The Great Charleston Earthquake of 1886: pictures, stories, facts and quacks on display at the SC State Museum in Columbia

The most destructive earthquake ever recorded in the eastern United States occurred near Charleston at 9:51PM on August 31st, 1886. The quake was felt by two out every three people living in the country! Estimated at a 7.3 magnitude (more powerful than the Haiti earthquake in 2010) the shock lasted about a minute.

The following historical data, pictures and quotes are from the SC State Museum exhibit dedicated to the 125th Anniversary of the Great Charleston Earthquake and the “Faults and Fractures, The Medical Response to the Charleston Earthquake of 1886” article on the MUSC Waring Library website.

Dock Street Theater and St. Philip Church in the aftermath of the 1886 earthquake

View of St. Philip's Episcopal Church right after the quake

More than 100 people were killed and almost every building in Charleston was damaged.

Charlestonians suffered the most psychologically given the 300 aftershocks taking place over the next 3 years.

The earthquake triggered many strange afflictions, even in cities far from the epicenter.

According to the Savannah Morning News, at least a dozen people went insane and had to be sent to lunatic asylums, including “the wives and daughters of prominent citizens.”

“A drugstore clerk started walking on Tuesday night and didn’t stop until he reached a town fifty miles away, where he sent a postcard to his parents saying he could not return.”

Earthquake damage throughout United States:
• Maine: The captain of a schooner off the coast saw “black wall” rising on the water, a mighty wave that lifted the ship to a fantastic height. The schooner was buried in a mountain of foam, its sails torn off and its mast snapped.

• North Carolina Mountains: Flames shot from caverns, leaving behind a cloud of smoke that smelled like burning coal. Massive rocks crashed down into the valley.

• Brooklyn, New York: A telephone operator thought he was having a heart attack when all the plugs on his switchboard popped out of their sockets.

• Terre Haute, Indiana: At a minstrel show the galleries swayed, and one man was thrown out of the balcony; he saved himself by clinging to a railing.

• Dubuque Iowa: The audience in the opera house stampeded, thinking the building was about to fall.

125th anniversary exhibit at the SC State Museum

"People ran through the streets...bare feet cut by broken glass and brick shards. Fires raged across the city."

Earthquake damage in South Carolina
• Dorchester County: Every structure in town was damaged. “…the structure seemed to dance up and down…The doors and ceilings were warped and twisted; the timbers groaned and crackled; the chimneys crashed at their bases, sank downward, carrying fireplaces, mantles and hearthstones through the floors through the ground below.” U.S. Geological Survey final report.

At present day Colonial Dorchester Historic Site, the ruin of 1719 St. George Anglican Church tumbled to the ground. A chuck of the bell tower flew through the air and landed 35 feet away.

• Horse Creek, Aiken County: A train pulling stock cars plunged off the tracks into 40 feet of water. The fireman was killed and four horses drowned. Other animals kicked holes in the cars and swam to safety.

• Adams Run, Charleston County: 20 feet high geysers covered the ground hip-deep with water.

• Ravenel, Charleston County: The ground broke open for 2.5 miles. A man trying to reach his grand-children was cut off by a jet of water.

• Columbia, Richland County: The Congaree River threw up 10 foot waves.

Shock and awe
Within days almost everyone in Charleston abandoned his damaged home to sleep outside, in parks, cemeteries, backyards, on buses, ships, ice wagons, and railroad cars. Ships in the harbor became refugees for the homeless.

Major destruction on the corner pf East bay and Cumberland

Building completely destroyed by the earthquake


By September 3rd, 40,000 people were tenting and encampments bloomed on every piece of open ground. Many families returned to their houses only to flee back when aftershocks struck.

At first black and whites shared the camps, but soon whites moved away from integrated areas like Washington Square Park and congregated instead at White Point Garden by the Battery.

The state government never provided relief money or supplies. After more than a week the city began to erect wooden shelters and substantial tents sent by other states and the U.S. military.

