For the first time since 2014, the Preservation Society of Charleston’s fall house tours will not kick off with a natural disaster, even though last month’s Hurricane Irma came close enough.
The 41st annual event, “The Fall Tours: Homes, History & Architecture,” starts Thursday and ends on Oct. 29.
Fall Tours Manager Susan McLeod Epstein says the storms caused by hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew in 2015 and 2016, respectively, hurt the society’s No. 1 fundraiser, due to opening week cancellations. Even Hurricane Irma three weeks ago caused a little pain.
“(The week after the storm) I started getting phone calls from people from out of town thinking that Charleston was under water,” says Epstein, noting that about 60 percent of tour attendees come from outside the tri-county area.
Quality over quantity
As Charleston is having to roll with stormier weather in recent years, the society is evolving its tour as Charleston changes and grows.
Executive Director Kristopher King says the society is trying to shrink its “footprint,” or impact on neighborhoods, by capping its largest walking tours at 250 people. The society also is adding smaller, though more expensive tours, that provide a more intimate experience geared more toward history, architecture and culture.
“We’re very mindful that these large tour operations do have somewhat of an impact. If we want to continue to do this the way we’re doing it, how do we do it better,” says King, stressing that making the tours more relevant and valuable is key.
“Our focus organizationally has been on the educational component, but we also recognize that a lot of people come on these tours to see how people live. That’s something that we struggle with because we want to talk about architecture, history, culture, people and how people lived.”
King and Epstein add that efforts to make tours more informative has required that volunteer docents get the necessary training to be informed leaders.
Covering price points
Among the affordable tour offerings are the Guided Walking Tours for $25 per person, Four for $40 tours, and Traditional House and Garden Tour for $50 per person.
Guided Walking Tours include “The Invention of Wings, The Grimke Sisters of Charleston,” “Enduring Traditions: Ironwork of the Holy City,” and “The Amazing Buildings of Charleston,” which is designed for all ages. Guided Walking Tours are limited to 20 people per tour, which start and end at 147 King St. and include no private residences.
Four for $40 features self-guided tours of four private homes and gardens 2-5 p.m. on different streets on different dates.
The Traditional House and Garden Tour includes self-guided, exterior-only tours of six to seven structures in various areas 2-5 p.m. on Oct. 6, 7, 14, 19, 20, 21 and 28.
King is particularly keen on the “Up Close and Personal” series of The Fall Tours, which are led by an expert or professional in a particular field who provide in-depth interpretations to a smaller audience. The fee is $100 per person.
Among the seven tours are “Back of the House” at noon Friday that details the “daily challenges, work and living conditions that the urban enslaved faced.” Another of note is the “Charleston Renaissance” at 4 p.m. Oct. 13, focusing on the arts during the challenging times of the 1920s and 1930s.
“Saved from Wreck and Ruin” at 4 p.m. Oct. 20 will include a light reception in a private home with a collection of “seldom seen art” that King and Epstein say is outstanding.
Meanwhile, design will be the focus of a series in the “Curated Architectural Charleston Experience” that will feature the Charleston Single House at 4 p.m. Oct. 12 and "Colonial Charleston and the Walled City" at 2 p.m. Oct. 26. Tickets are $75 each and include interiors of four private homes.
Lunches and a picnic
Other highlights include “Living in History Lunch Lectures” at 82 Queen, which will be noon-2 p.m. on Thursdays. The fee is $45 per person.
The Fall Tours Plantation Picnic will head out to Edisto Island on Oct. 27. It cost $125 and is limited to 50 guests.
Proceeds from The Fall Tours benefit the society’s mission to preserve and honor Charleston’s unique material and cultural heritage.
More information and reservations are available at www.preservationsociety.org/thefalltours.