We’ve been back downtown quite a bit this month, starting with a tour of one of Charleston’s signature features - the ironwork of Phillip Simmons (1912 - 2009), whose delicate scrollwork adorns the gates of gardens and walkways throughout the Peninsula. Some examples we saw are pictured above. During our tour, we learned that some 500 examples of Simmons’ work are still extant, a tribute to his training as a young apprentice with the ironworking grandson of enslaved African-Americans. Simmons was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship for his work. At his death, the city marked all his artwork with white ribbons to honor his contribution to the cityscape.
Simmons’ delicately wrought gates adorned the entrances to some of the private gardens we visited on our Charleston Home and Garden tour, a rare chance to enjoy the quiet corners of downtown seldom open to visitors. We also noted the marked changes in architectural styles that outline the city’s transformation from earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters, all of which changed the face of downtown during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The beer lovers among us piled into two vans for a tour of downtown’s burgeoning craft beer industry, visiting three breweries on the northern peninsula to sample their beers and ales. It’s an industry with a long history tied to the city’s growth, culture and politics. The first mention of a “beer cellar” on what is now East Bay Street appeared in 1732, although at the time most ingredients for brewing, arrived from outside the colony, principally from Virginia and Pennsylvania, as we learned from Timmon Pettigrew’s entertaining “Charleston Beer” (The History Press, 2011). It wasn’t until the 1760’s, with discontent growing over Britain’s control of imports like the malt and hops needed for brewing, that local farmers began growing their own. The passage of the hated Townsend Act that imposed even heavier taxes on the colonists’ favorite refreshment, and much else, drew Charleston into the revolt that led to independence. Cheers!