Where is disaster there is also opportunity…
• Within days a large number of tourists from as far away as Boston came to see the wreckage. Railroads scheduled a variety of excursions and sometimes donated funds to the relief effort. On September 12, 1550 visitors arrived from Georgia and Florida, 400 of whom stopped to eat dinner in the city’s big hotels. Most wary of the aftershocks got back on their trains and left before dusk.

• Businessmen scrambled to serve the tourists: stores offered booklets showing the damage, some sold vials of the brightly colored sand and clay brought up by sand blows.

Entrepreneurs profiting from the Charleston quake of 1886

'Earthquake Views...Not an advertising scheme'...yeah right!

When those ran out they filled glass tubes with coffee grounds and red pepper flakes.

• One antique dealer ran ads seeking door knockers, candlesticks and other artifacts that survived the quake to sell to “Northern parties”.

• Agents for dime museums were said to be in town looking for “earthquake babies” as special exhibits. Some twins born the night of the disaster were nicknamed Earth and Quake.

The biggest quake sham of all time!
Earthquake Ray-Charged Copper Battery made by J. M Brasington, Benetsville South Carolina, discoverer of Rays, 1890.

The maker, J.M. Brasington, contends that the battery will intercept and store earthquake rays from 10,000 miles away, and when connected to the body can cure a many illnesses.

How it Works (text from the battery label)

Some try to profit from the earthquake with sham products

The Ray Charged Copper Battery scam of the late 1880s...

“The Battery trap intercepts rays from earthquakes; this stream of rays is the first entering the lower pure blood veins; the rays from the battery immediately enter the upper pure blood veins meeting the quake rays in the heart;

Then it seems million of battery and quake rays shoot out through all blood, flesh, nerves, bones and skin, strengthening the heart nerves, improving resistance to infestation, aiding appetite, digestion, inducing sleep and rest; helps to keep mentally tired man’s body youthful and vigorous.”

How to Use (text from the battery label)
“When taking the hot or cold rays, the wrist band must be on the right or left wrist…Copper traps must be laced to slipper soles, stocking or bare feet. When wrists and straps are properly fitted you will get the Quake and Battery rays even if sitting on rubber, glass, riding in automobile, boat, lying on bed or couch.

Place Battery in any position best suited to your comfort; except the Battery must not be between your feet. While Battery is surrounded by your feet you will get no Earthquake Rays…”


Fun stuff for kids inside the SC State Museum Earthquake exhibit

Test your engineering and architectural skills at the large shake table to see whether you can build an earthquake proof building.

Test your architectural skills

See whether you can build an earthquake proof structure

Check out the one of the base isolation pads used in the renovation of the SC State Capitol in the late 1990s. About $13 million was spent to make the building meet and exceed 20th century earthquake protection codes. A new base isolation system was created to absorb the energy of vibrations caused by earthquakes. 130 base isolation pads were installed to support the building, a first for a major structure building east of the Mississippi River. Nowadays computers monitor any shifts in the ground through these isolators.

Hundreds of base isolation pads were installed under the foundation

The SC State Capitol was the first major building east of the Mississippi River to undergo a massive earthquake prevention renovation.

Learn how to be safe when the earthquake strikes: drop, cover and hold!

Safety tips during an earthquake

Drop, cover and hold!

See more exhibit details in the presentation below:

Read “Upheaval in Charleston: Earthquake and Murder on the Eve of Jim Crow” by Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius, a gripping account of the natural disaster and turbulent social change in Charleston following the Civil War.

The book features Francis Warrington Dawson, editor of Charleston’s News and Courier, who rallied Charlestonians after the earthquake struck by organizing the relief committee and receiving contributions that helped rebuild the city. Hailed as a hero in the aftermath of the earthquake, Dawson was denounced by white supremacists and murdered less than 3 years after the disaster. His killer was acquitted after a sensational trial that unmasked a Charleston underworld of decadence and corruption.

Don’t miss!
You have until end of April 2012 to see the remarkable Body Worlds Vital exhibit at the SC State Museum.

