South Carolina’s Coastline Cities
RIDING AROUND IN THE BACK OF A CARRIAGE pulled by two mules, and listening to our driver wax lyrical on the history of Charleston, it’s easy to see why the original landowners and cotton brokers were so protective of their rights and privileges in this New World outpost.
By Josephine Matyas & Craig Jones
The mules – Hit and Run – and our driver/guide, Matthew, work for the Palmetto Carriage Company. The city allows only 20 carriages on the streets at any one time, so after leaving the barn we line up at a curbside bingo machine and take our chance with the lottery that will determine our exact trail.
Hit and Run could do this route in their sleep and we wind our way through neighbourhoods where every second home looks like a candidate for the pages of Architectural Digest. Giant live oaks and tall saw palmettos line the roadways.
WE WANDER ALONG STREETS OF COBBLESTONE. These stones were imported as ballast in the ships that transported slaves from Africa to the New World and then cotton to Europe. Wasting nothing, the city’s early engineers re-purposed the stones into streets that will last forever.
The Battery’s million-dollar views over Charleston Harbor include Fort Sumter where, on April 12, 1861, Confederate shots were fired igniting the Civil War (in the South, sometimes called the War Between the States).
Matthew recalls the events that changed the face of the nation. “The area was full of Southerners, who came to witness the start of the battle. When they heard the cannons they got all dolled up and sipped Planter’s Punch. They thought it would be over in a month.” For a period before that awful war, the nobility of Charleston – rich beyond their imaginations – thought they had conquered the world. Four years later, much of the city was reduced to rubble.
A LITTLE TO THE NORTH sits South Carolina’s other coastline city – Myrtle Beach. The two cities may both be oceanside, but they couldn’t be more different. While Charleston is steeped in history and Antebellum mansions, Myrtle Beach is a modern-day entertainment centre popular with Canadian snowbirds, golfers and families.
T-shirt shops, wax museums and entertainment venues like the impressive SkyWheel line the city’s main drag, Ocean Blvd. We were on the hunt for local music venues and found just the thing at an iconic honky-tonk that’s been an area fixture for decades.
The Bowery is an old-fashioned beer joint where the only things they sell are cold draft and live music. The decor hasn’t been updated in decades but it has some pretty serious street cred as the place where country supergroup Alabama got its start as a house band in the 1970s (the boys still stop by). Live music kicks off around 8:30 p.m. and goes steadily until 1:30 a.m. or later – the band takes no breaks, playing requests from the audience.
Just south of the city – and at the opposite end of the genteel spectrum – is Brookgreen Gardens, a quiet escape of manicured grounds that tastefully showcase art, formal gardens and a wild nature preserve on the grounds of a former rice plantation.
Railroad magnate Archer Milton Huntington and his wife Anna designed the landscape at Brookgreen, a mix of ponds and Southern gardens that provide a backdrop for hundreds of pieces of sculpture by some of America’s most celebrated artists.
Two very different cities provide a whole spectrum of Southern experiences.