For more than four decades, the Preservation Society of Charleston’s Fall Tours have been a regular feature of autumn, offering a chance to tour grand historic homes and gardens, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has required some significant changes.
Notably, this year tours that run from Oct. 8 through Nov. 7 will not be taking guests inside homes. The Preservation Society is instead offering “Piazzas, Porches & Gardens Tours” along with a large selection of themed guided walking tours.
“We really put a lot of thought into how to handle an educational program during COVID,” said Kristopher King, executive director of the 100-year-old preservation group. “What we’ve really focused on is staying outside.”
“We’re actually able to layer in a lot more history about Charleston architecture and gardens,” he said. “We can really talk about the stuff that really gets us excited — the history, architecture and gardens.”
The Fall Tours are the Preservation Society’s largest annual fundraising event, attracting local residents as well as tourists from other states and nations.
A chance to visit the private gardens hidden behind brick walls and iron gates on the lower Charleston peninsula has always been a draw for the tours, and none of the homeowners involved declined to participate this year, according to tours manager Susan Epstein.
“I had one homeowner call and tell me her garden had never looked better, because everyone’s been working in the gardens,” she said.
The project is a large undertaking, involving more than 150 volunteers and a half-dozen paid guides. Tour sizes will be limited in order to maintain social distancing, with most groups being 10 or 20 people at a time.
“It will be more like going on a private tour,” said Epstein.
Add up all the different tours, dates and time slots, and there are about 1,000 tickets offered, according to the Preservation Society. Prices range from $30 to $150, and face masks will be required.
“If people don’t want to wear a mask, they’re not going to come on tour with us, and we’re OK with that,” said King.
The tours are:
- Curated Garden Tours, led by horticulture professionals. This is one of the most expensive tours, at $150 for nonmembers. It initially sold out before more slots were added. Oct. 8 and 22.
- Curated Hard Hat Tour. This tour takes visitors to see a Charleston single home that is being elevated 8 feet because of flooding, and a house on The Battery preparing for flooding using more traditional methods. Oct. 15.
- Piazzas, Porches and Gardens. Docents will explain “history and lore” during tours of private-home piazzas, porches and “some of the finest enchanting private gardens in the historic district.” Four different tours are offered on Fridays and Saturdays on Oct. 9-24.
- Morning History Walks and Talks. City-licensed tour guides will lead tours that last two hours or more, starting at 10 a.m. in Washington Park near the corner of Broad and Meeting streets. There are seven themed tours to choose from, ranging from one focused on the crusading Grimke sisters (Oct. 13, 20 and 27) to tours focused on architecture and preservation.
Offerings include a “spooky Halloween” tour Oct. 31, and a tour focused on “Charleston’s long and ongoing march toward racial and social justice” (Oct. 9, 16, 23, 30 and Nov. 6).
- Photography Walkabout and Workshop. This is a tour of the French Quarter and the South of Broad Street area, with a focus on picturesque streets and alleys. Photographer Richard Spencer will share tips and techniques (Oct. 16, 23, 30 and Nov. 6).
The Preservation Society is also pursuing plans to create virtual tours.
“We’re in the process of filming those right now,” said King. “Ultimately, the goal is that this content will be public and available.”
For more information about the Fall Tours, visit preservationsociety.org.
Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.