Astronomy lovers check out the incredible collection of historical telescopes, donated by Robert B. Ariail.

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Beautiful bird encounters while traveling in South Carolina

My favorite thing to do while traveling in South Carolina is to take pictures of wildlife, especially birds.

Spotting a bald eagle last December while kayaking in the marsh at Cherry Grove Beach is by far the most cherished bird watching moment.

Amazing bald eagle sighting while kayaking in the marsh

The majestic bald eagle returns to South Carolina coast.

Witnessing a great white egret couple, delicately preparing their nest for the upcoming chicks, is a close second favorite encounter.

White Egret males and female building a nest

And here is the rest…get out there and enjoy nature at its best!

Dorchester State Park, old English settlement near Charleston

“I passed Dorchester, where there are the remains of what appears to have once been a considerable town: there are the ruins of an elegant church, and the vestiges of several well-built houses.” – A 1788 account by a passing traveler

Fort Dorchester built in 1775

The Dorchester Garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion during Revolutionary War


Few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Dorchester State Historic Park, a short drive from Summerville, the magnificent plantations and North Charleston.

Similarly to nearby Charles Towne Landing, visitors are rewarded with one of America’s most complete archaeological records of colonial life.

The park is open daily 9AM to 6PM and admission is $2 for adults, free for kids 15 and younger. Most Saturdays, from June through September you can attend educational programs and observe archaeologist at work (free with park admission, 10AM to 2PM)

Historic highlights and interesting artifacts (data and quotes provided by the park exhibits and brochure guide)

On October 20, 1695, Joseph Lord, Increase Summer and William Pratt were dismissed from their church from Dorchester, Massachusetts for “Ye gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina.” After securing 4050 of land here along the Ashley River, they sailed home to their congregation in New England.

Coming to South Carolina for an acceptable settlement

Lord, Summer and Pratt gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina


They returned in 1697 with other church members who hoped “to go to South Carolina to Settel the Gospel ther”.

When the new Dorchester was laid out, the village contained 116 quarter acre lots, a town square and commons. The St. George Anglican church was built in 1720, a fair was established in 1723 and the Free School opened in 1761.

By 1781, Dorchester became a booming trade center and boasted about 40 houses by 1781. The town gradually declined after the American Revolution and was abandoned in 1788. The threat of malaria and the shortage of land cause the Congregationalist colony to leave Dorchester and start a new settlement in Midway, Georgia.

In 1969, the land was donated to the South Carolina State Park Service. The village of Dorchester is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Dorchester Free School – The school was established in 1758 and consisted of

How it was like to go to school in the 18th century

The Dorchester Free School where girls were allowed to attend.

“two Brick Houses of the Dimensions of 23 feet in weadth & 36 feet in length, & one story high, with a dutch roof, shall be built for the use of the sd. School, one of them to serve as a School House, & other for a dwelling house for the Master, & his Family…”

Several girls attended the free school, an amazing feat for the time given most girls were raised to become just mothers and housewives.

During Revolutionary War the schoolmaster was removed from this post for remaining loyal to England and the school was closed.

The British troops burned it down and it did not reopen for almost 25 years. In 1818 the school moved to Summerville.

The St. George’s Anglican Church and Bell Tower – Angry with the Anglican Church, the Puritan Pilgrims left England in 1620.

Anglican Church Tower

St. George’s Anglican Church was built here in 1720. The bell tower was added in 1751.

Their descendants, known as Congregationalists, founded Dorchester in 1697, only to endure South Carolina’s 1706 declaration of Anglicanism as the colony’s official church.

With the Congregationalists worshiping only 2 miles away, St. George’s Anglican Church was built in 1720 in the center of Dorchester. Village founders and the other village “dissenters” were even taxed to support St. George’s.

The church was enlarged in the 1730s to meet its growing and prosperous parish. The bell tower was added in 1751.

St. George’s Anglican Church may have been a more convenient location for local worship, however the Congregationalist Church remained the religious center for most of Dorchester’s Puritan settlers.

