Sunday, January 23, 2011
Just A Nice Afternoon For A Walk
I will admit it, I am a hopeless romantic for the Southern lifestyle in the classic sense. When I walk down the street in Summerville or Charleston and I see the Victorian style homes from the 19th century, I imagine Southern Belles in Victorian Bustle dresses sipping lemonade and fanning themselves while the man of the house enjoys a glass of bourbon over cracked ice. I apologize for my sometimes polyanna outlook on life here From The Land Of Palm Trees but I do feel blessed and I feel most blessed when I am walking past living history in the form of large Victorian homes with 5 bay front porches, or piazzas as we call them here in the Lowcountry. You know the type of home I speak of, complete with an iron-gated driveway and a formal garden in the back or side yard that would rival an English Estate. The street is lined whith huge Live Oak trees draped with spanish moss beside Magnolia trees in full bloom, and finally a couple of Palmettos standing guarding in the front of the house.
Warm sunshine is filtering through the canopy of Loblolly Pines and Live Oaks from a mostly blue sky overhead. Get the picture? I just set the scene for you from my walk with our black lab Sammie last Thursday down Sumter Avenue in Summerville.
During the stroll, I found myself trying to imagine what life must have been like during the late 1800's after "the war", and on into the earliest decades of the 20th century. This is a period of time richly significant to the history of the town of Summerville and Sumter Avenue has it's share of homes and buildings that are registered on the National Register of Historic Places.
The end of the 19th century was not especially kind to Summerville. There were two terribly tragic events that impacted the small town just as it was trying to recover from the War Between the States. The first was a massive earthquake that caused significant damage to practically every building standing in Charleston and Summerville, followed by a destructive fire that nearly burned down the entire town square. As bad as it was, there was one piece of good luck mixed in with all of the destruction, in Paris, France the International Congress of Physicians named Summerville as one of the two best locations for treating and recovering from ailments of the lung and pulmonary system. These three events shaped life as we know it today in the Flower Town In The Pines.
On the day that Sammie and I walked down Sumter Avenue, there were men from landscape companies trimming trees, utility employees working on some public works project, neighborhood ladies out for a brisk walk, and black labs, poodles and golden retrievers patrolling the perimeters of their domains. The historic homes on this street are all in pristine condition. Life, that is modern life is ongoing behind the centuries old iron gates.
The first home we come to is a 1&1/2 story Queen Anne style at 302 Sumter Avenue, the Doctor William Prioleau House, also known as the Bolen House. How majestic she is with her steep hipped roof and two interior chimneys, one can only imagine how majestic and grand the fireplaces attached to those chimneys must be. This is a good home for me to start with because the original resident, Dr. William Prioleau was a druggist who moved from Charleston to Summerville around 1896 for the healthy environment. Hmmm, a druggist with a pioneer spirit and a dream, imagine that. As I pass by the house, I wonder what druggists got paid back in the late 1890's.
Proceeding, we arrive in front of 230 Sumter Avenue, the Brownfield House. A beauty with a 5 bay front porch and balustraded balcony above that was built in the late 1860's. I imagine an excited buzz emanating from the front porch that is filled young ladies with Boston accents. You see this house was once home to the Brownfield Academy, a boarding school for young ladies, advertised in the 1890's as being particularly well suited to northern ladies of poor health who would prosper in the healthy environment of Summerville.
Further down the street, we pause in front of 208 Sumter, the summer home of Elizabeth Arden. I imagine walking past the home in the 1940's and there on the front lawn browsing among the blooming camelias wearing a stunning pink dress is the cosmetic queen herself, waving to me and admiring my dog Sammie.
About that time, Sammy shocked me back into reality as nature made it's call and I bent over to scoop up the package into one of those little black baggies I carry in my pocket at all times when we go on our little walks. What a great day for a walk through history. If you are interested in taking a historical stride through historic Summerville, check out this map and brochure.