The Ravenel Bridge

The Holy City has many spectacular views and landmarks, but perhaps none so remarkable as the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. Tens of thousands cross Highway 17 between Charleston and Mt. Pleasant on it every day. However many – especially newcomers to the area – don’t know its story. The DHM Blog takes a look at how we got the engineering marvel that is the Ravenel Bridge.

 

DESIGN BY THE NUMBERS

Dockside flowers & Ravenel BridgeThe Ravenel Bridge is a cable-stayed suspension bridge with dual diamond towers, each rising 575 feet. At 1546 feet, the main span was the longest in the Western Hemisphere when it was completed. It is now the third longest. 128 cables connect the towers above to the roadway below. There are 8 lanes for vehicular traffic plus bicycle and pedestrian lanes. Interestingly, the original design did not call for the bike or walk lane. Grass-roots enthusiasts backed by Charleston Moves led the call for what is now one of the most popular outdoor activities in Charleston. It is officially known as Wonder’s Way, memorializing late bicyclist Garrett Wonders.

Have you ever noticed the tops of the diamonds seem incomplete? That’s because the initial design called for them to be topped with large beacons of light that would be seen for miles. However, wildlife conservationists pointed out this could confuse endangered sea turtle hatchlings from following the moon to the waterline. As a result, the bridge only has functional, not decorative, lighting.

 

ORIGIN STORY

The Ravenel Bridge replaced the functionally obsolete 2-lane Grace Bridge (1929) and 3-lane Pearman Bridge (1966), locally known as the “Old Cooper River Bridge” and the “New Cooper River Bridge.” As any local can tell you, driving over the Old Bridge, especially at night or in the rain, was a daunting experience not for the weak of heart. In fact, many people refused to drive the bridge, limiting population growth in Mt. Pleasant. An interesting piece of trivia is that the towers of the Ravenel are named for the original bridges: Grace and Pearman. In fact, sculptures made with metal salvaged from the old bridges can be found on each of the towers.

1966 Album with Ravenel BridgeBy 1995, the twin spans were both functionally obsolete. In addition, they limited port traffic, as their clearance above the Cooper River (once among the highest in the world) couldn’t accommodate large, modern shipping vessels. Credit for spear-heading the 20-year funding effort to replace the bridges goes to retired US Congressman Arthur Ravenel, Jr. The overall price of the new bridge that would be named after him totaled approximately $700 million. Funding came from local, state, and federal sources through the SC Infrastructure Bank, which was created for that purpose.

 

CONSTRUCTION & OPENING CEREMONIES

Construction began with a groundbreaking ceremony in Mt. Pleasant in 2001. The bridge was a design-build project in a joint venture between two companies (Tidewater Skanska of Norfolk, Virginia and Flatiron Constructors of Longmont, Colorado) operating under the name Palmetto Bridge Constructors. Erection of the two approaches from Mt. Pleasant and the Charleston peninsula, as well as the two towers, was simultaneous. Each span rose from the shore to eventually meet in the middle of Charleston Harbor. All construction occurred while the old bridges remained fully operational – crossing directly over the old spans and cars passing below in some places!

As the bridge was being built, locals wondered what they would call it. The “New, New Bridge”? Just the “Cooper River Bridge”? More colloquial suggestions included the “Cuz-way” for “Cousin Arthur.” As a testament to his part in securing the funding, the bridge was named after Arthur Ravenel Jr. and is known simply as the “Ravenel Bridge,” rather than by a nickname.

A week of festivities led up to the official opening of the bridge. It included a gourmet dinner served on the bridge and the opportunity for all citizens to walk the lanes before they opened to vehicular traffic. People of all ages and abilities came from the tri-county area and beyond to do so. It’s said the number of people who turned out that day equaled the entire population of Charleston. The evening before the opening, a concert with a fireworks display (the largest in Charleston history) lit up the sky. The bridge officially opened on July 16, 2005 – amazingly a year ahead of schedule and under budget.

 

Engineers designed the Ravenel Bridge to withstand earthquakes, high winds of a hurricane, and even being hit by ships (which actually happened to the Grace in 1946). One thing they apparently did not take into consideration was the unusual occurrence of ice on the cables. In January 2014, an rare ice storm hit the area and massive icicles formed on the cables then broke off, pelting drivers below like missiles. Thankfully no one was injured. However, as a safety precaution, the bridge was closed for several days. This severely disrupted traffic and thrust Charlestonians back into the days before a bridge crossed the Cooper River. This hazard has since been addressed.

 

A NEW ERA

The final chapter in the story of the Ravenel Bridge was the demolition of the old bridges, completed in 2007. The explosions used to bring down the last of the old spans were heard and felt for miles around. With that, the Charleston skyline forever changed and one era ended while a new one began. The only physical remnant of the old bridges is a support from the Pearman Bridge left standing along East Bay Street across from aptly-named Grace Bridge Street.

Crossing the bridge is now a marvel instead of a hazard. The population of Mt. Pleasant has expanded accordingly. Community parks are housed underneath it, with additional amenities to come. Perhaps its most famous use is for the annual Cooper Bridge Run, one of the largest 10Ks in the country. The race was first hosted on the Ravenel in 2006. The bridge has been featured in popular culture in music, movies, and television shows.

Unity Walk on Ravenel BridgeThe Ravenel Bridge has also become a community gathering place. After the tragic shootings at Emanuel AME Church, a local group of women organized a show of support. They invited citizens to come together and hold hands across the pedestrian lane from Charleston to Mt. Pleasant as part of the Charleston Strong movement. On June 21, 2015, this “Unity Chain” drew upwards of 15,000 participants and became national news.

The Ravenel Bridge has quickly become an iconic and well-loved landmark in Charleston. In addition to vehicular traffic above and boats below, pedestrians and bicyclists cross the bridge day and night in all weather. Walking the bridge is a mainstay for tourists and athletes as well as commuters. Photographing the spans from the roadway, the water or the air is an art form in itself. Views of the bridge are a huge real estate selling point. DHM has several homes and condos for sale with amazing bridge views: Dockside 10FG, Dockside 11D, Dockside 2H and 52 Simons Street.

We would love to hear your stories of traveling over the old bridges as well as the Ravenel Bridge. Please share your memories along with photos in the comments.

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Murray Vocational School

Disher, Hamrick & Myers takes this opportunity to look back at a school that operated South of Broad for almost 50 years: the Andrew B. Murray Vocational School. The school was named for Andrew Buist Murray, who had grown up in the Charleston Orphan House. He became one of the city’s most successful businessmen and one of its richest citizens and most prolific patrons. He also served on City Council.

ANDREW MURRAY & CONSTRUCTION

3 Chisolm Street, 103 facadeBeginning in 1909, Murray encouraged the city to fill in mash land on the peninsula. Among the streets created were Murray Boulevard on the Battery, which was named for him, and Chisolm Street. The latter was named for a family that ran a rice and lumber mill in the area since 1830. (The area now known as the Horse Lot was the mill pond. It was filled in and is now a public park.) To give back to the city, Murray donated the land at 3 Chisolm Street along most of the money to build a vocational school – the first of its kind in South Carolina.

Construction on Murray Vocational School began in 1922 and was completed in 1923. The 3-story main building was designed by architect David B. Hyer, who had been superintendent of construction at the Charleston Navy Yard and also built Buist Academy on Calhoun Street. Its Neoclassical Revival style was popular for civic buildings at the time. Construction was considered fireproof. Interior spaces included shops, offices, a lunch room, classrooms, a library, lab, print shop and lecture room. A 2-story brick custodian’s cottage was also on the property. Today it is the only school caretaker’s housing remaining in the city.

MURRAY VOCATIONAL SCHOOL CLASSES

Boys over the age of 14 initially could enroll in one of two tracks: auto mechanics or wood working. Practical hands-on instruction took up half the day, while general instruction in related fields of science, math and drawing comprised the other half. As most institutions of the time, the school was segregated and only served whites. It was also originally all-male. In the 1930s girls were admitted, but with a different set of courses: cosmetology, home economics or sales. During WWII, focus switched to preparing students for the war effort.

LATER HISTORY

In 1950 the school expanded with a new auto shop because cars since the 1940s were too big to fit in the old location. This structure also served as a gym and still stands today. Murray Vocational School held public school day classes, as well as night classes for adults, until 1970. Then from 1970-1995 it was the Charleston School District offices. The building was abandoned when the school district completed its new headquarters on Calhoun Street. It was also briefly used by the US Coast Guard, but stood mostly vacant from 1995-2001. In 2002 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places, eligible for both its architecture and its historic value representing a vocational school and a segregated school.

3 CHISOLM STREET TODAY

3 Chisolm Street 103 courtyard1In the early 2000s, the main school building, gym/shop and caretakers’s cottage were restored and converted into condominiums. A very successful example of adaptive reuse, the exterior remains largely the same as when it was the Murray Vocational School . Many original interior features were also preserved. The renovation received a Carolopolis Award in 2003.

Today, 3 Chisolm Street condos take advantage of the building’s civic and industrial past with soaring ceilings, striking large-scale windows, and wide-open living spaces. The courtyard is beautifully landscaped and offers residents an outdoor gathering space. The “Horse Lot” park is right across the street for exercise or dog-walking. Colonial Lake is a short walk away. Off-street parking is included. If you desire a contemporary loft lifestyle while still being South of Broad in Historic Downtown Charleston, 3 Chisolm Street is for you! Disher, Hamrick & Myers has sold several condominiums in this building. Please contact one of our agents today if you would like to make 3 Chisolm Street your Downtown Charleston home.

 

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The Joggling Board in Charleston, SC Homes

If you’re not from the Lowcountry, you might be curious about those long green planks on rockers that grace the piazzas of many Charleston, SC homes. They’re called joggling boards, and their history and folklore are quite interesting.

CREATION OF THE JOGGLING BOARD

Joggling boards are typically 16 feet long and made of flexible pine painted Charleston green (a tint so dark it almost appears black). Although they are mainly used for decoration or fun seating today, they actually started out as an exercise device. According to legend, the first joggling board was built at Acton Plantation in Sumter County in the early 1800s. The owner of the plantation, Cleland Kinloch, was a widower who invited his widowed sister Mary Huger to run the household. That woman developed rheumatoid arthritis that made it too painful for her to do many activities. Riding in a carriage that was outfitted with a rocking chair was one of the few things she could enjoy. Upon hearing this, the Kinlochs’ relatives in Scotland devised an apparatus that would simulate the movement of a carriage ride and gently “joggle” its occupant back and forth, up and down, providing a little exercise and joint pain relief. The result was the joggling board.

Soon many houses in Charleston and across the state had joggling boards. They provided a fun way to relax on your porch or in your yard as you enjoyed the breezes and took a break from the southern heat. Throughout the 19th century they became so ubiquitous that they made their way into some of life’s most important events.

COURTING BENCHES

EA Joggling boardOne of the more colorful stories in Southern lore says that no house with a joggling board on its front porch has an unmarried daughter living there. Back in the days when proper young couples couldn’t be alone together without supervision, the distance of the joggling board was deemed adequate protection. So if the young lady sat on one end and her suitor on the other, they were far enough apart not to require a chaperone. But as they talked and joggled, they’d slowly move closer to each other. If they got so close that his hand touched her knee, her reputation for purity would be ruined and he’d be forced to propose marriage. Imagine a father concerned that his daughter may become a spinster deciding that his best option was to get a joggling board!

Another popular use was to rock babies to sleep. Nannies were often seen soothing fussy infants with the gentle swaying motion.

JOGGLING BOARDS TODAY

In the 20th century, the cost of suitable lumber increased to the point where joggling boards fell out of fashion. Today, however, they are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. One of the first companies to bring them back is based in Charleston.  They harken back to a more genteel time and still provide an enjoyable place to sit. Plus they require less space than a porch swing. As not all houses have expansive porches, modern versions are built in various smaller sizes. They are particularly well-loved by children.

If you would like to see and try out a joggling board, they are found in several museum houses in Charleston. Please visit the Edmondston-Alston House or the Nathaniel Russell House in downtown Charleston or Middleton Place in West Ashley.

Would you like to have a joggling board in your Charleston home?

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The Charleston Single House

The single house is an architectural style found almost exclusively in Charleston, SC and this home plan gives the historic city much of its unique charm. The layout of a single house is ideally suited to the narrow street-facing lots originally laid out in Charleston in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (see Grand Modell). The homes are only one room wide and two rooms deep on each level, with a central hall between. Typically a porch, or piazza as it is known in Charleston, runs the length of the house with a public door facing the street. Visitors must enter the home through this entrance and traverse the porch before entering the central private door into the home. To take best advantage of prevailing breezes, piazzas always face south or west.

Charleston Single House at 62 Tradd St.

Public spaces, like an entry or office, inhabit the first floor. Entertaining spaces, such as drawing rooms, withdrawing rooms or ballrooms occupy the second floor – above the hustle and bustle (and mess and smells) of the streetways. Family spaces and bedrooms are found on the third floor. Each room would incorporate more or less decorative detail according to its use, with second floor spaces having the highest ceilings with intricate and colorful moldings. Those high ceilings, coupled with tall windows (often floor-length to accommodate walking out to the piazzas) allowed breezes to flow through the rooms and helped make Lowcountry weather more bearable.

Outbuildings, such as kitchens, stables and carriage houses, were constructed separate from the main house to the rear of the property. Today, many of these have been converted into separate residences (and given rise to the unique ½ address that dot the Charleston Peninsula). Other outbuildings were later connected to the main residence via “hyphens.” Kitchens were built away from the main house in an attempt to prevent fires — such as the numerous ones that destroyed large swaths of the peninsula — from spreading to the living quarters. This is also why the back wall of the main houses had fewer windows than might be expected for ventilation.

Charleston Single House at 45 Church St.

Various decorative styles have been applied to the single house layout, including Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate and Victorian. Two and three-story piazzas often employ the classical order of columns with the ground level being Doric, followed by Ionic and Corinthian. Formal gardens beautified the side yards to be enjoyed from the shady porches. In fact, upper porches were sometimes used as sleeping quarters on hot, humid nights.

Don’t believe a tour guide who tells you single houses were a reaction to the city taxing street frontage. Instead, “early Charlestonians developed the Single House as an ingenious solution to the various demands of their unique urban landscape: a house that provided privacy, ventilation, fire protection, and social status within the confines of a tightly restrictive public space.” (credit Charleston County Pubic Library)

Disher, Hamrick & Myers Real Estate currently has several archetypical singles houses for sale in downtown Charleston: 24 King Street45 Church Street, 25A Montagu Street and 66 Smith Street. If this style historic home appeals to you, contact us for a showing!

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