The Native Coosa Tribe – Long before the English settlers, a small Native American tribe, the Coosa, lived here. The relationship with the English has always been uneasy. In 1671, the Charles Towne settlers accused them of stealing corn and livestock

17th century Indian village in South Carolina

The Coosa were one of the original inhabitants in the Lowcountry

and in 1674 they were even accused of murder.

The settlers waged war against the Coosa. After defeating the Indians, they required a monthly payment of deerskin per colony.

In 1675, one of the Lord Proprietors was granted the land where the Coosa village once stood. Although the grant gave him legal title he officially purchased the land from the surviving Coosa for “a valuable parcel of cloth, hatchet, beads and other goods and manufactures now received…” He called his home there the “Cussoo House”

By 1696, the Coosa ceased to have a significance presence in this area. Some had settled in the nearby St. Paul’s Parish, some migrated west, others died or intermarried with the English.

Fort Dorchester – During the French and Indian War rumors of an impeding naval attack by the French forced swift action by leaders in Charles Towne.

Dorchester earthen and osyster shells colonial defense

The powder magazine was fortified in 1775


A brick powder magazine enclosed by a tabby wall 8 feet high was built here in 1757.

During the Revolution, Dorchester was a strategic point.

In 1775, the magazine was fortified and the garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion. British troops occupied the town in April 1780 and again in 1781. At one point there were over 600 British soldiers in Dorchester.

They were driven out by cavalry and infantry under Col. Wade Hampton and Gen. Nathaniel Greene on December 1, 1781.

The meeting House was located 2 miles west of the village. The first structure was built of wood and replaced in the mid 1700 with a brick building. The interior is described as:

“A single door admitted to a single aisle, leading to a lofty pulpit, with a sounding board above it.

Congregationalist colony ruins Dorchester Park

What is left of the Dorchester burial ground

In front of the pulpit was an elevated seat for the ruling elder; a little lower and just behind the communion table was a seat for the deacons.

On either side of the island were several plain benches, capable of seating four or five persons each.

Along the sides of the house were two or three long seats, and at the site of the pulpit were several shorter ones. Back by the door two seats were fitted up for the guardsmen, with their old matchlocks.”

During the Revolutionary War, the British occupied the building and reportedly burned it when they evacuated the area. In 1794 the structure was repaired, and eventually its congregation entered into an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church.

As the Dorchester settlement declined and the town of Summerville grew, a new church was constructed nearer the town. Over time the old meeting house fell in disrepair and in 1886 it was severely damaged by the Great Earthquake. Today, only crumbling walls and the burial grounds remain.

The Artifacts – At the center you can see numerous artifacts such as hand painted pearl ware, Staffordshire candle holder, lead-glazed earthenware, white salt-glazed stoneware and the Colono ware. The Colono ware is similar to pottery from Nigeria and Ghana. It started to be produced in Carolina around 1680, peaked in the early 1700s and then disappeared by 1800. Typical vessels were flat bottomed, burnished, grit-tempered and often had an “X” incised on their bases.

Step back in the colonial period at Dorchester State Historic Park!

Dorchester State Park outdoor attractions

Best place to have a picnic along Ashley River

Fast and curious Powder Magazine! A quick look at Charleston in the 1700s

“Charles Towne the Capital of this Province…is very inviting, and the Country about it agreeable and fruitful…There are several fair streets in the Town and some very handsome buildings…As for public Edifices the Church is most remarkable.”
John Oldmixon, 1708

The Powder Magazine is the oldest public building in South Carolina. It took us about 20 minutes to visit the museum. Admission was $2 (free for my daughter) which is about right, for the easy going, brief peak into colonial Charleston history.

Goofing around at the Powder Magazine museum

I did not do it! Trust me...

Historic highlights
• In 1713, under the Lord Proprietors rule, the Powder Magazine was completed in the northwest corner of the Charleston fortifications.

GR British cannons found in Charleston

American Revolution field guns in front of the Powder Magazine

• Col. William Rhett – the same guy who will later capture the famous Stede Bonnet, The Gentleman Pirate – was appointed Commissioner of the Fortifications.

