Charleston Spotlight: From History Buff to Carriage Guide – Intimate Interview with John Polk

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By Juliette Cheatham

“You might not expect someone to say the best place they’ve ever been is a town with a population less than 1000 people. But it’s true, Plains, Georgia was one of the best.” John Polk told me assuredly through his thick southern drawl. Mr. Polk was referring to his opportunity to go to church with President and Mrs. Carter and attend a Sunday school class taught by the former president. “Plains is place a lot like the one I grew up in” he explained to me in response to my quizzical look, “and President Carter was in office when I was born.”

Born and raised in the small town of Hampton, South Carolina just west of Charleston, there wasn’t much around besides stories about ancestors long past and ancient war heroes of the south. “I’m honestly not sure where my love for history originated” Polk confessed “but being from a small historic town with not much to do, I grew up appeasing my boredom by going to museums, monuments, old plantations-I often found myself at the library reading books about war.” Mr. Polk’s infatuation led him to focus his academic studies on history at North Greenville College.

“So how did you end up here, on a carriage attached to a horse on Market Street?” It seems an eccentric career path even for someone with John’s unique character. Mr. Polk saw an ad for a job as a carriage driver in the paper and knew that an amalgamation of his extensive knowledge of South Carolina history and love for sharing it with others would make him an ideal carriage guide.

The carriage company offered on the job training with the horses, how to care for them, and how to steer the carriage it’s self. “You would know in the first day or so if you wanted to do it. Driving the carriages can be frustrating at times because you’re not only giving an “engaging” tour”, he told me with a smirk “but also paying attention to traffic, tourists, and the streets.” Mr. Polk has been lucky enough never to have an incident with a horse getting spooked, but he humbly added that it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

John Polk has been a historian/carriage guide combo for the past decade at Carolina Polo and Carriage Company and Classic Carriage Works, LLC. A well-known local, you honestly couldn’t miss him from a mile away sporting a wide brimmed straw hat covered in decorative pins and feathers and moving with the same slow confidence he speaks with. He doesn’t go anywhere without the Lieutenant Governor Miss Miley Dog, his noble companion. It was clear she is equally as mellow and well known around the city as she patiently sat next to me on the carriage the entire time I spoke to Mr. Polk with passing patrons stopping by to pet her.

Turning passions into lucrative careers is a tedious venture that many are not lucky enough to figure out. Mr. Polk’s passion for the history makes him stand out as one of the most requested carriage guides in town. A true southern gentleman, he is a walking encyclopedia of historical facts. If you want to brush up on some South Carolina history, be sure to hop on a carriage with John and his Lieutenant Governor.