Charleston, South Carolina


We had a warm night, lovely morning, a great breakfast, and the night before we decided that we would stay in the fancy, more expensive RV Park on James Island, South of the city, as it was closer to Charleston

Route 17 heading south from Buck Hall goes directly through the National Forest in a straight line.  After a while, we noticed that there were stalls at the side of the road.  It was misty, foggy, morning and all the stalls were unoccupied.  We were in sweetgrass basket territory, and assumed that the stalls were for selling sweetgrass baskets.  Suddenly, there was a stall in use with baskets on display. I thought “Why did I travel this far to drive by and say; Looks interesting?” so I pulled over.

Stanley Moultrie, maker of great baskets

Stanley Moultrie, maker of great baskets

We found a wonderful man, Stanley Moultrie, who had his baskets out on display. I asked if he made the baskets, or was selling them for someone else. Stanley pointed out the baskets he made, and then the baskets made by relatives.  It was obvious that he made the majority of them.  He gave us a quick lesson on how the baskets were made, how the baskets made by the men were tighter and stiffer.  He had a basket made by a female relative that he grabbed for comparison.  WE found a basket that we really liked, and the price tag at the bottom of the basket was $200.   Stanley indicated that the price was negotiable, so we negotiated and then Louise the owner of a beautiful basket.  The top of the basket has an interwoven upper lip, which vaguely resembles a Celtic knot, a feature that we were hard pressed to find later in Charleston.

We passed around Charleston, and drove directly to the James Island County Park. The park looks just like a private RV Park, I suppose, because we’ve never been to one yet.  During the holidays they have a really fancy holiday light display, as many of the displays were still up, but unplugged.  Many of the displays appear animated when lit, and the whole thing was very festive, even in an unlit and semi-dismantled state, the displays looked cool.  The whole place looks like a combination of a theme park and a country club.

After registration, we drove back into Charleston, and I began to love the building zoning, as we managed to wander into a shopping center with a Lowes and we never noticed that I was in a shopping center, until I saw the Lowes sign through the trees.  The place looked like an exclusive neighborhood.  The folks up north really should be emulating this practice. This shopping center looked really appealing, like a place I would like to live, and not like an abandoned airport with utilitarian building dropped in the middle.

RK4_2231The streets in Charleston are really narrow.  I found this out after it was way too late to do anything else.  The right lane alternates from straight ahead, to right turn or parking on a random basis. We eventually located the offices for the harbor tour.  The USS Yorktown, a WWII and Apollo program aircraft carrier is moored on permanent display on the other side of the harbor, and there are tours that leave from there during the warmer months, but during the mid-winter, they close down.  It turned out that the harbor tour on this side of the river is also closed down in mid-winter.  The dockmaster, a young guy, was very nice and pointed out where the National Park Service was located, and said that they run to Fort Sumter twice a day.  I asked him if I could leave the RV in the lot, and after we determined it was well out of the way, he agreed.  It was a coupe, as parking in Charleston, especially an RV is nigh impossible.

We purchased tickets for a tour at 2:30 and were looking for a place to eat at, and sights to see, when we met Rebecca, a hawker for ‘the best deli in Charleston’, the East Bay Deli.  She pointed out the location, gave us a coupon, and we headed over, split a pastrami sandwich.  The place was great, had a funky vibe, the value was terrific, and it rivaled up New Jersey deli food.

We were wandering around taking in the character of the city and discovered that Charleston has a free trolley.  They have specific stops and have four different routes, so we hopped on one and took it to the visitor center. At the center, we got some information on walking tours of the city, info on things to see, and we met Stanley’s cousin, who was making sweet grass baskets at a table in the corner of the center.  We negotiated a good deal with Stanley.

We were concerned about missing the tour, and had no idea when the free tour trolley would arrive and how long it would take to get back to the National Park dock, so we decided to walk.  Charleston is a very walkable city.  Bikes would have allowed us to get to almost anywhere in the city in no time flat; next time. We had a great walk, and got to the Fort Sumter Visitor Center in time for the boat.

RK4_2135The city was enveloped in for in the early morning, with scattered rain showers.  As the trip to the Fort started, the fog cleared, the sun came out, and it was a wonderful half hour, warm cruise to Sumter. Sumter is surprising.  I’ve seen fort McHenry from a distance, viewed pictures of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas and imagined that Fort Sumter would be similar.  All that is left of the original fort is the lowest level of three levels.  The preservation of the lowest level appears to be due to the collapse of the upper portions cascading down during the Union bombardment of the fort during the end of the Civil War.  The Confederates never surrendered the fort; they just slipped away and left if for the Union.  They are still quite proud that they did not surrender the fort, and that the Union surrendered Fort Sumter to them.

The tour to Fort Sumter was an intellectual eye opener.  The ride out takes a half an hour, with narration about the fort and the history of Charleston, then there is about an hour tour of the fort, with a half hour ride back, again with narration.  For the first time I began to understand the cultural chasm between black and white in the south, especially in South Carolina.  I had the feeling that the Civil War wasn’t really over, it was just that they had lost the war and hadn’t been provided an opportunity for a rematch.  In the presentation, Fort Sumter was an overwhelming Confederate victory, and the displays painted a clear picture.  It was the first time I’ve been in a federal installation that portrayed the Confederacy in that manner.  After reflection, I’m not sure that the US Government had any other choice.

Right or wrong, I always thought that slavery wasn’t the primary reason for the Civil War, just a northern version of why the war occurred.  It’s clear that the Civil War grew out of from a multi-pronged financial attack on the wealth of the South. It’s clear from looking at the city, that it was one of the richest cities in the United States at the time of the Civil War.  Tariffs made imported manufactured goods from Europe, that the residents wanted, more expensive, the ban on importing slaves reduced the available workforce in the fields and increased costs, and affected profitability for the plantation owners.  The push to outlaw slavery without compensation to the slave owners amounted to seizure of property by the Federal Government. Additionally, the Federal Government began constraining politics in the state.  It’s unfortunate that schools portray the Civil War in such black and white terms, and with a bullet point approach.  It’s far more complex than portrayed.

RK4_2264After the trip to Fort Sumter, we took a stroll looking for a restaurant and found the ‘fancy’ section of Charleston. I noticed that there were no people of color sightseeing, everyone of color we saw was working. There were no Asians, no Hispanics; overall the city was a very monoculture city.  It also appeared to be very much a college town.  We saw several students from the Citadel, either in ‘casual’ dress blue jacket with an insignia on the breast pocket, with shirt & tie and dress slacks, or in athletic attire with the mandatory high visibility running belt.

We stopped for dinner at Virginia’s on King Street, and we chose shrimp & grits, a local IPA, and she crab soup.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had either, and it was nothing I expected. The shrimp and grits were surprisingly filling.  Since we had split dinner I expected that there might be room for dessert; there was no chance; the portion divided into two were large, and we both ate too much.  The food was excellent, but I’m more of a northern roast and chop kind of guy.

WE had a very nice stroll back to the RV, and Charleston seems to be a very safe city.  It had the most incredible police presence I have ever seen this side of Times Square.   When we arrived back at the RV Park, we leveled the RV, hooked up the electricity, and then hopped over to the camp store to make arrangements for a ride into town the following day.  It was an excellent day.