Charleston sits on a narrow peninsula where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet as they flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The community named for King Charles of England was established in 1670, became the center of the Carolina colony, the eighth state to join the Union, and the cultural center of the antebellum South. Charleston was the destination for peoples throughout Europe, Africa, and the Carribean, who have collectively shaped this unique region. 

The new city was originally contained inside a wall, located south and east of today’s business district, until 1720 but was soon bursting out of its protective cocoon as it grew into the fourth largest city in the American colonies. The peninsula soon filled with businesses, churches, schools and some of the most impressive residences thus seen on these shores.

This walking tour will begin at the intersection of th eprimary north-south street in Charleston, Meeting Street and the commercial axis along Market Street where a bustling market operates much as it did more than 200 years ago...

City Market
188 Meeting Street

City Market stands on the site of a filled-in creek and marshy lands donated by the Pinckney family, with the stipulation that the property revert to the family if used for any other purpose. The market was built sometime between 1788, when the land was donated, and 1807, when a city ordinance was adopted for regulating the “Central Market” here. In the beginning there was a beef market at the Meeting Street end of Market Street, behind which stood a country produce market. On the other side of East Bay there was a fish market. The present Market Hall, erected in 1841, was designed by Edward B. White in the Roman Revival style. Sheep and bull skulls decorate the stucco frieze, symbolizing the presence of a meat market. ln the past, the proximity of the meat market was indicated by buzzards (Charleston eagles) who scavenged the debris thrown in the street at the end of the market day. For providing that valuable service, the buzzards were protected by law. The second floor of the Market Hall houses the Confederate Museum and is the headquarters of the Charleston chapter of the “United Daughters of the Confederacy.” The market sheds behind the hall are difficult to “date” as the market has been rebuilt several times due to fires and tornadoes.


United States Custom House
200 East Bay Street, southeast corner of Market Street

Majestically overlooking East Bay Street and the harbor, the United States Custom House is one of the most striking buildings in Charleston. It is an outstanding example of a public building and reflects the time when Charleston was one of the country’s busiest port cities. The cruciform building, executed in the Roman Corinthian order, is monumental in scale, measuring 259 feet on its east-west axis and 152 feet on its north-south axis. Marble is used throughout the building and highlighted in details such as office fireplaces. The interior of the building revolves around a two-story center room, called the Business Room. Fourteen Corinthian columns support its second floor gallery, and most offices open onto this room. The ceiling is ornamented with artificial sky lights, a depiction of the American flag and other patriotic symbols, and stenciled classical motifs. Prior to the construction of the Custom House, port business was transacted in the Exchange In need of larger facilities, this site between East Bay and the Cooper River was purchased by Congress in 1849. Although a competition for the design contract was won by Charleston architect Edward C. Jones, federal authorities awarded the project to Ammi Burnham Young. Young was the Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury Building in Washington, and one of 19th-century America’s leading architects. Hampered by unforeseen engineering problems of the site, the building was unfinished at the outbreak of the Civil War. Construction was suspended until 1870, when architect A.B. Mullet arranged for further Congressional appropriations to complete the war -damaged building. To reduce costs and hasten completion, Mullet’s plan modified the east and west porticoes and omitted a dome and side porticoes of the original design. Finally complete in 1879, this building has been used ever since as a United States Custom House, as originally intended.


225 King Street, northwest corner of Market Street

The Art Deco Riviera, built in 1939 as the city’s first motion picture theater, was the home of first run pictures on its fifty-foot screen until 1977. The theater was leased to a church group in 1979 and, by the mid-80’s, threatened with demolition. The Friends of the Riviera protected the theater and it was eventually sold to the Charleston Place Hotel who restored the entire theater, but removed the seats in order to create a conference center and ballroom.


208 King Street

S.W. Foulk, America’s leading designer of YMCAs in the Victorian era, used the Richardsonian Romanesque style for the Charleston YMCA in 1889. The building has been severely altered over the years but retains some of its original rough-cut stone facade and fenestration.

Charleston Library Society   
164 King Street

The Charleston Library Society is the South’s oldest cultural institution and the third oldest library in the United States. Established in 1748 by seventeen young gentlemen of various trades and professions wishing to avail themselves of the latest publications from Great Britain, the Charleston Library Society paved the way for the founding of the College of Charleston in 1770 and provided the core collection of natural history artifacts for the founding of the Charleston Museum – America’s first – in 1773. The Society moved to this Beaux Arts building in 1914; it is fronted by two of the city’s largest ginkgo trees. This species represents memory and long life, and for many years the ginkgo leaf has served as the symbol of the Charleston Library Society. 

Schroeder Block
158-160 King Street

The Carolina Rifles Armory, built in 1889. The Carolina Rifles was one of many semi-private military units -- half militia and half social club -- which existed in Charleston until absorbed by the National Guard in the early 20th century. The unit was organized in 1869 as the Carolina Rifle Club because local military units were banned. The Confederate veterans, not trusting Federal troops to maintain order, formed such clubs. After the Federal troops were withdrawn in 1878, the clubs became military units. At the time of purchasing this site in 1888, the unit had 76 men armed with Springfield rifles. Dates in the parapet are those of the unit’s organization and the construction of the building. A subsequent owner, H. A. Schroeder, also put his name on the parapet. The two story wooden building with flat roof has pressed metal cladding on the second level of the facade. The building had two stores, with the armory on the second level.


