Charleston themes. Holy City storytelling. Lowcountry characters. Those are the phrases that describe the Preservation Society of Charleston’s Fall Tours. The event, formerly called the Fall Tours of Home & Gardens, has changed its name to reflect a new focus.
The 19 tours take place Oct. 3-27. They are themed in such a way that each structure tells one part of a cohesive story about Charleston.
The hope is that visitors will gain a broader perspective of the historic city’s architectural styles; private plantations and churches on Edisto Island and along the Cooper River; the Charleston Renaissance’s artists and writers; Philip Simmons’ gates; and the legacy of the society’s founder, Susan Pringle Frost, during the tours, now in their 37th year.
After many years of house-to-house tours based strictly on neighborhoods, why the change?
“There needs to be an intellectual connection made between the houses and the bigger stories of Charleston’s architecture and history,” says Evan Thompson, the society’s executive director.
“We have learned through formal surveys and informal feedback that people want to know so much more about a house than when the kitchen was remodeled and where the painting over the mantel came from,” he says.
“There is a hunger for interesting information about what makes these beautiful and interesting houses so important and our tours are evolving to meet that need.
Thompson says the society expects visitors to understand Charleston’s history in a new way.
Sandi Clerici, the society’s director of public programs, says among the most exciting changes are the two tours off the peninsula.
Excursions to Edisto Island and along the Cooper River will give visitors the opportunity to spend the day exploring private plantation homes that rarely are open to the public.
“They tell the story of very early Charleston and the growth of the plantations,” she says. “That is a totally new feature for us, to have a bus tour where people board, spend the day and return downtown.”
To prepare for the changes, the society has been holding training sessions to help volunteers in their new role as storytellers, who each are responsible for a chapter in the unfolding saga that defines their tours.
Harlan Greene, an expert on the Charleston Renaissance, marking the significant artistic and cultural changes that took place in the city between the two World Wars, gave a lecture to volunteers.
“What I tried to do was familiarize them with the larger context of the Charleston Renaissance and alert them to some of the names” associated with it, says Greene, head of special collections at the College of Charleston.
Many already were somewhat familiar with the names associated with that period.
The larger focus was to give the volunteers information to help them have a more holistic view of the Charleston Renaissance tour.
Greene, who authored “Mr. Skylark: John Bennett and the Charleston Renaissance” and co-edited “Renaissance in Charleston: Art and Life in the Carolina Low Country, 1900-1940,” also suggested they look for details in the houses they might use when telling the story, such as an Elizabeth O’Neill Verner etching.
The Charleston Renaissance is among the tours Dave Brumbaugh is giving.
Brumbaugh, who first volunteered to assist with the annual tours last year, is eager to see what tour guests’ responses to the new format will be.
“They are doing a nice job with these classes,” says Brumbaugh. “Then, you walk around the tour route. Then, they send you home with a big packet, a write-up on each of the houses to study.
“Last year as a street marshal, what I did was get people from house to house,” Brumbaugh says.
He’s looking forward to fitting the narrative of each house into the overall tour themes, he says. Meanwhile, he’s learning a lot about the city’s neighborhoods.
Clerici says the tours have about a $3 million economic impact on the city and the society wants to retain that. Ticket sales are doing well and expected to be up.
“We do know that people return to the tours and that they have become a destination,” she says. In addition, Clerici says the society expects to attract more longtime residents, as well as new residents eager to explore Charleston’s history.
“We don’t know of other tours that are done in this manner,” she says.
The 2,000-plus-member Preservation Society of Charleston was founded in 1920 by Frost and others as the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings.
It is the oldest membership-based community preservation organization in the country
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.