EPIC US ROAD TRIP 2017DAYS 6-14 - SOUTHERN COLONIES - VIRGINIA, THE CAROLINAS & GEORGIA
Image || Carriage ride, Market Street, Charleston, South Carolina.
Epic US Road Trip 2017 – Southern Colonies
Virginia, the Carolinas & Georgia. From Arlington, Virginia, the oldest Original Thirteen Colony, in the north to Savannah, Georgia, the youngest, in the South. Over 1,200 miles with the ocean never too far away. There was a lot of history, a lot of water, a lot of bluegrass and a whole lot of photogenic highlights.
Venturing across Washington D.C.‘s Potomac River early on Day 6 saw us return to Virginia, and a very different Old Dominion it was to the largely rural one we got accustomed to last year.
Virginia, Part II
On last year’s Epic US Road Trip 2016 we sampled – by going south to north in western Virginia – the blanketed cool and misty rolling hills and All-American drives of the rugged Appalachian peaks of Virginia’s heavily forested western spine. There’s not a whole lot of (obvious) pioneering history over there. It’s all stereotypical rural Appalachia – slow drives between old-time music-lovin’ towns & villages full of flags, thrift stores/antique shops, roadside Farmers’ Markets & religious bumper stickers on beat-up old pickups. It’s a different story over (& down) on the Chesapeake Bay coast where remnants of Virginia’s awesome pioneering history are never far away (ditto for water). On this trip to Old Dominion, and aside from a detour into the remote forested hills of central Virginia to espy Thomas Jefferson’s UNESCO-listed mountaintop architectural masterpiece of Monticello, we ventured from north to south in eastern Virginia, from Arlington to the so-called Historic Triangle, the undisputed birthplace of America. It was history, history & yet more history.
AN ORIGINAL THIRTEEN || One of the original Thirteen Colonies, & the very first. Colony & Dominion of Virginia established in 1607. Became the Royal Colony of Virginia in 1624.
State Nicknames – Old Dominion; Mother of Presidents; Mother of States. State Motto – Sic Semper Tyrannis (Thus Always to Tyrants). Admitted To The Union – June 1788 (10th state). Population – 8.4 million Virginians (12th most populous state). Area – 42,700 sq miles (35th largest state). Capital – Richmond. National Parks – 1 (Shenandoah). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 2/3. Famous For – History & being the birthplace of America; The Pentagon; tobacco; having a lot of towns & cities that end in ‘burg’; the CIA; bluegrass music. State Highlights – All that birthplace-of-America history; rural Appalachian drives between bluegrass lovin’ towns. Virginia Titbits – Eight US presidents were born in Virginia giving the state the nickname ‘Mother of Presidents’; it’s also nicknamed ‘Old Dominion’ as the first permanent European settlement in the New World was established here at Jamestown in 1607; the Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World & the state’s government, one of the country’s most effective, is unique in how it treats cities and counties equally, manages local roads, and prohibits its governors from serving consecutive terms; Virginia is the most populous US state to not have a major professional sports league franchise; Virginia spends the highest amount per capita on defence, in large part because the state is home to the Department of Defence headquarters, The Pentagon, the world’s largest office building; the state is armed to the teeth – it boasts the largest concentration of military personnel and assets in the world, including the world’s largest naval base; of the 41 independent cities (cities not in the territory of any county or counties), 38 are in Virginia.
Day 6 || October 2 2017
Route || Washington D.C. to Richmond, Virginia (via Monticello, Virginia).
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 206 (332)
Today’s Highlight || Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
We’re glad we had Google Maps to guide us because we needed steering towards the end of the 120-mile drive from Arlington to Monticello. It’s not as remote as it once was but Thomas Jefferson’s iconic architectural masterpiece is still a bit off the beaten track among the rolling green landscape of central Virginia. Our articulate & enthusiastic tour guide, Amy, was right: it does take a rather particular kind of person – an ‘idealist’ – to pick a remote & heavily forested and uneven hilltop and choose it as a location for one’s dream home (built in a Roman Neoclassical style, Monticello derives from the Italian for “little mount”). And when touring the innards of the house it also becomes apparent in a hurry that Founding Father & third US President Jefferson was not only an idealist but also something of an eccentric.
– UNESCO commenting on Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the former the only home in the US to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site & the latter founded by Jefferson in 1819 and visible from the Monticello gardens.
– Thomas Jefferson
While driving in and around Gettysburg we drove a portion of the wider 180-mile-long Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway, the second National Scenic Byway of the wider road trip.