• The building had thick brick walls and a sand packed roof designed to collapse in an event of explosion. Iron nails and metal fixture were kept to a minimum to prevent inadvertent sparks.Today, you can still see an exposed section of the original brick.

Back then they truly built to last!…

• From 1713 to 1770, and again briefly during the Revolutionary War, it was used as storage building for loose gunpowder. Afterward it became a livery stable, wine cellar, print shop, and finally a museum.

• In 1902, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America and the State of South Carolina purchased the building and opened it as a museum.

• Recently, the Powder Magazine has been restored to its original appearance (except for the addition of a thin plaster wash inside to protect the brick from a chronic moisture problem).

18 century artifacts (on loan from the Charleston Museum)
• Two Revolutionary War cannons, found in the Charleston area. The field guns featured the British “GR” – Georgius Rex – stamp, in reference to King George III.
• Right-handed bone dice, “Royal Welch” button, bronze whistle, slate whizzer
• A 6 pounds cannon ball, embedded in the wood it was shot at and a 3 pounds solid shot, found under a house in Charleston near the location of the American lines during the Charleston Siege
• Iron crossbar, Irish coin, English flintlock.

Revolutionary War flintlock pistol iron crossbar

17 and 18 century British and African artifacts

Defend the city!
The walls and moat that surrounded Charles Towne allowed entrance only by sea at the Cooper River wharves and by land over a drawbridge near the intersection of Broad and Meeting streets.

Indian weapons demonstration Charleston Museum

Look mom I am a warrior!

Although, one settler said “This fortify’d more for Beauty than Strength” the walls proved useful on two major occasions:

• In 1706, five French and Spanish ships sailed into the harbor to conquer the colony. Colonial forces lead by Gov. Nathaniel Johnson and a fleet of six small ships lead by Col. William Rhett repelled the invaders.

• In 1715 the colony faced its biggest threat, when Yemassee Indians with support from Spain, attacked the English settlements. More than 400 colonists were massacred. Carolinians flocked to Charles Towne, regrouped and marched out to counterattack.

By 1716, the Yemassee were defeated and driven into Florida. Then the Proprietors amassed the lands owned by the Indians, angering the settlers who have fought and won the war.

• In 1719, surprise, surprise…the colonists “peacefully” overthrew the Lord Proprietors, and South Carolina became a royal colony.

Kids enjoy playing with the interactive Charleston map that showcases the city’s landmarks in the 1700s

Old Charles Towne Harbor walled city bastions defenses

Lightning up Charleston landmarks in the 1700


Free and fun family attractions in the area

• The one and only Waterfront Park
• The renovated Dock Street Theatre

Having fun inside the Powder Museum

Checking out the powder kegs

Middleton Place self guided walking tour photos and travel tips

This year we started our Charleston spring vacation at Middleton Place. It was the fair thing to do, since last year we visited Magnolia Plantation.

Funny birds at the Stableyards

Respect the dandy Stableyards keeper!


Middleton Place is more expensive ($25 adults / $5 children 7-15 general admission vs. $15 adults / $10 children 6-12 at Magnolia).

They both have beautiful landscaped gardens, history and nature walks, and guided tours dedicated to the African slaves.

Middleton stands out with its Stableyards, while Magnolia has more activities for kids.

This is an overview of what to expect and things to enjoy on the Middleton Place self-guided walking tour. Just in case, here is a slide show from my visit.

Things to know before you go
• Use the excellent self-guided tour brochure and map you get with your admission ticket (most historic data in this post comes from the brochure)!
• Wear very comfortable shoes. You will be walking or standing on your feet for hours. Have sunscreen, bug spray and plenty of water.
• The place is swarming with flying insects. My daughter got stung by a hornet near the buffalo pond at the Stableyards. Best to wear lightweight long sleeves shirts, pants and a sun hat.
• For food you can bring your own picnic, or purchase sandwiches, salads, ice-cream and drinks at the Garden Market. The Middleton Restaurant serves lunch daily 11AM – 3PM and dinner Tuesday to Sunday. For dinner reservations call (843) 556 – 6020 ext. 118.
• Take advantage of the free tours: African American Focus at 11AM and 1PM, and the Garden Overview at the top of each hour from 10AM to 3PM
• The guided House Museum tour is extra $10, runs from 9:30AM to 5PM and lasts about 25 minutes.

