Watching the Eclipse from the Battery
The Great American Solar Eclipse is mere days away, and we can hardly wait! Have y'all picked out where you're going to view this most spectacular cosmic event? The last time Charleston was in the 'path of totality' was in 1970, and local newspapers reported that the Battery was one of the most popular places to watch. There'll be a lot more people in town this go-round, and we imagine they'll be spread out amongst all of the eclipse events around the area, and dispersed throughout the many beautiful public parks in Charleston. But since White Point Gardens is Charleston’s oldest and dearest outdoor event venue, let's take a look at some of this Holy City icon's history!
- The old bathhouse can be seen off the Battery; the land where the Fort Sumter House sits at the foot of King Street had not yet been filled in. Bird’s Eye view of Charleston, 1872, Library of Congress
Down to the Bat-tree
Variably called White Point Garden, White Point Gardens, or just The Battery (pronounced bat-tree), the seven-acre plot at the tip of the peninsula has always been one of Charleston’s favorite places to socialize, take a stroll, and feel the breeze off the ocean. It’s hard to imagine the expanse of white sand and oyster shells jutting out into the harbor that earned the area the moniker “Oyster Point” in 1670 or “White Point” as it was known by 1700. Although throughout much of the 18th century the area was occupied by fortifications, by at least 1818 it was used as a gathering place for socialization, according to Charleston historian Nic Butler. In 1837, under the direction of Mayor Robert Hayne, a “wharf” was constructed around White Point to create a city park and the name “White Point Garden” appeared in city records the following year. Between 1847 and 1852, the park was expanded to its current size and the stone wall around its eastern and southern perimeters was extended; the garden was widened seven feet southward in 1922 and a new seawall was built to accommodate the connection of Murray Boulevard to East Bay. Celebrations have always been a part of the park, including lots of concerts!
- Fort Sumter from the Battery, Charleston, SC, circa 1898-1931, Detroit Publishing, New York Public Library.
Music in the Park
In 1845, regular summer band concerts began in the park and continued for nearly a century, suspended only during the Civil War. In 1907, a new bandstand was erected in the park to replace a dilapidated wooden one. It was constructed and donated to the City by Martha Carrington in honor of her mother, Mrs. George W. Williams. Mrs. Carrington built the Queen Anne Victorian house across the street at 2 Meeting Street; she could see and hear the concerts from her verandas. How delightful that must have been!
Here’s how a News & Courier article from April 17, 1907, described the bandstand:
The stand, which is octagonal in shape, constructed of iron, brick, and cement, is a permanent building, and will no doubt stand for many years, and if concerts are given on the Battery during the summer, the beautiful pleasure grounds will once again become the rendezvous in the evenings for thousands of the good people of the city, where comparatively free from the insistent and complaining voice of the hungry mosquito, they may enjoy sweet music in a temperature cooled by steady breezes...While intended primarily as a band stand, the building can also be used as a place of shelter in time of the sudden storms which occasionally come upon unsuspecting little folks, playing on the Battery, and it was intended that it should be put to such use in cases of emergency.
The first concert in the bandstand was held on June 28 of that year to celebrate Carolina Day, and the City continued to host weekly summer band concerts for many years. Does anyone remember seeing a concert at the Battery? Apparently, they were the bee's knees!
In 1934, the bandstand was raised three feet and restrooms were installed beneath it--do y’all remember those? At some point, law enforcement was unable to keep a tight control on activity in the area and the doors to the bathrooms were locked up tight. In 1978, the City outlawed band concerts at the Battery due to neighborhood complaints of noise, litter, and traffic congestion. In 1985, the bandstand was given an overhaul and a request was made to resume musical performances there, but it was denied. (Weddings are okay though.) Twenty-five years later, another restoration of the bandstand brought it back down to its former height--all the better to see the musicians play, right? But that was seven years ago, and while there was some pretty vocal local support to revive the original purpose of the bandstand, there still hasn’t been a concert in the park. Do you think there ever will be again? Well, in any event, it will still be a great place to view the eclipse!
Around the neighborhood
Homes around and near the Battery were constructed during various historical timepoints and in several architectural styles. Just a few steps above White Point Gardens is the John Lewis House at 12 Meeting Street, built in 1822 on land previously owned by Charles Pinckney. Lois was honored to represent the buyer in the recent sale of this beautiful South of Broad home. Congratulations to all involved!