Day 7 || October 3 2017
Route || Richmond, Virginia to Manteo, North Carolina (via The Historic Triangle (Williamsburg & Jamestown), Virginia).
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 240 (386)
Today’s Highlight || Colonial Williamsburg
It suffices to say that there was no letup in the history lessons today, Day 7. A morning scoot around the Virginian capital of Richmond was followed by an afternoon spent feeling like a bygone-era interloper on the dusty & period streets of Colonial Williamsburg, probably the highlight of the region’s All-American Colonial Parkway-connected Historic Triangle. And when all was said and done we crossed over the Virginia/North Carolina State line for some much-needed downtime by the sands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Virginia (VA) || The invisible dividing line between the US North & South is around here somewhere. You won’t find it of course, it won’t be highlighted anywhere, but you will find plenty statues & monuments to the past, plaques highlighting the city’s historic clout, & plenty of grandiose architecture lining the grid of streets that is Richmond, most of which seems to be a landmark building inscribed on some kind of register of historic or protected buildings.
One of the land’s oldest cities, Richmond was founded in 1737, was incorporated in 1742, has been the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1780 (replacing Williamsburg) & has been one of Virginia’s 38 independent cities – cities not in the territory of any county or counties – since 1871. History here stretches back a long way (by American standards), although the predominant history of Richmond is largely tied to the 1861-1865 American Civil War. As the capital of the State at the epicentre of the war, Richmond served as the second and permanent capital of the Confederacy during the warring years (after the capital was moved from Montgomery, Alabama). As such, it was heavily targeted by Union troops during the war and upon its surrender to the Union Army in early April 1865 some 25% of the city lay in ruins. Showing once again an innate ability to recover (Richmond also burned during the 1765-1783 Revolutionary War with Britain), industry was quickly back on track and today the city is something of an economic powerhouse, and an ethnically diverse one at that – Richmond has a large & vibrant African American community.
Historic Triangle & Colonial Parkway
It’s a short 40-mile drive south from Richmond to Williamsburg, probably the most visited of Virginia’s so-called Historic Triangle trio of Williamsburg, Yorktown & Jamestown. Connected by the All-American drive that is the scenic 23-mile-long (37 kilometres) Colonial Parkway, this Disneyland for historians is one of the most touristed regions of the US east coast, and for good reason.
– The Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, co-founder of Colonial Williamsburg
All-American Road #3 – The Colonial Parkway
Built primarily for sightseeing and to enhance the experience of visiting the Historic Triangle, the All-American Colonial Parkway runs for 23 miles (37 kilometres) between Yorktown & Jamestown passing through Colonial Williamsburg in the process. Built in sections between 1930 and 1957, the shaded, mostly tree-lined route with distinctive brick overpasses was built so as to shield from the motorist views of regional commercial development, visual ‘junk’ & US military installations (the US Army has a presence in the region, Fort Eustis, a base we inadvertently drove into), all in a bid to help visitors mentally return to the past. It seems to work.
NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAYS & ALL-AMERICAN ROADS
While each state can and does designate its own Scenic Byways, a National Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the US Department of Transportation for one or more of six ‘intrinsic qualities’, they being archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. The program was established by Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation’s scenic but often less-travelled roads and to promote tourism and economic development. The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) is administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The most scenic byways are designated All-American Roads. These roads must meet two out of the six intrinsic qualities. An All-American designation means these roads have features that do not exist elsewhere in the US and are unique and important enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves.
As of November 2010 there are 120 National Scenic Byways and 31 All-American Roads located in 46 states (all except Hawaii, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Texas).
Virginia (VA) || There are two versions of Williamsburg – Williamsburg proper & Colonial Williamsburg – but it’s obviously the for-tourists colonial version that gets all the visitor attention. It certainly got ours.
A living, breathing, real-life reenactment of 18th-century British America (during most of which, from 1699 to 1780, saw Williamsburg was the capital of Colonial Virginia), the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg really is quite the attraction. The world’s largest living-history museum is a 300-acre open-air assemblage of restored or re-created period buildings populated with reenactors working, dressing and even conversing as they would have in colonial times. ‘Take time to go back’ is the solid advice from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the non-profit entity that manages the site. Once here, and when absorbing the sights & sounds that suggest the atmosphere and circumstances of 18th-century colonial America, you do just that – you go right back to a bygone era.