The gentlemen guest wing rebuilt 1970s

Beware this is not the 18th century house! The original was destroyed by Civil War and the 1886 Earthquake

Note this is not the original 18th century plantation house, but the restored gentlemen guest wing.

The only thing left from that period is the south flank. Everything else was destroyed either by fire in the Civil War or the Great 1886 Earthquake.

Inside there are original Benjamin West family portraits, Charleston-made rice beds and fine English silver. Further, through August 30, the museum features the “Carolina Gold from Rice to Riches” exhibit.

Tour highlights, historic trivia and fun things to do

Best place to have a picnic and let the kids run free is at the terraces.

The Versailles of Charleston

Butterfly Lakes, Terrace Gardens and Rice Mill

The gardens were designed by Andre´ le Notre, the landscape architect of Versailles. The formal lawn provided a reception area at the house east entrance. Many visitors came by boat.

Legend has it in 1786 the French botanist Andre´ Michaux gave the Middletons the first four camellias to be planted in an American garden.

Now you can relax among “Queen of Flowers” camellias, azaleas, tea plants, magnolia trees and gaze upon the picture perfect Butterfly Lakes or the timeless Ashley River.

Most popular place for kids inside Middleton Place is the Stableyards.

Interpreter guide at work Middleton Place

Making rice barrels the old fashion way

Here you can watch live demonstrations by artisan craftsmen, play with colonial time farm equipment and carriages and see, pet and even milk (some days around 4PM) the animals!

Check out these pictures for a detailed Stableyards tour.

This was my first encounter with a male peacock in a full fledged feather dance. It was impressive! My daughter loved the kitty sleeping in the Weaving room. Everyone was eager to pet the majestic Suffolk horses, that are used today on all the carriage tours.

Best photography and wedding ceremony spot is by the Azalea Hillside

Middleton Spring House and Plantation Chapel

Most picturesque spot on Middleton grounds

and the Rice Mill Pond Bridge.
The hillside was planted in the 1920s with thousands of spring blooming azaleas. The pond formed after a creek that flowed into Ashley River was dammed.

Nowadays geese, swan, wood ducks and mallards swim at ease under the picturesque cypress bridge.

Across Rice Mill Pond is the Spring House and Plantation Chapel. At the lower level, spring waters provided cool storage for dairy products and other foods.

The upper floor, added in 1851, was used as a chapel for the slaves until the Civil War.

Learn about rice farming, the Carolina Gold crop! Rice cultivation flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries with the labor and skills of thousands of enslaved Africans. After the Civil War it declined. Today “Carolina Gold” is being grown in the demonstration rice field located next to the Rice Mill.

How rice was cultivated harvested and trade in 18th century

Kids learn the tedious process of farming rice inside Rice Mill


Water played a vital role in the economic life of the plantation. Ashley River was the primary highway to and from outside world for Middleton Place residents.

While water was essential in cultivating rice it also provided power for the mill.

Milling was the final step in rice processing. The underwater turbine turned a horizontal spiked wheel, from which a belt moved through the two holes in the west wall to power the mill.

Most romantic place is around the Reflection Pool (where the self-guided tour starts). Here you can admire the Secret and Sundial Gardens, the Wood Nymph, one of the few original statues that survived Civil War, and the gigantic Middleton Live Oak that once marked a pre-colonial Indian Trail.

Swan Lake Live in Charleston Middleton

All roads lead to the Reflection Pool

Here are more reviews from travelers on Middleton Inn and Restaurant, Middleton weddings, and the Museum House and Carriage tours.


