Charleston's historic Magnolia Cemetery, an about 170-year-old resting place that has been off-limits to tour companies, is opening up to commercial walking tours for the first time. Charleston native John LaVerne's company, Bulldog Tours, will host 90-minute evening tours of the cemetery starting April 5.
LaVerne said he's dreamed of giving tours at the cemetery for years, but the Magnolia Cemetery Trust, which oversees the property, had a policy against allowing commercial tours at the cemetery.
The trust's board of directors recently moved to lift that ban for LaVerne's company, thanks in part to his pledge to share a portion of ticket proceeds with the cemetery. Just like the company does with other Charleston-area historic sites — like the Old Exchange, the Powder Magazine and the Old City Jail — a portion of Bulldog Tours' profits will go back to the cemetery to support its preservation and upkeep.
Since LaVerne founded the tour company in 2001, about $3.7 million in profits have gone back to historic sites to help fund preservation work.
The cemetery, which lies near the banks of the Cooper River in Charleston's Neck area, is the final resting place for more than 35,000 people, including more than 2,000 Confederate soldiers, the eight-person crew of the Hunley submarine and some of the city's most prominent artists, authors and politicians.
The cemetery, which was founded in 1849 and still operates as a full-service cemetery, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The work of architects E.B. White and Francis D. Lee are represented among its collection of stone monuments and markers.
"We're very sensitive to the history of the place," said LaVerne, who predicts that groups of about 15 to 20 people will be taken through the cemetery on the guided tours.
For the first two months, tours will only be offered on Friday and Saturday evenings, with the first tour at 7:30 p.m. and a second at 9:30 p.m. In June, LaVerne said, they anticipate offering tours every evening of the week, and daytime tour options may be added later.
The tours will cover the "best of Magnolia's history, mystery and spirit," LaVerne said, noting that narrowing down material for a 90-minute tour was a difficult undertaking.
"There's so much history out there," he said. "It's overwhelming."
The tours will cost $29 for adults and $19 for children, and LaVerne said they plan to offer some discounts for Charleston-area residents.
The Charleston area's lodging inventory just grew by another 102 rooms. A new TownePlace Suites by Marriott is now accepting reservations in North Charleston. It's the second TownePlace-branded hotel to be built in the city.
The hotel is owned and managed by NMR Hospitality Group out of Aiken. The same firm also owns the SpringHill Suites, another Marriott brand, behind it. The new property replaced a former dental office at its lot on Northside Drive.
With the new opening, more than 400 new rooms have been added to the Charleston-area hotel inventory so far this year. The openings kicked off with the grand reveal of the 179-room Hotel Bennett in downtown Charleston. A Home2 Suites in West Ashley also opened earlier in the year, and two new Hyatt hotels in Mount Pleasant are accepting reservations starting next month.
The 128-room Hyatt House Mount Pleasant-Midtown is booking stays starting April 2, and the 92-room Hyatt Place Hotel at Mount Pleasant Towne Centre is accepting reservations for April 16 and beyond.