Colonial Williamsburg – History
When Virginia’s capital was moved to Richmond in 1780, Williamsburg, which had been capital for the previous 81 years, went into steady decline. In the early 20th century, when many structures were, at best, in very poor condition, the Williamsburg restoration cause was championed by the Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish Church. The combination of Goodwin’s perseverance & the generosity of Standard Oil heir John D. Rockefeller Jr. & family, who shared Goodwin’s dream of restoring the old colonial capital city to its 18th-century state, ultimately led to one of the largest restoration projects in US history beginning in the 1920’s. Over the proceeding decades some 500 buildings in total were either reconstructed or restored with 88 surviving structures, labelled as original, restored as close as possible to their 18th-century appearance (the majority of the reconstruction of other original structures started in the 1930’s). Designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1960, today Colonial Williamsburg survives as something of a unique remnant of times past – while there are other living-history museums, Colonial Williamsburg is unique in that it was constructed from a living town whose inhabitants and post-Colonial-era buildings were removed. Also, Colonial Williamsburg allows anyone to walk through the historic district free of charge and at any hour of the day. Charges only apply to those visitors wishing to enter the historic buildings to see colonial-era craftsmen and arts & crafts demonstrations or those wanting to attend scheduled outdoor performances/reenactments.
Some more pictures from an enjoyable amble around the streets of Colonial Williamsburg.
We drove the Colonial Parkway from Williamsburg to Jamestown, but didn’t get to see a whole lot. After the failure of the 1587 ‘Lost Colony’ of North Carolina’s Roanoke Island (see below), it was at Jamestown that, some 2 decades later in May 1607, that the first permanent English settlement in the New World was finally established (if at first you don’t succeed…). Today there are two major heritage sites at Jamestown: Jamestown Settlement, a state-run and child-friendly living history museum which includes a reconstructed Native American village, a colonial fort and full-scale replicas of the ships that brought the first settlers to the New World; and Historic Jamestowne, the original Jamestown settlement that was only rediscovered in 1994, a National Park Service site which includes Jamestown Island and the ongoing archaeological projects.
We didn’t have time to visit either location, but we did drive by. We were historied out. And besides, we had to get to North Carolina, Manteo in North Carolina’s Outer Banks to be precise, a 140-mile, 3-hour drive south from Jamestown.
AN ORIGINAL THIRTEEN || One of the original Thirteen Colonies. A proprietary colony established in 1663. Split into the Province of North Carolina & Province of South Carolina in 1712, becoming a crown colony in 1729.
State Nicknames – Old North State; Tar Heel State. State Mottos – Esse Quam Videri (To Be, Rather Than To Seem) (official); First in Flight. Admitted To The Union – November 1789 (12th state). Population – 10 million North Carolinians (9th most populous state). Area – 53,800 sq miles (28th largest state). Capital – Raleigh. National Parks – 1 (Great Smoky Mountains). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 3/1. Famous For – College hoops; the world’s first controlled flight of a powered heavier-than-air aircraft (by the Wright Brothers in December 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina); banking; hurricanes; the Appalachians (in the west); sandy barrier islands (in the east). State Highlight – The Outer Banks & Appalachian drives. North Carolina Titbits – The second territory to be colonised by the British, the state is named in memory of King Charles I (Carolus in Latin); natives are called ‘tar heels’, a nickname said to relate to both their tar pine production & their legendary stubbornness; British band Pink Floyd is named, in part, after Floyd Council, a North Carolinian blues guitarist, mandolin player, and singer; the international doughnut chain Krispy Kreme hails from North Carolina; Pepsi was first produced here in 1898; cohabitation of unmarried couples was technically illegal in North Carolina until 2006; the state leads the US in the production of flue-cured tobacco & sweet potatoes, and is second in production of pigs and hogs, trout, turkeys &, emm, Christmas trees.
Days 8-12 || October 4-8 2017
Route || Manteo, Roanoke Island (days 8-11) to Wilmington, North Carolina (day 12).
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 350 (563)
Regional Highlight || Roanoke & Bodie Islands of North Carolina’s northern Outer Banks
North Carolina (NC) || Charge over for now & with 1,316 miles (2,118 kilometres) already on the clock, North Carolina’s northern Outer Banks, simply OBX if you’re in a hurry, slammed on the breaks by both detaining & enthralling us from the end of day 7 right through to the afternoon of day 12. Covering most of the North Carolina coastline, this narrow and fragile 320-kilometre-long (200 mile) string of barrier islands/sandbars both separate & shelter the US mainland in the west from the vast & blustery expanse of the Atlantic Ocean in the east – from north to south, the islands of Bodie, Roanoke, Hatteras & Ocracoke are linked by bridges, up north where it’s more developed, or ferries, down south where an absence of roads means it’s way more remote.
