Imagine yourself avoiding the hot, humid sun and enjoying cool breezes under the shade of live oaks.
What to many would be quintessential Charleston experience is a typical Sunday afternoon at White Point Gardens.
At the southern tip of the Charleston peninsula sits White Point Gardens and the Battery. It’s where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet to form the Atlantic Ocean (according to locals), and is a must-see for visitors.
The park features a prime location at the tip of the peninsula in the South of Broad neighborhood in historic downtown Charleston. It also offers fantastic views of Charleston Harbor as well as Fort Sumter, Patriots Point and the Ravenel Bridge. Missing a stroll through White Point Gardens and along the Battery would leave a visit to Charleston somewhat inadequate. Like Waterfront Park and the Historic Charleston City Market, this Charleston park is one of the best free things to do in Charleston, SC.
Battery Park or White Point Gardens, Which Is It?
White Point Gardens is referred to locally as such, and sometimes simply White Point Garden. And that sort of makes more sense in reality, as it’s only one city park of about 6 acres.
While this city park is sometimes called Battery Park, in reality the official Battery Park is at the southern tip of New York City. Some Charlestonians love that confusion. In their eyes, being equated to the New York City of the South is somehow the only way to make Charleston special.
A Little White Point Gardens History
The first European settlement in the area was at what is now Charlestowne Landing. Ten years later, English colonists moved from there to downtown Charleston. The peninsula was known at the time as Oyster Point.
White Point Colonial History
Europeans called the southern end of the Charleston peninsula Oyster Point from 1670. It acquired the name from the midden of oyster shells left from years, even centuries, of oyster harvesting and shucking there. By 1700, the name changed to White Point, likely due to the stretch of white, sun-bleached oysters and white sand at the location.
White Points Gardens hasn’t always been as pleasant as it is now. It’s the first point on peninsular Charleston reached by ships heading up from the harbor entrance. As such, White Point Gardens served military purposes at various times in its history:
a watch tower was built on the location in the late 1680s
locals added cannons and entrenchments in the early 1700s
Stede Bonnet and White Point Gardens
After imprisonment in the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, Gentleman Pirate Stede Bonnet and his men were hung here. Their bodies buried at the low-water mark at White Point. As the mass grave was never found, their remains may still rest under the current garden. His supposed ghost is still haunting White Point Gardens today.
White Point Gardens in the Civil War and 1800s
After a few more decades as a military outpost, the area became private residences. The city of Charleston purchased the area for a public park between 1837 and 1839, making it the oldest city park in Charleston. Some of the historic features of the park were:
a bathhouse that operated seasonally off of White Point
a bandstand, at which summer band concerts were held for almost a century
The park again came into military use during the Civil War, though the massive live oaks remained. After the War, the city instaleld military monuments throughout the park. They constructed a new bandstand, added cannons, and piles of cannonballs and mortars.
The area to the west of White Point Gardens was mud flats until the beginning of the 1900s. Murray Boulevard (the address of White Point Gardens is 2 Murray Boulevard) is named after Andrew Buist Murray. Mr. Murray was a native Charlestonian who overcame being an orphan to become a highly influential, wealthy, and generous person in town. When the 47 acres of mud flats were developed, Murray suggested connecting the development to East Battery. The city extended the seawall to south of White Point Gardens to make it happen.
Thanks to Mr. Murray’s idea, visitors and locals can extend their visit to the park by strolling along Murray Boulevard. Lined with palmettos and impressive homes, the boulevard follows the Ashley River for more than a mile until meeting Tradd Street. It’s also the place to find free parking downtown.
What to Look for at the White Point Gardens
While not the most active spot on the peninsula, White Point Gardens is the perfect place to stretch out and relax on the grass in the shade on a hot summer day. People watching can be pretty pleasant, as well. For many, one of the biggest draws of the park are the huge live oaks that line the park, the views of the harbor, and the free White Point Gardens parking. Parking along Murray Boulevard is free, if you can find it. There are no public restrooms on the peninsula South of Broad, so be prepared. While meandering through the park and surrounding streets, some highlights include:
White Point Gardens Gazebo
Sitting in the middle of the garden, south of Meeting Street, is the White Point Gardens Gazebo, or Bandstand. Named the Williams Music Pavilion, Mrs. Martha W. Carrington built it in honor of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Walton Williams. It cost $5,000 at the time. Mrs. Carrington resided in the Victorian home at 2 Meeting Street, which her parents had built for her as a wedding present. What goes around comes around. Concerts were held until noise complaints from neighbors ended them in 1978. After recent restoration of the Williams Music Pavilion, requests have been made to resume the concerts. All have been ignored by the city.
Confederate Defenders of Charleston Monument
At the intersection of Murray Boulevard and East Battery sits a controversial monument. It honors Confederate Defenders of Charleston in a prominent location. Erected in 1932 by the Daughters of the Confederacy, this monument honors those who defended Fort Sumter throughout the War.
More recently, it was graffitied to match the recent racial declaration, “Black Lives Matter”. Unfortunately, the writer forgot a “t”, writing instead “Black Lives Mater”. The spelling error was already removed from the monument.
