Journalists, certainly in the US, tend to be of a more liberal bent, on the whole.

That said, I recognize the need for law and order, and the need for society to function in a cohesive manner. I also believe to some degree we are all our brother’s keepers; I just don’t believe that fact needs to be codified.

That said, Facebook friends are wringing their hands about the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, with many coming to the conclusion that we are all responsible.

One linked to a column by an Atlanta Constitution editor that ran after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in September 1963, killing four black girls. In that column, Gene Patterson said all Southerners were responsible by having created a climate for child-killing, thereby encouraging racists who didn’t know better.

Given what went on in the Deep South during Segregation, that may well have been true.

Late yesterday, a former co-worker said we today are guilty of the same:

“A flag that is a racist symbol, an offensive joke, an ugly fraternity chant, the N-word, disrespect for a president, black face paint at a party, and even referring to young, black males as “thugs” or “animals” when they mess up – standing by and accepting these things without taking a stand is wrong. We all share in the guilt. We just don’t know who is listening and who is close enough to the edge to decide that slaughtering black men and women in a church is a noble thing to do.”

I took time this morning to disagree, pointing my remarks toward my acquaintance:

I’m going to voice a contrarian view in that I disagree with the contention that we’re all responsible for this heinous act. The folks that I know, and I pretty sure the ones you know, don’t engage in use of the N-word, ugly fraternity chants or put on black face at parties. Goodness knows there’s plenty of political vitriol, no matter which party holds the Oval Office, but I also don’t think your friends or mine disrespect the current occupant simply because of his race. I certainly hope mine don’t. Thuggery and animalistic behavior, sadly, can be found among all races, as anyone who has lived in the northeast and, like myself, been attacked by drunken white louts for no reason. Should we not use the term at all for fear someone somewhere may attach it to a specific group of people? An example of where the word “thug” would apply is among those who use the Confederate flag, which has different meanings to different people, to intimidate. No doubt this individual didn’t come to be the person he is on his own; no one lives in a vacuum. But my parents didn’t rear me to be anything like this individual and I’m not bringing up my children in an atmosphere that sees intolerance, bigotry and prejudice as acceptable. Blaming these actions on society as a whole waters down this individual’s culpability. He committed these deviant actions for his own reasons. We’re not responsible for his actions; all we can do is pray for those affected and do our best to make the world a better place so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

Sometimes we need to recognize that a bad apple is just that – a bad apple. The South of 2015 is very different from the South of 1963. Imperfect? Oh, yes. At least today people of good will are no longer afraid to stand up and made their voices heard.

(Top: Historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where nine individuals were killed and three wounded Wednesday night.)

Fire marks recall era when flames were major urban threat

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Beginning in the 1750s, some American insurance companies began issuing metal fire marks to policyholders to signify that their property was insured against fire damage.

The fire marks bore the name and/or symbol of the insurer, and some included the customer’s policy number.

The company or agent would then affix the mark to the policyholder’s home or business. For owners the mark served as proof of insurance and a deterrent against arson. The marks not only served as form of advertising for insurance companies but alerted volunteer firefighters that the property was insured. Often, the first volunteer firefighting company on the scene of an insured structure would receive a reward.

The Charleston Fire Insurance Company was incorporated on Dec. 11, 1811, during a time when catastrophic fires were a real danger in American cities, many of which had been hastily erected with wooden materials.

Charleston was devastated by several fires, including blazes in 1740, 1798, 1838 and 1861.

The company’s charter provided for insurance against fire on buildings, goods, wares, merchandise and other property.

The oval mark is made of iron, and consists of an inner image of intact buildings on the left, and buildings engulfed in flames on the right. A figure of Athena guards the intact buildings from the fire, and has a shield by her feet emblazoned with a Palmetto tree. There is a text above the intact building that reads, “RESTORED.” The outer rim bears the text “CHARLESTON FIRE INSURANCE COMPY.”

The cast iron marks measure approximately 7.7 inches by X 9.1 inches and weigh almost 3 pounds.

Today these fire marks can still be seen throughout Charleston, although most of them are reproductions.

The above mark, which is affixed to a structure at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston, is likely a reproduction.

The Charleston Fire Insurance Company operated from 1811 until 1896.

100 Church st.

The oval-shaped Charleston Fire Insurance Company fire mark can be seen just to the left of the door at 100 Church St. in downtown Charleston.

