Thursday, June 12, 2014

King's Highway - McClellanville SC 6/11/14

King's Highway - McClellanville SC

     Welcome to the "King's Highway."  This road was built between 1630 and 1765, and ran 1300 miles down the Atlantic seacoast from Boston Mass to Charleston SC.  Just north of Charleston in the town of McClellanville is one of the last stretches of the road that remains as it was all those years ago.

     The road runs through the Francis Marion National Forest, a 259,000 acre preserve set aside in the 1930's.  Along the way you will come upon St. James Santee Parish Church.  The parish was established in 1706 and this church was erected in 1768.  Since this area was so far off the beaten path, this structure and a local plantation house escaped burning in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars.  The bricks were imported from England, but the woodwork is all local cypress.

     The vaulted ceiling is the original plaster, and the pews and pulpit are all hand-pegged black cypress.

     As was the tradition, the cemetery surrounded the church.  This mausoleum dates to the 1780's.

     Traveling another eight miles through the forest over mostly dirt and limestone roads we find Battery Warren.

     After parking, there is a trail that leads about a mile through the woods to the ruins.

     Battery Warren was built in the 1860's to defend the Santee River against Union Attack.  The dirt parapets can be seen, as well as the remains of the retaining wall along the river.  It is a nice walk back and you are pretty well assured you will not see anyone along the way.

     A park's service sign shows several old photos and describes the fort.

     And just up the road is a SC State Historic Site - the Hampton Plantation..  This was one of the plantations owned by the Horry and Rutledge families.

Rangers Mary Mikulla and Gabe Shuler

     Park rangers Mary Mikulla and Gabe Shuler were helpful answering my questions.  The main house, constructed between 1730 and 1750 still stands. Originally the front of the house faced the creek which provided access by boat.  In 1791 the house was remodeled and the other side became the "front."

The remodeling was hurried along in anticipation of a visit by George Washington on 5/1/1791.  He only stayed part of a day, but legend has it that the mistress of the house was considering cutting down a tree that she felt impeded the view from the porch.  George advised against it, and the tree was left.

     That oak tree was dubbed "The Washington Tree," and still stands in the front yard along with a plaque to commemorate the incident.

     Roy Williams, a volunteer here for over ten years showed me the interior of the house.  The door he is holding is solid - over 100 lbs, yet the hinges are still so good that you can swing it with a finger.

     Part of the 1790's additions was a ballroom complete with vaulted ceiling.

     Upstairs, you can view the construction of the ceiling.  Beams were slowly bent by repeatedly soaking and bending them until they achieved the desired curvature.  Then wood strips were nailed on, and plaster was applied over them.  It is impressive work for what they had to work with back then.

     Ten fireplaces adorn the mansion, and many of the rooms are painted the original colors.

     In later years, they realized that much of the heat from a fire went up the chimney.  So inserts were added, which allowed more of the radiant heat into the room and less heated air escaped through the chimney.  I am told the inserts are sometimes referred to as "Santa Claus Steps."

     Several large portions of the house are left open so you can see the rough construction.  In many places you can still see the hand made wooden dowels used to hold the beams together.

     There were swamp lands around, and one of the local tree species is the black cypress.  This is a great wood as it is both dense and it has natural rot inhibiting and insect repelling characteristics. 

     Also evident are several traumas that the house survived.   In this section wires help support ceiling beams that were attacked by termites.

     At some point the house caught on fire, and by the looks of the damage it was fairly significant.  But it was caught and put out - seemingly a rarity back in that day.  Many of the old mansions burned over the years.

     And these cabinets show the damage from the great earthquake that hit Charleston back in the 1800's.  This earthquake was so powerful that it was felt from Toronto Canada in the north to Havana Cuba in the south.  It was also felt as far west as Omaha Nebraska.  Many of the old buildings in downtown Charleston still show the evidence of repairs made after this event.

    Out on the front porch is what is called a "joggling board."  These were first made in South Carolina's "low country" in the early 1800's.  Legend has it the first was built for an old matriarch (B. Huger)  who couldn't ride in carriages any more but missed the rocking motion.  So the family built her one in 1803 off of plans that came from Scotland.

     Later, they were called "courting benches."  A young man and woman would sit on either end, and as they rocked back and forth the supporting ends would work their way to the middle.  They remain a fixture on many a Charleston area porch to this day.

The supporting brickwork of the house is a neat style.

     The kitchen sat off of the house, and had its own water well inside.  Records show it burned and was rebuilt numerous times.

     Today it is off limits because a breeding pair of rare bats has taken up residence in the attic.  But there is an old photo in the main house that shows the fireplaces and many of the implements that were used.

     And so we say goodbye to King's Highway.  Today's parting shot is precisely that - driving down these roads kicks up a pretty good cloud of dust.

Have a great Thursday !!

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