Below, we’ve outlined just a few of the most popular points of interest in the Charleston harbor, due to their historical significance:
Ravenel Bridge: As one of the most commonly recognized symbols of Charleston, the Ravenel Bridge was constructed between 2002 and 2005. But what were the predecessors of the Ravenel Bridge like prior to 2002? Well, the history of the passage over the Cooper River actually dates back to 1928 when Charlestonian John P. Grace devised a plan for the construction of the Cooper River bridge.
Spanning 2.71 miles, the Grace Memorial Bridge was erected in just 17 months, with a price tag of $6 million. The bridge was finalized on August 8, 1929 and would remain in its original form until 1946 when a freighter slammed into the bridge, removing a 240-foot chunk. It’s also important to note that the Grace Memorial Bridge was once a toll bridge, costing users 50 cents for each crossover.
In 1966 a new bridge was constructed, costing upwards of $15 million. The bridge paralleled the Grace Memorial Bridge and was dedicated in honor of Chief Highway Commissioner Silas N. Pearman. This bridge would be used for northbound traffic while the Grace Memorial Bridge would be used for southbound traffic.
Today, each of the towers on the Ravenel Bridge is dedicated to the memory of John P. Grace and Silas N. Pearman and aptly named after these two men who had such a tremendous impact on the construction of the Ravenel’s predecessor bridges.
If you’re looking for more on the Ravenel Bridge, consider purchasing the bridge documentary book, Spanning a River, Reaching a Community: The Story of the Ravenel Bridge. The book spotlights the planning, implementation, and construction of the iconic Ravenel Bridge and features 200 color photos and dozens of interviews, as well as a brief look at the history of the Grace and Pearman Bridges. The book can be purchased at The Charleston Museum Store, The Historic Charleston Foundation, and The Preservation Society of Charleston.
For more information on the Ravenel Bridge, click here.
Castle Pinckney National Monument: Nestled in the Charleston harbor, the ruins of Castle Pinckney lie near Fort Sumter attracting most of the tourist attention. This is primarily due to the history of Castle Pinckney, which is not nearly as rich as Fort Sumter’s.
Castle Pinckney’s history actually dates back to 1791 when George Washington visited Charleston and realized that the location of a small island in the Charleston harbor, Shutes Folly, was the perfect location for a fort—or so he thought. It was the duty of the local Charlestonians to build and finance the fort; therefore, they named it after a local Revolutionary War General and Constitutional Convention delegate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
In 1810, Castle Pinckney was completed but did not serve any purpose in the War of 1812.
In the late 1820s, Fort Sumter was in the process of being built and would serve as a much larger and more powerful fort, snatching Castle Pinckney’s title as first line of defense.
Castle Pinckney would not serve much of a purpose until the Civil War began.
Image above taken from National Parks Traveler website.
In 1861, the fort was used as a prison for Union troops who were captured at the Battle of Bull Run. Years later, in 1865, Charleston fell beneath the hands of the Union troops, along with Castle Pinckney.
Over the years since 1861, Castle Pinckney has changed ownership a handful of times and has also been a subject of debate for its use and purpose. Today, you must have special permission to access Castle Pinckney, but you can view the island at close proximity on a harbor tour. Charleston Harbor Tours, for example, offers exceptional harbor cruises that bring visitors up close to Castle Pinckney and other Charleston monuments.
For more information on Castle Pinckney, click here.
Fort Sumter: Arguably Charleston’s most popular attraction, Fort Sumter gained its recognition in 1861 as the location for the first shot of the civil war. Aptly named after the American Revolutionary War general Thomas Sumter, Fort Sumter was only one of two forts in the South that was not claimed by the seven Southern seceded states. Therefore, the fort was placed under federal jurisdiction. With President Lincoln in power, Confederate authorities demanded that U.S. troops evacuate Fort Sumter. When troops refused, the batteries began to open fire on April 12—a fight that lasted nearly 34 hours. The fort was then evacuated by federal troops who left to a 100-gun salute. On the 50th shot an accidental explosion happened that caused the one death of the battle.
From July 1863 to February 1865, the confederate troops at Fort Sumter endured constant onslaught. Today, Fort Sumter houses fascinating relics of the Civil War and can be seen up close from Charleston Harbor Tours day cruises. The fort can also be visited via boat.
For more information on Fort Sumter, click here.
USS Yorktown: As the tenth aircraft carrier to operate in the United States Navy, the USS Yorktown was actually constructed under the name of Bon Homme Richard, later to be renamed the Yorktown in honor of the CV-5 Yorktown, which sank in June 1942 during the Battle of Midway.
Surprisingly, the Yorktown was built in just 16.5 months and was launched into the Navy fleet on April 15, 1943 where it served in the Pacific Offensive until Japan was defeated in 1945. For its exceptional service in the U.S. Navy, the Yorktown received not only a Presidential Unit Citation, but also 11 battle stars for its role in World War II. But the Yorktown didn’t end her duties with World War II. In 1958, the Yorktown served as an anti-submarine aircraft carrier and operated off Vietnam from 1965 – 1968.
Some other noteworthy accomplishments for the Yorktown included its role in recovering the Apollo 8 astronauts and capsule in December 1968 and its Academy Award-winning performance in “The Fighting Lady” documentary of 1944 (the movie was filmed aboard the Yorktown!).
Today, the Yorktown can be explored in all of its glory at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum on Charleston harbor.
For more information on the USS Yorktown, click here.
What is your favorite Charleston harbor point of interest and why? We’d love to hear from you in our comments section!