Friday, February 25, 2011

Carolina Winds Blowing In From The Caribean: Part 1 Charlestowne Landing

When I think of the Caribbean I picture lush flowering tropical foliage, palm trees, water, warm breezes, pastel colored buildings, and life that is slow and easy. Throw in an ample supply of mopeds on narrow streets, sultry summer afternoon thundershowers, and umbrella drinks to complete the picture and you have another day in paradise.

This description of a seaside village in the Carribean also comes to life with a walk along the Battery or up and down the streets of the "Walled City" of Charleston. You can see the Caribbean influence in the government, the architecture and colors of homes and buildings, the arts and music and of course the dialect and language.

An examination of the history of Charleston suggests that the connection between the Caribbean and the Lowcountry is not merely a coincidence or an image created by designers and those in the tourism industry. As most of the readers of this blog can tell I am a bit of a history novice, in other words, I am intrigued by the past but can't call myself a historian since I just don't seem to have the recall ability for it. But I do believe that in order to fully appreciate contemporary times we must have an understanding of where those before us have stood. In that vain, to fully appreciate the wonderful place where I live, Charleston, it is helpful to re-visit the roots of modern day Chucktown. A great place to start is the Historic Charlestowne Landing Site located near present-day Charleston on a small peninsula secluded and surrounded by marshland. It is the location where the first European settlement in the Carolina Province was established in 1670.

There is a wealth of history available in Charleston, the city is a living museum of history. Charlestowne Landing has not been a location that I have ever taken any of our "vacation land" guests to explore. In a city of romantic history with such great historic Civil and Revolutionary War Venues there is a lot to choose from when planning a day of history for our guests. I guess at first glance Charlestowne Landing just isn't quite as sexy as a boat tour of Fort Sumter or a carriage ride past a house where George Washington once slept. After visiting Charlestowne Landing on on my own, boy was I ever wrong. After a day of meandering the grounds of this historic site I do have a much better understanding of why it's not accidental that Charleston has a Caribbean Flair A quick review of the history books, including my favorite Charleston! Charleston! The History Of A Southern City by Walter J. Fraser provides a superb explaination for the Caribbean Influence here in the Lowcountry. And that explaination, which we will fully examine in a future blog, has it's genesis at the site of Charlestowne Landing.

I couldn't have been anymore surprised with Charlestowne Landing, in a word, WOW! What a facility, located just an oyster shells throw from the exit off of I-26 you are virtually transported back hundreds of years as you pass through the park entrance on a lane that winds through a wonderland of South Carolina Lowcountry forest and marsh.

The physical plant of the park is modern, re-built in 2006 and the experience is so interactive that you forget that it is historic. Some of the highlights that most impressed me were the twelve-room museum of living history in the main park building, complete with a digital archaeological dig site that permits you to "get your hands dirty" and dig into the past a little bit. I strongly suggest the MP3 audio tour option for exploring the acres of history, it's like having a private guide, only better because you can browse the park grounds at your leisure. And believe me, there is a lot to browse.

The park is really multi-faceted, through clever design and integration, a visit to the park includes a zoo experience with the rather impressive natural habitat zoo complete with puma, bear, shore birds, elk and bison. Also, the grounds are home to one of the most distinctive plantation style homes of Charleston, the Legare-Waring house, with it's 1000 foot live oak alley of trees leading up to the entrance the beautiful home has the distinction of being one of Charlestons premier sites for weddings and formal gatherings.

But the un-mistakable focus of Charlestowne Landing's historic significance is being the site of the European Settlement that became present day Charleston, South Carolina. And after spending the better part of the day, not only exploring history, but actually re-walking the steps of those European, Barbadian and West African settlers, I now understand the culture and Caribbean Influence that helped to make Charleston such a wonderful place to live and visit, but for now, I will have to promise you that in Part 2 of this series.

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