Slave wharf remnants found at planned African-American site

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In a serendipitous bit of good fortune, archaeologists probing the site of a planned $75 million International African American Museum in Charleston believe they have found evidence of the old wharf where tens of thousands of enslaved blacks first set foot in North America.

Researchers working with Brockington Cultural Resources Consulting have found timbers and bricks thought to have been part of a waterfront wharf and warehouse, uncovered during a preliminary study of the site.

The artifacts are thought to have been part of a wharf built in the 1760s by Revolutionary War patriot Christopher Gadsden using slave labor.

The wharf, the largest in North America, was built to service the rice trade, once a staple of South Carolina’s economy, according to research by Robert Macdonald, a consultant for the International African American Museum.

In time, however, the wharf “morphed into an entry point for more than 100,000 slaves during its lifetime,” according to the Charleston Post and Courier. “It could hold six ships at a time, and included an 840-foot quay and warehouses. Enslaved people were held there in crowded conditions as they awaited the auction block or transport to the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.”

Charleston was the nation’s capital of the slave trade, the place where many of those who were enslaved first landed in the New World.

During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, about 40 percent of enslaved Africans brought into the country passed through Charleston Harbor. While many of these were sold around the South, a significant number remained in South Carolina.

By 1860, there were 4 million slaves in the United States, and 400,000 of them – 10 percent – lived in South Carolina. Blacks, both enslaved and free, made up nearly 60 percent of the state’s population.

It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of African slaves brought to the United States during the late 18th and early 19th centuries walked across Gadsden’s wharf.

A draft of the results of the initial study at the museum site, released last week, described how archaeologists dug three trenches at the site. They found bricks from the wall of a warehouse and fragments of timbers thought to come from the framing of the historic wharf.

“We believe these are actual elements of Gadsden’s Wharf. It’s huge for a preliminary first dig,” said Felicia Easterlin, the museum’s program manager.

Remnants of the wharf or the warehouse were found in all three trenches, she added.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has said he hopes the money will be in place by early 2016 so construction of the museum can begin. If that schedule holds, the museum should open in 2018.

(Top: View of Antebellum Charleston looking toward Gadsden Wharf. Source: The International African American Museum.)

Huguenot Church stands out in city of shrines

French Huguenot Church

In a city noted for extraordinary churches, the French Huguenot Church stands out among Charleston’s houses of worship.

Completed in 1845, the Huguenot Church was the first Gothic Revival building constructed in the South Carolina port city. Nearly 170 years later, it is the only independent Huguenot church in the United States.

Also known as the French Protestant Church, it is a stuccoed-brick structure with three bays in the front and back and six bays along the sides. Each bay is divided by narrow buttresses topped by elaborate pinnacles, and the three front windows are topped with cast-iron crockets with a battlement parapet surrounding the top of the church.

The interior consists of walls with plaster ribbed-grained vaulting, with marble tablets etched with names of Huguenot families such as Ravenel, Porcher, de Saussure, Huger and Mazyck.

The French Huguenot Church was founded around 1681 by Protestant refugees escaping persecution in France.

“From 1680 through 1760, hundreds of Huguenots arrived in the Lowcountry, seeking religious freedom and safety from persecution. Many abandoned considerable wealth and social prominence simply for the opportunity to practice their Protestant faith,” according to John E. Cuttino, president of the Huguenot Society of South Carolina.

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Charleston strives to save historic church

Of the many things associated with Charleston, S.C., its magnificent architecture ranks near the top of the list. But that beauty doesn’t come without a price tag.

Case in point historic is St. Andrew’s Church. The downtown Charleston structure, currently leased by Redeemer Presbyterian Church, is being threatened with sale and conversion to a personal residence unless the congregation can come up with $1.6 million.

Church members say they’ve raised or secured $800,000 needed to keep the 1840s building off the seller’s block, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

“Much of the money was raised from sources tied to the congregation,” according to the publication. “Now, the group plans to expand its tax-deductible pitch to outside the church family, knowing it has until Oct. 31 to make the goal.”

The Greek Revival-style structure, which was built after the great Charleston fire of 1838, was initially known as Wentworth Street Methodist Protestant Church; the original congregation merged with Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1853.

The Church became known as St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in 1936 and the sanctuary was extensively renovated in 1908.

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