The region is a major tourist draw thanks to its subtropical climate, its wealth of amenities and its wide and seemingly endless expanses of open beachfront, this vacation rental haven is a beach lovers nirvana, a well-established tourist magnet where there’s a refreshing dearth of big box stores or chain eateries, a place where sand, sea (and sea breezes), wooden beach houses, laid-back beach towns, historic lighthouses, flip-flops, fishing, sea food and a swashbuckling maritime vibe all dominate. History, too, and heavy-hitting history at that: The disappearance of 115 colonists at Roanoke Island’s late 1580’s Lost Colony, Europe’s very first attempt to established a settlement in the New World, is still to this day one of America’s greatest unsolved mysteries; and man first flew here when, in December 1903 at Bodie Island’s Kill Devil Hills, the Age of Flight took off when the Wright Brothers launched the world’s very first successful controlled flight of a powered heavier-than-air vehicle. Needless to say we made sure to find the time to visit the present-day memorials to both of these past momentous events (at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site & the Wright Brothers National Memorial respectively), but only when not enjoying the blazin’ bluegrass at the 4-day Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival at Roanoke Island’s Festival Park, a.k.a. Bluegrass Island, in Manteo, home base for the Outer Banks. It was the only reason we found ourselves here at all, the only reason we lingered here for as long as we did, happy, very happy, to put the wider road trip on hold to do so.
Roanoke Island – Manteo
Home for 5 foot-tappin’ OBX nights, Manteo is Roanoke Island’s largest and only real settlement, and a rather sleepy one at that with a population of only some 1,500. Accessible via bridges and sandwiched between the mainland to the west and the Outer Banks barrier island of Bodie Island (& the Atlantic Ocean) to the east, I’m guessing the small 13 kilometre (8 mile) by 3 kilometre (2 mile) island’s sheltered location accounts for its obvious atypical vibe – things are a lot quieter, more persevered & better presented here than elsewhere, especially amid the sun, sea & sand vibe of the Atlantic-facing communities lining neighbouring Bodie Island. Manteo’s small downtown offers a few blocks of wooden homegrown boutiques, antique stores, galleries, book shops, gift stores, bars, restaurants and charming bed & breakfasts with white fences, wraparound porches and manicured lawns, all of which successfully, and whether intentionally or not, combine to set a quaint scene from a bygone era.
– From a letter by Mayor John Wilson regarding the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse Dedication Ceremony. September 25, 2004.
Bodie Island – National Scenic Byway #4 – Outer Banks National Scenic Byway
Heading east, it’s a short 12-mile drive from Manteo to the Bodie Island Lighthouse. And once you cross Roanoke Sound separating Roanoke Island from Nags Head on Bodie Island (via the mile-long Washington Baum Bridge, a.k.a. the Manteo / Nags Head Causeway) you’re driving a portion of the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway. I knew there had to be a national scenic byway around here somewhere.
Bodie Island – Bodie Lighthouse & Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, located near the southern tip of Hatteras Island, an 80-kilometer (50-mile) drive south from Manteo via the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, is arguably the centrepiece landmark of the wider Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the towering OBX beacon that’s most likely to get the pulse of a pharologist racing – at 64 metres (210 feet), it’s the tallest lighthouse in the US. However, the 48-metre-high (158 feet) Bodie Lighthouse, a mere 20 kilometres (12+ miles) from Manteo, has its own story to tell, as most historic lighthouses do.
– Thomas H. Blount, customs collector, in a 1843 letter to US Representative Ed Stanly soliciting funds to build Bodie Lighthouse.
Bodie Island – Nags Head
The beach town of Nags Head, with its abundant vacation rentals, family-friendly on-the-beach relaxation and off-the-beach amenities & amusements, is around about where OBX tourism reaches its zenith, not surprising really as vacationers have been frequenting from as early as the 1830’s this North Carolina ‘tourist colony’, as Nags Head was then known. Suffice it to say, it’s a tad quieter this time of year than one would expect to find it at the height of the July-August summer season, but there’s still a lot more of a buzz here than is absent among the underdevelopment of a few miles south – regardless of the time of year, the further north you venture the busier the Outer Banks gets.
