Tuesday, June 25 to Friday, June 28 ~ SC-NC-TN-KY-IN (803 miles)
Charleston, SC; Asheville, NC; Columbus, IN
Mom: “There’s nothing wrong with the South Carolina map. That Georgia map is made of cheap paper… probably peach skins…” (Free Georgia map rant continues)
Charleston, SC is only 107 miles northeast of Savannah, GA. They are considered the ‘sister cities of the south’ with a longstanding rivalry over which city is ‘better’. We spoke to a number of locals in Savannah and the consensus among them is that she is the younger, wilder sister. Their impression is that Charleston is more polished and uppity. We didn’t talk to any locals in Charleston to get their side of the story… What I will say about it is that Savannah feels smaller, more relaxed, and artsy. It is true that Charleston’s metropolitan population is twice the size of Savannah. So bigger city, more bustle.
We arrive in the evening and I am tired from driving for the past 11 days. I miss the turn to the hotel and am promptly routed across the Ashley River into downtown Charleston with no clarity on how to get back. I purposely do not rely on GPS for navigation but when navigating an unknown and confusing city, it is a lifesaver.
We drop off our bags at the fanciest hotel room of our trip and eat seafood at a dockside restaurant where you might catch a glimpse of dolphins swimming up the river… but the only wildlife we spy is a palmetto bug (a.k.a. Florida woods cockroach ) hanging out on mom’s bed when we return.
Mom’s #1 goal is to visit Fort Sumter, the one landmark she missed on her last trip to Charleston. But her mobility is impaired and it is not realistic for us to go to the island for a tour. So we buy two tickets on the Carolina Belle  and set out from the Charleston maritime center for a 90-minute harbor history tour in the morning.
We were allowed to sit in the section reserved for disabled passengers, prime seats in the shade with a great view, though the woman sitting next to us frequently stood with her leg propped up on the seat like Captain Morgan, blocking the view out the front and allowing the sea breeze to flow through her crotch before it hit me in the face.
Travel is fun.
We spend the afternoon touring the City Market and the next morning, eat ice cream at a local candy shop before our Palmetto horse drawn carriage tour  of historic Charleston. After lunch of swordfish at a classic jazz speakeasy, we hit the road with the goal of reaching Ashville, NC by nightfall.
Me: “For the love of God North Carolina, please have a decent free map…”
The 268 miles on I-26 from Charleston to Ashville is a gauntlet. We travel on an unremarkable Wednesday afternoon and for 200 miles, it feels as if we are on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago (look it up). Seriously South Carolina, please add additional lanes to this nightmare road.
By the time we reach Ashville, I am completely fried. I do not recognize that my mom hints at touring the Biltmore Estate , the Vanderbilt family mansion. She waits to mention the fact that she had wanted to visit the estate her whole life until we are through the Great Smoky Mountains  and well into Tennessee… *SIGH*. It is my one regret of the trip but the truth is the ‘tour’ is a $60/person, 2-hour self-guided walking tour. With mom’s mobility and the price, there is no way we could have done it but maybe we could have driven by and taken a picture.
Mom: “I don’t mind Led Zeppelin but I don’t think I’d listen to it going through the mountains.”
Me: “What? That is the only time TO listen to Led Zeppelin”
Mom: “We need some old-time pioneer music. There was a jug band that used to play weekends at Grant’s Inn…”
We have a few adventures in Kentucky: The Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea  (Mom: “The tomato pie is good but I’d never order it again.”); searching for Daniel Boone historic sites outside of the Daniel Boone National Forest ; a lovely Lexington bakery where mom wanted to stay in eat croissants all afternoon.
At the gas station in Berea…
Me: “Do you want anything from inside?”
Mom: “Just a hatchet to kill this phone!”
Eventually, we find a hotel and eat dinner in Columbus, IN. In the morning, we have breakfast on the back patio where there is an artificial lake full of fish and even a snapping turtle. We feed them the leftovers from the Lexington bakery and arrive safely back in Peoria, IL in time for dinner.