White Point Gardens Military Monuments
The park is full of military-related monuments:
The Fort Moultrie monument (dedicated to the defenders of Fort Moultrie during the Revolutionary War)
A monument to Major General William Moultrie
A monument to Stede Bonnet
And several more
One of the major features are the Revolutionary and Civil War-era cannons that line the Murray Boulevard side of the park. One of the cannons is a fake. It was created by a prankster as a replica of a colonial 4-pound British cannon. The creator submerged it in water for 6 months to age it before selling it to an antique store in Beaufort. The city of Charleston acquired it and installed it. This despite the fact that the foundry that created it poured molten metal around a cast iron pipe (rare in the colonial era). Either way, it’s installed at the Battery. Try to guess which one it is on the next visit.
Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts Near White Point Gardens
As befits the most expensive real estate in Charleston, South Carolina, places to stay close to White Point Gardens are expensive. A few Charleston bed and breakfasts actually face White Point Gardens. The Carrington house is now one of the premier Charleston bed and breakfasts, the Two Meeting Street Inn. The other bed and breakfast a few doors down is the Battery Carriage House.
Hotels Near White Point Gardens
But all the best downtown Charleston boutique hotels below Calhoun Street are at most a 30-minute walk to White Point Gardens.
Some of the closest best places to stay in Charleston, SC, include:
The Vendue Inn
John Rutledge House Inn
The Spectator Hotel
A White Point Gardens Wedding
Weddings at the White Point Gardens are fairly common. They require a permit from the city of Charleston and a limit of 25 people (including the wedding couple). While concerts are no longer allowed at the Williams Music Pavilion, the gazebo is now a fantastic location for a wedding ceremony. The actual party must be held elsewhere, of course. The cost is fairly reasonable as far as permits go, though the fee assessed is based on the complexity of the event.
Is White Point Gardens Haunted?
As mentioned before, Stede Bonnet and his men were captured and tried for a crowd of vengeful Charlestonians. Those same pissed-off Charlestonians then watched them hang at what is now the White Point Garden. Their bodies were left hanging to warn other would-be pirates. Locals credit the harsh treatment of Stede Bonnet for never experiencing a pirate attack again.
I suspect it was more likely rising standards of living and government monopolization of force.
Stede Bonnet’s death is memorialized in the park, while those of his men were not. Supposedly, visitors to the garden and the Battery still witness the spirits of these men. Some of the stories include:
seeing an apparition of a man hanging in midair between the oaks
spirits standing under the oaks and screaming at passersby
spirits wandering through the park in search of their executioners
Another local legend recommends standing on the Battery on a full moon at the point where Vanderhorst Creek used to empty into the harbor. Vanderhorst Creek used to flow where Water Street is today, hence the name and flooding. Anyway, staring into the water will show the ghastly faces of the hung men just beneath the surface.
Where to Go After You Visit White Point Gardens
Done strolling around the park with an eye open for ghosts?
There are few other excellent Charleston attractions within a short walk of White Point Gardens.
Stroll past Rainbow Row and walk down the cobblestone street of South Adgers Wharf to get to the southern tip of Waterfront Park. It’s on the edge of the French Quarter neighborhood of downtown Charleston. Walk along the avenue of palmettos along the Cooper River to the world-renowned Pineapple Fountain before you find a bench to swing on the pier. Taking a stroll from White Point Gardens to Waterfront Park is one of the most romantic things to do in Charleston. The splash pad and Pineapple fountain of Waterfront Park also make it one of the best Charleston attractions for kids.
Historic Charleston City Market
After exploring Waterfront Park, head down Vendue Range and head up East Bay Street until you hit the Old City Market of Charleston. Constructed in the 1790s, the Charleston City Market was a place for locals to purchase beef and produce. It was also an opportunity to meet and socialize with neighbors. Today, it’s full of vendors selling souvenirs of all kinds:
Are just a few of the things on offer on any given day. And looking is always free.
Mount Pleasant Pier
Have a car and want some more time on the water?
Drive out of downtown Charleston and cross the Ravenel bridge to Mount Pleasant and head to the Mount Pleasant Pier. It stretches 1250 feet out into the Cooper River under the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge. The foundation for the Mount Pleasant Pier is actually made of pilings from the old and very scary Silas N. Pearman Bridge, which the Ravenel Bridge replaced. It’s a great place to fish, make use of the swings, picnic tables, or rocking chairs; or just enjoy the view.
Pickett Park and the Pitt Street Bridge
The first bridge that connected Mount Pleasant to Sullivan’s Island was here. At first, it was a string of barrels tied together across the span. In 1898, a more substantial trolley track was built across the span. At one time, this bridge was the only connection to the beach islands. This bridge was deconstructed after bigger bridges spanned the gap. It’s now a park with a small piece of the bridge still extant. The Pitt Street Bridge is a great place to fish, take a relaxed walk, and enjoy the view–especially a sunset over the city of Charleston across the harbor.
Head back from Mount Pleasant, through downtown, then out towards Summerville, South Carolina. The drive along the Ashley River Road will bring you to another place with fantastic river views: Middleton Place, one of the most beautiful Charleston plantations. The gardens at Middleton Place are modeled after the ones at Versailles and are some of the oldest landscaped gardens in America. But the beauty of the gardens are definitely helped by the fantastic views of the Ashley River which flows alongside. Looking straight across the butterfly ponds from where the main house stood before it was burned in the Civil War is a sight to see.
Seriously, You Need More to Do in A Day in Charleston?
Most of the tourist attractions listed here are in the list of things to do for a perfect (though busy) day in Charleston. Keep reading more of the best things to do in Charleston, SC, including places to eat and where to stay.