Bodie Island – Wright Brothers National Memorial
Ten kilometres (6 miles) north of Nags Head, on a windy an open expanse of sand that’s now a nationally protected (since 1927) expanse of green grass, the course of world history changed forever as a result of a momentous 12-second event that occurred here at 10:35 a.m. on a mid-December day in 1903.
The Wright Brothers & The First Flight
Orville & Wilbur, the aviation pioneering Wright brothers who are regarded as the first to make serious studied attempts to solve the obvious problems presented by powered and controlled flight, had been coming to the Kitty Hawk dunes of the Outer Banks, a location chosen because of its wind, its isolation and its hospitality (the brothers needed local help), since 1900, the failures and lessons learnt over the previous 3 seasons standing them in good stead in December 1903 on their forth trek from their home base in Dayton, Ohio, some 700 miles to the northwest and a rather arduous undertaking in the early 1900’s (I bet they wish they could have flown). The success of their Wright Flyer on December 17 of that year, when Wilbur was 36 & Orville 4 years younger at 32, was to be the culmination of 4 years of experimentation & toil, all of which came to an end when Orville won a game of Rock–Paper–Scissors (not really) to pilot the maiden flight and make heavy-hitting history in the process.
– Orville Wright, December 14, 1903.
– Text on display at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
The Roanoke Colony & Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It would seem that the English expansionists of the latter years of the 14th & early years of the 15th centuries were a persistent bunch. As already highlighted herein, they eventually succeeded in establishing a footing in the New World with the May 1607 founding of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, 140 miles (225 kilometres) north of Roanoke Island. But that was after many settlement failures, the most infamous of which is undoubtedly the fabled 1587 Roanoke Island colony, a.k.a. the Lost Colony, a settlement of 115 men, women & children that inexplicably vanished without trace never to be heard from again. It’s a fascinating story of mystery and conjecture, one kept alive today in the grounds of Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the location of the 1587 settlement. It’s a quiet attraction in a quiet & sheltered corner of an equally quiet & sheltered island. If only the trees could talk.
– Positive first impressions of the new land by Capt. Arthur Barlowe in an excerpt from a July 1584 report to Sir Walter Raleigh following England’s first of three forays to the New World.
The Lost Colony
Although the native Carolina Algonquian called Roanoke Island home for centuries beforehand, it was the July 1584 arrival of English explorers, on an exploratory mission sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh (colonists would follow on subsequent journeys), that put this little island on the worldwide map.
– Sir Walter Raleigh
Born out of envy, namely England’s desire to get a slice of the New World pie, the riches of which were already being enjoyed by England’s rival Spain, England’s late 14th century expansion jaunts to the New World saw colonists – young, middle-class men and women harbouring promises of social mobility & land not available to them in crowded and polluted 1580’s London – embarking on a perilous trip across the Atlantic in search of a new life and New World riches. An initial settlement resulting from England’s second mid-1585 journey to the New World petered out, those who didn’t die in the strange new land deciding to return home a year later, in April 1586, catching a ride on board a Sir Francis Drake captioned vessel – these returning colonists would introduce the first tobacco, maize, and potatoes to England. Then followed the third journey in 1587, the ill-fated expedition which saw 115 colonists led by John White, an artist and friend of Raleigh who had accompanied a previous expedition to Roanoke. The colony struggled in the hostile land, simmering bad relations with the local Indians keeping them on their toes. Promising to return, White reluctantly set sail for England to gather supplies on August 27 of 1587, ending the written record of what happened to the colony and leaving behind the colonists which by now included White’s newly born granddaughter Virginia Dare, born 9 days earlier on August 18 and the first English child born in the Americas. Frustratingly delayed by war for three years, White eventually returned to Roanoke Island, landing on his granddaughter’s 3rd birthday, August 18, 1590, only to find the settlement abandoned. There were no colonists, no signs of distress, and no answers.
What Happened The Colonists?
