Laura Haley-McNeil


A few months ago, my husband and I visited Charleston. I fell in love. Not only with a beautiful city, but also with the people, who were friendly and loved to talk. As I am a people watcher and love to listen to stories, it was the perfect environ for me.

We spent most of our time in downtown Charleston. I had read Pat Conroy’s book, South of Broad. Since then I had been curious to discover Charleston’s dividing line between those who lived north of Broad Street and those who lived south of Broad Street. Among other reasons, the difference is immense wealth and ancestry.

The homes south of Broad Street are magnificent. Many homes, once occupied by historic figures, are open to the public for tours.

One memorable home is the Calhoun Mansion, a 24,000 square foot home. One of the previous owners, George Walton Williams, was a blockade runner during the Civil War. Of course, I immediately thought of Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind who was a blockade runner from Charleston, and who wasn’t received, according to Scarlett O’Hara’s friend, Cathleen. I had thought that Margaret Mitchell may have based the character on Mr. Williams, but have since learned that there were many blockade runners, so Ms. Mitchell may have had a few in her family.

When one of Mr. Williams’ daughters took a two year honeymoon to Europe, he built for her a house now known as the Wedding Cake house, which can be reserved for weddings. It’s also a bed and breakfast, with rooms that rent for several hundred dollars a night.

Our tour guide told us that Charleston is the wedding capital of the world – exceeding Las Vegas. I have no data to support this, but if one can afford it, Charleston would be a magnificent setting for a wedding.

One afternoon, my husband and I visited the beach. As a San Diegan, I have a natural affinity for the ocean and love nothing more than feeling sand beneath my feet.

Despite the weather and rough seas, we took a harbor tour. A walk along the battery provides splendid views, and a chance to bask in the eye candy of the city’s most magnificent homes.

During the trip, we also visited a plantation. I had expected to see Tara, but this home was not as large, even though an addition had been built. The gardens surrounding the home were filled with magnolias and other flowering plants – a botanist’s paradise.

As we toured the home, I noticed one thing missing – the kitchen. It had been built in the basement of the home. The kitchen had since been converted into a gift shop.

Charleston is not without its disgrace. The building where slaves were sold is located in downtown Charleston and is open for tours. On the plantation, the slave homes still stand – tiny bungalows built as duplexes to house two families with multiple children. These homes were one room – no bedroom, no bathroom. The fireplace heated the home and served as the kitchen.

Touring Charleston and the surrounding area was definitely an education for me, a Westerner. I hope to return and visit other cities in the South. It’s one part of the country I know little about and hope to expand my knowledge.

I’d love to hear your comments on Charleston, or other places in the South. Any personal stories you want to share would be welcomed and enlightening.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience in Charleston. Stay tuned for more articles about places that have made an impression upon me.



Photograph Credit,_South_Carolina#/media/File:BroadStreetCharleston.jpg