THE WROUGHT IRON GATES of CHARLESTON
I have been privileged to visit Charleston twice. Strolling down cobblestone avenues, lined with antique shops and boutiques, is a pleasure but I actually prefer the less traveled side streets. That is where you get glimpses of tidy brick-walled gardens set behind lacy iron gates.
Most of the Charleston gardens are private. They are often of limited space and the owners maximize this by the inclusion of protective walls and the creative use of ornamental plants. Many of these gardens are “hidden” behind heavy gates and it is this decorative ironwork that fascinates me.
I did a bit of research and found that the oldest remaining ironwork in the city dates back to the Revolutionary War period. This was wrought iron which a blacksmith would mold and shape into scrolls, fleur-de-lis, leaf and flower patterns, using a forge, anvil and hammer. These would adorn gates, stair railings, boot scrapes and decorative panels.
During the mid-19th century cast iron was more commonplace in Charleston than wrought iron. This was mass produced by pouring the molten metal into molds and it allowed for more elaborate decorations preferred by Victorian tastes of the time.
Although cast iron is less susceptible to corrosion than wrought iron they both need regular cleaning and painting to avoid rust and general deterioration. This must be a lucrative business for someone in Charleston because almost all the decorative ironwork that I saw was in excellent condition.
The wrought iron gates of Charleston and the “secret” gardens behind them are treasures not to be missed.