While there’s proof of the colony having been here, 430 years after John White left in 1587, we still do not know what became of the colonists themselves, and likely never will. Theories by historians, scientists and curious amateurs abound, mostly fuelled by an overbearing fascination of the unknown, the three most widely accepted causes of the disappearance being 1) death by natural causes, 2) attack by a hostile force, or 3) voluntary movement of the colony (all of this is elaborated on in engaging detail on displays in the site’s Visitor Center). The latter is the most plausible of the three outcomes given the only clue White could find while searching for the colonists, that being the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post of the fence around the dismantled village, itself a sign of an ordered departure & thus seemingly ruling out death or a hostile act (also, upon leaving the colony, White had instructed the colonists to carve a Maltese cross on a tree nearby in the event of anything unplanned happening to them, thus indicating that their absence had been forced. No cross was found). White took this to mean that the colonists had, for whatever reason, upped and relocated to Croatoan Island (present-day Hatteras Island), but he was unable to verify this – White’s men, citing the onset of a massive storm, refused to conduct a search and so the party returned home to England instead. Two subsequent search expeditions, in 1602 & 1603, failed to located the colonists or give any meaningful insights into their possible whereabouts. To this day the mystery continues to intrigue scholars, artists, writers and conspiracy theorists alike & 4-plus centuries on the fate of The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island remains one of America’s greatest unsolved mysteries.
Roanoke Island – Festival Park/Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival
Quaint Manteo. Towering & squat historic lighthouses. Scenic byways. National Seashores. Beaches. Fishing. Groundbreaking (& ground leaving) first flights & pioneering (failed) first settlements. We found time to sample them all, some of the very best North Carolina’s Outer Banks has to offer. Enthralling & educational the lot, but all were scheduled around and, if you’ll pardon the oh-so pathetic pun, played a very distant second fiddle to the 4 days of foot tapin’ & VIP mingling that was the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival in Manteo’s Roanoke Island Festival Park, known for 4 days every year as Bluegrass Island.
Day 13 || October 9 2017
Route || Wilmington, North Carolina to Charleston, South Carolina (via Myrtle Beach, South Carolina).
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 192 (309)
Today’s Highlight || A Charleston evening
We knew when setting out from Manteo on the afternoon of Day 12 (of 33) that we’d miss the Outer Banks (of course we did), but we had the small matter of a road trip to get back to (& we might even be back on Bluegrass Island next year).
Headin’ Further South
We were heading south for Charleston, South Carolina where we heard a hurricane was keeping everyone on their toes (The Carolinas = hurricanes). We kept abreast of the weather by switching over from Bluegrass Junction to the Weather Channel every now and then. We didn’t experience any hurricane-worthy blasts – not on the 274-mile Day 12 drive from Manteo to Wilmington, overnight location for that particular day, nor on the 192-mile Day 13 drive from Wilmington to Charleston (via Myrtle Beach) – but we did see endless wetlands, a whole lot of torrential rain & even a few floods. A boat wouldn’t have gone amiss on the Day 13 roads towards the deep Deep South.
North Carolina (NC) || We hadn’t planned on overnighting in Wilmington, but a mid-afternoon departure from Manteo, a 230-mile, 4-hour drive north, meant it was convenient to do so. Something of an unheralded gem almost equidistant between the tourism juggernauts of the Outer Banks to the north and Charleston in the south, Wilmington got us for one night, enough time to know that it is definitely deserving of more time than that.
It was 60-mile, 1-hour drive south from Wrightsville Beach to the state line with South Carolina, our 8th state on this road trip and the penultimate Original Thirteen State that we’d encounter as we made our way down the eastern seaboard and back to the Deep South.
– Lonely Planet USA, 6th edition (March 2010)
AN ORIGINAL THIRTEEN || One of the original Thirteen Colonies. Province of Carolina, a proprietary colony established in 1663. Split into the Province of North Carolina & Province of South Carolina in 1712, becoming a crown colony in 1729.
State Nickname – Palmetto State. State Mottos – Dum spiro spero (While I Breathe I Hope) & Animis opibusque parati (Prepared in Mind and Resources). Admitted To The Union – May 23 1788 (8th state). Population – 5 million (12th most populous state). Area – 32,000 sq miles (10th smallest state). Capital – Columbia. National Parks – 1 (Congaree). National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 4/0. Famous For – Being the first state to secede from the Union; igniting the American Civil War (the first shots of the war were fired from Charleston’s Fort Sumter); earthquakes; hurricanes (averaging 14 a year); Pre-Civil War Antebellum plantations; golf & mini golf courses; fireworks; Gullah culture; the Blue Ridge Mountains; swamps & marshy sea islands; genteel Antebellum coastal cities; tacky & riotous beach towns. State Highlight – Charming Charleston. South Carolina Titbits – South Carolina is named in honor of King Charles I of England with Carolus being Latin for “Charles”; all major lakes in South Carolina, and there are quite a few, are man-made; the state, not neighbouring Georgia, a.k.a. The Peach State, is the largest peach producer in the US with South Carolina’s Johnston known as the Peach Capital of the World; the largest Gingko, a deciduous dioecious ornamental Chinese tree having fan-shaped leaves and fleshy yellow seeds, farm in the world is in Sumter, South Carolina; In 2011, South Carolina ranked first in the country in the rate of women killed by men; it is the only state which owns and operates its own statewide school bus system.
