One of America’s oldest cities, Charleston has been considered by some the historical and cultural capital of the American South. Founded in the late 17th century in a natural harbor of the Atlantic coast, this southern-most English settlement soon developed into a hub of the Atlantic trade for the southern colonies. As the community grew, so did the cultural and social aspirations of its elite of wealthy merchants and planters. They commissioned grand public buildings as well as stately homes for their families. Although early settlers came mainly from England, colonial Charleston attracted a variety of ethnic and religious groups drawn to the developing seaport. Irish, Scottish, French and Germans arrivals brought with them several Protestant denominations, as well as Catholicism and Judaism.
Tucked away in the garden of the regal Wentworth Mansion, a vine-shaded trellised walk led to the green door of a charming pink brick cottage. Behind this unassuming facade, a memorable dining experience awaited: Circa 1886, the domain of award-winning chef Marc Collins, who has been in residence for almost a decade. The “cottage” was in fact the beautifully restored 19 th century carriage house the mansion. Its restoration was a remarkable blend of original elements (such as the heart-of-pine floors and stable doors) and seamlessly integrated reconstruction features like elegant vaulted booths, boxed ceilings and flattering lighting. The timeless elegance of the décor was an appropriate metaphor for Chef Collins’ style as he wove together elements of traditional southern cuisine and modern French gastronomy to create an imaginative menu of understated sophistication.
At the Wentworth Mansion any previously held notions on romantic residences were immediately surpassed; and the word had clearly gotten around. As I arrived, I met a local couple checking in. They shared they had chosen the Mansion to celebrate their 40 th wedding anniversary. A few hours later, when I went up to the rooftop cupola to enjoy the sunset, a young couple was already there, sipping a glass of vine. They confided they had come from Virginia to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Our conversation was soon interrupted by an exclamation of joy coming from the other side the cupola, followed by sobs of happiness. A marriage proposal had just been accepted. Two anniversary celebrations and a proposal; and I had been here barely half a day!