Fun family attractions in the area

Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation, America’s newest and most unique garden and wildlife preserve ($7 admission, free for kids under 6)

Charles Towne Landing, the birthplace of South Carolina, rewards you with incredible history, a zoo and full size trading ship to play on! ($5 adults, $3 children 6-15)

How sweet it is! Charleston tea plantation, your weekend paradise escape

I’ve always wanted to visit the Charleston Tea Plantation, America’s only tea garden and this Spring I finally made it! Nestled in the picturesque Wadmalaw Island, the plantation is a short drive from both downtown Charleston and Folly Beach.

Come to the First Flush Festival at Charleston Tea Plantation

We made it to Americas only tea garden!

Things to know before you go
You can tour the indoor tea factory for free or take the $10 (free for kids under 6) trolley tour around the farm.

The plantation is open daily 10AM to 4PM (noon on Sundays), except on major holidays.

Although the Charleston Tea Plantation started in 1987, its roots go way back.

In the 1700’s the Camellia Sinensis tea plant first arrived in the United States from China in an attempt to produce the exquisitely aromatic tea.

It only took about 150 years…In 1888, Dr. Charles Shepard managed to produce the first American grown tea on his Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, SC.

In 1963, Shepard’s tea plants were transplanted from Pinehurst to a 127 acres potato farm located on Wadmalaw Island.

State of the art machinery on display at Charleston Tea Plantation

Here comes The Green Giant!

This farm eventually became known as the Charleston Tea Plantation.

Every Camellia Sinensis plant growing on the grounds today is direct descendant of Dr. Shepard’s 1888 crop, making the Charleston Tea Plantation a living part of American history!

The trolley tour lasts about 20 minutes. You listen to a recorded audio that goes over the most interesting aspects of growing tea.

The trolley makes frequent stops so you can take pictures, and have plenty of time to marvel at the charming garden, serene irrigation ponds, and blooming rows after rows of tea plants.

Charleston Tea Plantation facts, trivia and tips

Picture perfect spot from the tea trolley

I feel jolly on the trolley!

• This is probably one of the most eco-friendly plant farms in the world. They use no herbicides, pesticides or insecticides and consequently there is minimum soil erosion.

• The plantation is not only organic but very high tech. They have designed their own fully sustainable irrigation system and the Green Giant tea harvesting machine…truly unique in the world!

• Did you know that green, black and Oolong tea all come from the same plant? The difference is in processing: green tea leaves, once harvested go straight to drying, and within minutes, are sorted, then put into bags or let loose.

• Tea plants, once mature are very sturdy and resilient and can live for hundreds of years!

• A cup American Classic Tea contains half the amount of caffeine than the average cup of coffee. To reduce the caffeine in hot tea try the following: Pour boiling water over your tea and let it sit for 60 seconds. Pour OUT that first cup (heat releases caffeine), then again pour boiling water over the tea and enjoy!

• To get the best flavor and lower caffeine iced tea, pour cold water over your tea bags (DO NOT use boiling water!) and let it sit overnight at room temperature. In the morning, remove your tea bags, add a sweetener if desired and serve over ice.

See how tea is made

The self guided free factory tour

The self guided factory tour is free and takes about 15 minutes. You watch video on a TV screen about each major step in the tea producing process: harvesting, withering, maceration, filtration, oxidation, drying and packaging.

Note the tour may be boring for young children (mine ran up and down the corridor)…

It gets more exciting during the harvesting season, May through October, when visitors can see all the big machines in action!

Once done with the tour, enjoy all you can drink fresh-made tea or shop for one of kind gourmet items at the Shoppe. Make sure to get the American Classic Tea sampler box, featuring six delicious varieties of loose leaf tea in the staple pyramid bags.

Indulge in most delicious green and black Southern tea

Yummy, yummy in the tummy!

Health benefits of green and black tea
• Great source of antioxidants
• Promote cardiovascular health, higher bone density
• Help reduce body fat
• Have no carbohydrates or calories

Irrigation pond

High tech, eco friendly and so, so beautiful...