I drove I-95 north out of Savannah, Hwy 17 east to Charleston, I-26 north to Asheville, I-40 to Knoxville, I-75 to Lexington, I-64 to Louisville, then I-65 to Columbus
Here are some highlights along the route:
The place where the Ashley River, Cooper River, and Atlantic Ocean meet forms Charleston Harbor , home of Fort Sumter , the site of the first shots of the American Civil War. The fort itself was built in response to the War of 1812 in an effort to protect US harbors. Seventy thousand tons of granite were used to build up a sand bar to support the fort. The walls were five feet thick and originally stood 50 feet. Union artillery blew the fort away from 1863-1865. The flagpole at the center of the fort now depicts the original height of the walls before the civil war.
We were treated to wild dolphin sightings and birds that flew alongside our boat looking for scraps or popcorn to be tossed to them. The harbor contained a wide array of vessels: shrimp boats, sail boats, paddle boats, cargo ships, and battle ships. And our tour guide sounded the horn of our ship under the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge (pictured at the top of this blog post) , erupting into an impressive echo down the length of its many support pylons. This eight-lane bridge opened in 2005 and spans 1,546 feet, the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere.
Gorgeous 8-acre Waterfront Park  opened in 1990 after a decade of planning, clean-up, fund-raising, and one Hurricane Hugo. It replaced a burnt-out remnant of shipping terminals that were overgrown and unused. The area now teems with families and runners and dog walkers. The park sports plenty of benches under trees, a lovely pineapple wading fountain for a break in the heat, and family sized porch swings along the pier.
The best way to tour the city is by horse drawn carriage, or in our case, mule drawn carriage. Our team consisted of two sister mules, Rhyme and Reason. We spent 60-minutes winding through the streets of Charleston, learning about the historic district which included the Old Marine Hospital  and the Old Charleston Jail .
The Marine Hospital was converted to Jenkins Orphanage  in 1893 to provide housing for African American orphans living on the street. The orphanage took in donations of musical instruments and established a band in order to raise money. Jazz greats William “Cat” Anderson, Jabbo Smith, Tom Delaney, and Freddie Green were all members of the Jenkins Orphanage Band.
Next door and in direct opposition to this house of hope is the Old Charleston Jail, a structure so haunted that residents regularly complained to the city of phantom lights and yelling coming from the abandoned building. Indeed, the windows and doors of the houses facing the jail are painted Haint blue  in an effort to ward off spirits.
The building has since found a second life when it was purchased in 2000 by the American College of the Building Arts in an effort to preserve and restore the structure. Since 2003, ghost tours have been offered of the building and some proceeds of those tours are donated towards restoration. Today, the Old City Jail is an official project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
A four-block series of one-story sheds, the City Market of Charleston  is designated as a National Historic Landmark. The market was a centralize location within the city for area farms and plantations to sell beef and produce. The butchers in the stalls would discard beef bone, fat, and skin by throwing it out the window onto Market Street. Flocks of the ‘Charleston eagles’  resided on the street and ate every scrap providing the necessary disposal and sanitation. The ‘Charleston eagles’ were so revered that they were even considered to become the South Carolina state bird- that is until people found out they were actually turkey buzzards. The buzzard left Charleston in 1918 when the U.S. Public Health Service imposed restrictions on open-air disposal of meat as part of a WWI food sanitation effort.
40% of all African slaves entered the United States through Charleston Harbor but they were not sold at the City Market. Places like the Old Slave Mart  auctioned people near the docks, close to the ships they were transported in. The Slave Mart is believed to be the last existing slave auction facility in South Carolina and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The City of Charleston and the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission restored the Old Slave Mart and it now houses a museum that interprets the history of the city’s slave trade.
All in all, mom and I traveled 3,781 miles, in 16 days, through 11 states… Road trip of lifetime!
And mom finally learned how to take a selfie…
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, September 2019
Reference materials for this blog post: