Charles Towne Landing

Long ago, I designed a museum on the founding of Charleston (formerly Charles Towne) in 1670. It opened 3 years ago, but i only got there to see it last spring on a trip there with Steven (who kindly provides a scale reference or two). I have just now gotten around to stitching photos together.

The project looks at the context of the city's initial founding as a project of the Lord's Proprietors--a group of 8 London fatcats who were given the New World venture by Charles II after his restoration to the British Crown after Cromwell's death in 1658. Much trial and tribulation visited the planning and preparation of the colony's founding, which finally happened when the first group arrived in 1670. And even more happened in the first 10 years till 1680, when the initial landing site (hence the name) was abandoned for higher ground across the Ashley River, where the city has remained.

My project is in a large park at this original site--surrounded by Charleston suburbia--where much archeology has happened and many amenities exist (such as a full scale replica of one of the 3 original ships to arrive in 1670, and a live animal park stocked with the critters of the day, and many reconstructed dwellings, subsistence gardens, and live-interpreter sites).


The building that houses the exhibits i designed went through 3 rather torturous and wildly divergent revisionings, the third and final being by far the best, in my opinion. This is a simple, modern building that sits lightly on pilotis. The existing landscape runs right under the building, and some portions project over tidal lagoons.

The "Cabinet of Curiousities" is all about the mindmaps of the Lords: specimens, booty, and mysteries (such as alligators) from the New World surround the visitor in a slightly Lordsy Londonesque setting. I wanted the wood to be much darker.

A London wharf scene explores all the preparations: what was brought along, who, why, and where they went. It wasn't a straight line by any means.

The Ocean Voyage was eventful. Storms, treachery, sickness and death, the loss of one of the ships. Unscheduled stops for long periods of time. And a long layover at Barbados, the model for raping the land that the Lord's Proprietors intended to follow.

First Encounters is all about the first few days after the landing, and the close calls and events with the Natives in the area.

Many agreements were made and broken early on, as the settlers experimented with crops, barely survived, and relied on trade with Natives.

Breaking Ground explores all of the backbreaking labor of the first settlers: what was done, who did it, and what it achieved.

The Physical Setting is the largest gallery, where visitors are able to put together the puzzle pieces of what the place looked like in those first years. Much about archeology (notice the patterns at the floor), birds-eye views and models, and recreations based on written accounts (not the least of whom was a Spanish Spy, sent incognito as an innocent visitor).

Setting Up Society is all about recreating daily life, dwellings, and issues of subsistence from the archeological record, and is a part of the larger Physical Setting gallery.

At the end are Legacies of these first 10 years, within which the seeds were planted for many of Charleston's futures. The "Grand Modell" which established the new, permanent city firmly in a Euro-via-Carribean image is the brightest. A darker legacy is that of slavery, indentured servitude and the people who performed all the labor, and ensured this would be the model in the South for nearly two hundred more years. A perhaps even darker legacy surrounds the decline, defeat, and decimation of initially friendly Natives. Another legacy looks at the huge impact on the natural environment, which, after more than 300 years, is becoming positive.


Mel said...

It's ever so much better than what used to be there. When I was a little kid, they had a really sad and pathetic zoo. I don't remember it, but my parents tell me there was one monkey there who liked to masturbate for the crowd.

Robert said...

Dang it. I thought I wrote something on here already, but I guess that was Facebook.

Impressive work Sammy. It's such a wonderful feeling seeing your hard work come into fruition. And what I LOVE about what you have accomplished here, is that it is also educational related... and that's a very, very good thing.

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