Best time to visit the plantation is during annual First Flush Festival, which this year is on May 16, from 10AM to 6PM. The first flush is when the most fresh, flavorful and aromatic tea is produced. There will be great music bands, art, local cuisine, and fun kids games.

Festival tickets are $15 until May 1, $20 until May 16, and $25 at the door on the event day. Kids 6 and under get in FREE.

Family fun attractions in the area
• The 1,500 years old, gigantic Angel Oak Tree on John’s Island
• The romantic Morris Island Lighthouse, one of the most revered historic landmarks on the Charleston Harbor
Folly Beach, featuring one of the best surfing and fishing spots on the Atlantic Coast.

Charleston boom or bust? The Old Exchange and Dungeon tour

The Old Exchange Building was the state’s commercial, political and social epicenter during the Golden Age.

Kids are fascinated by the old colonial style dressed people

Trick or treat...the start of the Dungeon tour

Today it’s the most significant historic public building in Charleston, and a highly advertised family attraction.

Although the building has many exhibits to enjoy, don’t expect “fireworks” or dramatic re-enactments on the guided Dungeon tour ($8 adults, $4 children 7-12).

The museum is open daily 9AM to 5PM.

You can park in the metered lot left of the building or the garage on Mid-Atlantic Wharf ($1 per hour, $10 per day).

Things to know before you go
1. The tour is geared toward kids and lasts about 30 minutes.

Talking mannequins...some like it, some do not

Most of the time you listen to animated mannequins tell you stories about the burgeoning British rule, the capture of famous Caribbean pirates and the Patriots uprising.

My 5 years old really enjoyed it, she was intrigued about all the (fake) rats roaming around.

2. Mystery seekers should consider one of the city night tours, like the “Charleston Ghost and Dungeon Tour” offered by Bulldogs Tour ($18 adults, $10 children over 7. The website offers a $2 coupon). At night the Dungeon will make you shiver with its pitch dark pathways and eerie sounds…you may even catch an orb or two on your digital camera.

3. History buffs will appreciate the 2 stories filled with photos, original artifacts, exquisite furniture and stories from the Revolutionary and Civil War periods. I was humbled by the many pictures depicting the overwhelming destruction Charleston suffered during Civil War.

Most significant events that took place at the Old Exchange building (data from the official website):

Revolutionary War defense against British

Don't let the British get their hands on this!


• Stede Bonnet “the Gentleman Pirate” and crew are imprisoned prior to their hanging at the Battery Park.
• British tea is seized and stored in the Exchange cellars.
• South Carolina drafts its first constitution and declares independence from Great Britain.
• General William Moultrie hides 10,000 pounds of gunpowder in the cellar.
• Colonel Isaac Hayne is imprisoned in the Exchange, and later executed by the British.
• George Washington is entertained here several times during his Southern Tour.
• The Charleston Post Office moves into the Exchange.
• The Half-Moon Battery, part of the original Charleston fortification is excavated beneath the cellar of the Exchange.

4. There are many cool colonial artifacts throughout the Exchange: the “Stair to Nowhere”, the Half Moon wall, the 17th century bronze Spanish war vest, the 18th century flintlock British pistols, the Post Office replica, Gen. William Moultrie waistcoast and Gen. Marion Francis lucky charm buckeyes and much more…

Down in the Dungeon

Trying on the Spanish bronze vest and drums

5. Children will enjoy the stories and graphical representations of the most famous Pirates who used to rule the Charleston Harbor and the Sea Islands: Stede Bonnet, Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Old Exchange tour exhibits

Hey look at these old guns!

Nearby family attractions:

The kids favorite Waterfront Park (free)
• The Old Slave Mart Museum ($7)
• SC Aquarium ($18 adults, $11 children over 2)
• The Powder Magazine ($2)
• The Market.

If you decide to vacation at Folly Beach make sure to check out the beautiful Morris Island Lighthouse and to visit the country’s only Tea Plantation, that produces the flavorful, aromatic and truly eco-friendly American Classic Tea.