South Carolina – Culture Shock
South Carolina started slow, and wet. It also came as something of a Carolinas culture shock given the relative sedateness of fresh-in-the-memory North Carolina. We weren’t too impressed with any part of the 25-mile US Route 17 drive from the state line south to Myrtle Beach, a continuous string of tacky over-development with one neon-lit seafood buffet, discount beachware megastore, over-the-top crazy/mini-golf course, amusement & water park, shopping mall, multistory souvenir shop & firework warehouse after another (fireworks are illegal over the state line in North Carolina). Of course the torrential rain didn’t help, caused a few flash floods and meant that by the time we arrived in Myrtle Beach we didn’t even get out of the car (ignoring the fact that we didn’t see anything through the downpour that made us want to).
South Carolina (SC) || Happy to leave Myrtle Beach & the Grand Strand in the rearview mirror, it was a 100-mile drive further south on US Route 17 to Charleston, the state’s unrivaled Antebellum charmer. The rain kept falling en route, slowing progress every so often (as did a McDonald’s coffee pit stop), but by the time we reached the outskirts of the city the downpours had abated and the sun was devilishly trying to break through. The timing was such that it almost felt like Charleston was attempting to apologise for South Carolina thus far. If so, apology accepted.
Seemingly southern Antebellum charm doesn’t come any more charming, nor southern hospitality any more hospitable, than here in Charleston. Yes, it would indeed seem that everything I have heard is true.
Charleston – History & Friendliness
The 1670 founding of Charles Town by English planters from Barbados, honouring King Charles II of England, pushed Native American tribes westward, the settlers using labour by West African slaves, who formed the majority of the population by 1720, to turn the region’s Lowcountry swamps into rice paddies. Rice cultivation was developed on a large scale & Southern Carolina, under the control of wealthy male landowners, prospered so much that by the second half of the 1700’s it was one of the richest of what would become the founding Thirteen Colonies. By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, when one in every 7 Americans belonged to another American, the nation was bitterly divided by disputes over States’ Rights and the meaning of freedom in the then United States of America – slave labour drove the economy of the agricultural South while the North was driven by a manufacturing based economy. While ten other States would eventually follow their led to form the Confederate States of America and plunge the country into Civil War, South Carolina became the first slave-advocating southern state to cede from the Union when it did so on December 20, 1860.
Unlike the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), which saw about a third of combat action taking place in South Carolina, the state was not a major battleground during the American Civil War. That said, the war still destroyed the state economy and upon its conclusion much of Charleston, the state’s largest city and a Confederate stronghold, lay in ruin.
– Sidney Andrews, newspaper correspondent commenting on Charleston getting its comeuppance as leader of the secessionist movement and firer of the first shots of the 1861-1865 American Civil War.
Rebuilt today and with a population of some 135,00, making it the largest of South Carolina’s natural port coastal towns, Charleston is one of the hottest of all tourist hotspots on the eastern seaboard. The city, boasting an abundant mix of charm, agreeable climate, architecture, fine dining, history & romance and with a unique culture blending traditional Southern US, English and West African elements, can seem to do no wrong. Named the ‘Best-Mannered City in America’ (by whom I’m not too sure) every year for over a decade, Charleston regularly heads Desirable Destination lists, most recently topping the 2017 Conde Nast Traveler list of ‘The Friendliest Cities in the US.’
– Conde Nast Traveler in awarding Charleston ‘The Friendliest Cities in the US’ 2017.
Rainbow Row, E Bay Street, Charleston, South Carolina. October 9, 2017.Yep, it would seem that all love Charleston, except maybe the carriage horses that clip-clop along its cobbled Historic Downtown streets most hours of the day & night pulling hordes of camera-toting tourists behind them.
The evening we arrived in Charleston was typically Deep South muggy; the rain had fallen earlier in the day and was threatening to do so again, but never did. We spent a few hours embarking on a leisurely loop of the residential southern tip of the peninsula the city sits on, a convenient amble to and from the core of its compact Historic Downtown. We headed south down the French Quarter’s E Bay Street to the so-called Battery & neighbouring White Point Park & Gardens before returning north via Meeting Street. The whole region was made for strolling, or for being carted around by overworked pack animals. Either way, you’ll get to feast your eyes on some rather impressive, well-presented architecture, mostly of the antebellum kind of course.
Day 14 || October 10 2017
Route || Charleston to Macclenny, Florida (via Savannah, Georgia).
Miles (Kilometres) Driven || 285 (459)
Today’s Highlight || Flag raising, Fort Sumter, Charleston
Day 14. Charleston, part II, the (really) photogenic part. A return to Georgia, state number 9. The oaks trees, Spanish moss & parklike squares of Southern belle Savannah, the Peach State’s oldest city. A goodbye to the Original Thirteen Colonies (for now) & a Hola! to Florida, state number 10. And finally, after 2 weeks of heading south, a right turn, in the sunshine, across the Sunshine State’s Panhandle. Two hundred eighty-five miles, 3 states, 3 state lines, 1 Epic US Road Trip 2017 day.
Charleston, Day 2
Charleston, photogenic I’d imagine even in the midst of a hurricane, put on quite a show for the camera today, a steamy day that never let us forget we’re in the Deep South. The sea breezes in Charleston Harbour cooled things a bit when en route to Fort Sumter National Monument, one of the city’s must-see attractions. And a rather historic one at that.
It was a 100-mile (160 kilometre) drive south from Charleston to the state line with neighbouring Georgia. It didn’t take us long to cover that distance. We didn’t see a state line sign on the busy roads over the Little Black River into Savannah, Georgia’s very own Deep South antebellum charmer, safe in the knowledge that we captured the Georgia state line picture on last year’s road trip. Georgia. State number 19 1 year ago, state number 9 this time around.
AN ORIGINAL THIRTEEN || Province of Georgia, a crown colony established in 1733 with the founding of Savannah, the last of the Original Thirteen Colonies.
State Nicknames – Peach State; Empire State of the South. State Mottos – Wisdom; Justice; Moderation. Admitted To The Union – January 1788 (4th state). Population – 10.2 million Georgians (8th most populous state). Area – 59,400 sq miles (24th largest state). Capital – Atlanta. National Parks – 0. National Scenic Byways/All-American Roads – 1/0. Famous For – Peaches; Coca-Cola; UPS; CNN; hosting the 1996 Olympic Games; The Dukes of Hazzard; The Masters; R.E.M. (a college band done good from Athens); Martin Luther King Jr. (born in Atlanta in January 1929). State Highlights – Southern belle Savannah, Stone Mountain & hokey faux Swiss-German alpine Helen. Georgia Titbits – The state is named after King George II of Great Britain; it’s the largest US state east of the Mississippi; there are 15 Fortune 500 companies & 26 Fortune 1000 companies headquartered in Georgia – if it were a stand-alone country, it would be the 28th largest economy in the world; at one stage in Georgia’s history, just prior to the Revolutionary War, almost half of the state’s population was made up of slaves; the 1972 movie Deliverance, a landmark movie noted for its ‘Dueling Banjos’ scene & trip by ill-prepared city slickers into unknown & potentially dangerous wilderness, was shot primarily in northeastern Georgia. “Where you goin’ city boy?”
Georgia (GA) || Often compared to refined Charleston, Savannah is a different, grittier kind of Southern belle. Established in 1733, this is the oldest settlement in Georgia – it was the British colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. Its famed Historic District, south of the Savannah River, is where it’s all at, a rectangular grid of leafy squares, churches, graveyards, and gorgeous historic mansions lining oak-shaded streets. Savannah. It’s grand, it’s historic, it’s oh-so photogenic, it’s friendly and it’s – Boo!! – haunted. Seemingly.
– Conde Nast Traveler commenting on Savannah, number 6 on its 2017 list of ‘The Friendliest Cities in the US’.
Savannah Historic District – Squares, Tything & Trust
Savannah’s Historic District, designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1966, is one of the largest such regions in the country. Roughly corresponding to the city limits prior to the American Civil War, it largely adheres to the original 1733 city plans as laid down by founder James Oglethorpe where wards, essentially neighbourhoods, were developed around a central square with each square surrounded by four residential (tything) blocks and four civic (trust) blocks. Today 22 of Savannah’s original 24 squares remain, leafy, shaded public spaces that define the city and most of which boast a central statue of some city bigwig or revolutionary hero.