St. John’s Lutheran Church
5 Clifford Street

St. John’s Lutheran Church houses Charleston’s oldest Lutheran congregation. The first Lutheran congregation had been formally organized in Charleston by 1752, and their first building dedicated by 1764. This wooden building with a steeple stood behind the site of the current church on Clifford Street, which was known in 1788 as “Dutch Church Alley.” Built from 1816 to 1818, the design of the church is attributed to well-known Charleston architect and church member Frederick Wesner. The rectangular, stuccoed brick building combines Federal and Baroque elements; the Italianate steeple with bell-shaped roof was not added until 1859. The church was damaged in the Charleston earthquake of 1886 and the 1891 hurricane, after which a recessed chancel with memorial windows was also added. The church also was damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 but has been restored.


Unitarian Church
4 Archdale Street

The Unitarian Church is the oldest Unitarian church in the South. Construction began at this Archdale site in 1772, but was temporarily interrupted by the Revolutionary War. The small rectangular brick church was finally completed in 1787. In 1817, the Archdale congregation was chartered as the Second Independent Church, with a Unitarian minister presiding. Architect Francis D. Lee is responsible for the 19th-century Gothic Revival additions to the building. In 1852 his two-year renovation of the church began, which included the addition of the rear chancel, a four-story tower and stucco to the original brick walls. The remodeled church exhibited typical Gothic features such as the crenellated tower, arched windows, stained glass panels, and Tudor arch entrance. On the exterior, false buttresses are used for visual effect rather than as structural supports, as is the interior vaulting, made of lath and plaster. 


Old Jail
21 Magazine Street

The Old Jail building served as the Charleston County Jail from its construction in 1802 until 1939. In 1680, as the city of Charleston was being laid out, a four-acre square of land was set aside at this location for public use. In time a hospital, poor house, workhouse for runaway slaves, and this jail were built on the square. When the Jail was constructed in 1802 it consisted of four stories, topped with a two-story octagonal tower. Charleston architects Barbot & Seyle were responsible for 1855 alterations to the building, including a rear octagonal wing, expansions to the main building and the Romanesque Revival details. This octagonal wing replaced a fireproof wing with individual cells, designed by Robert Mills in 1822, five years earlier than his notable Fireproof Building. The 1886 earthquake badly damaged the tower and top story of the main building, and these were subsequently removed. The Old Jail housed a great variety of inmates. John and Lavinia Fisher, and other members of their gang, convicted of robbery and murder in the Charleston Neck region were imprisoned here in 1819 to 1820. Some of the last 19th-century high-sea pirates were jailed here in 1822 while they awaited hanging. During the Civil War, Confederate and Federal prisoners of war were incarcerated here.


ld Marine Hospital
20 Franklin Street

The Old Marine Hospital was designed by Robert Mills, often referred to as the first professionally trained American architect, and a Charleston native. He developed a pattern design from his Charleston hospital that was used to build similar hospitals around the country. The Old Marine Hospital is one of only eight remaining from a group of around 30 marine hospitals built before the Civil War. The Marine Hospital was also one of the most controversial buildings of Charleston’s antebellum period, viewed by state’s rights advocates as an illustration of the Federal government’s abuse of its powers. The Marine Hospital Fund, established in 1798 by an Act of Congress, was one of the earliest manifestations of Federal involvement in the area of public health, and provided the first Federal health care and social welfare initiative for United States sailors. Funding for the hospitals was deducted from sailors’ wages and supplemented by shipping industry taxes. In Charleston, many people resented the heavy hand of the Federal government in the construction of their Marine Hospital, which began in 1831. By the time of its completion in 1834, the Marine Hospital was rejected by Charlestonians as an unworthy civic accomplishment. Originally a U-shaped building, the two large wings that once projected from the rear were removed because of extensive fire damage. The subtle Gothic features of the building include its pointed arches, windows and clustered columns, reminiscent of medieval religious architecture. The delicate porch railings were designed to resemble the tracery around Gothic stained glass windows. In the 19th century, Gothic architecture of was believed to be an appropriate style for hospital design. Widely used in Charleston’s domestic architecture, the piazzas were an adaptation to climate as they provided some protection from the weather.


Berkeley Court
63 Rutledge Avenue

This apartment buidling was built at a diagonal on a spacious corner lot in 1922. It has Italian villa detailing with a bracketed cornice and low-pitched roof while the entryway features Spanish Colonial and Craftsman highlight. The apartments are fireproof, made entirely of concrete, brick, and tile. 

Isaac Jenkins Mikell House
94 Rutledge Street, northeast corner of Montagu Street

One of the most visually imposing houses ever built in Charleston, the Isaac Jenkins Mikell House more closely resembles an Italian villa than a Charleston house. Today the house looks much as it did when Mikell, a millionaire Sea Island cotton planter from Edisto Island, constructed it in 1853-54. The Corinthian column capitals are carved from cypress with prominent rams’ heads.

Edward Trenholm House
93 Rutledge Avenue, northwest corner of Montagu Street

Edward Trenholm, a managing partner of Fraser, Trenholm and Company, built one of city’s most elaborate antebellum houses here in 1850. Architecturally, the design spans the transition from Greek Revival to Italianate.


Old Bethel United Methodist Church
222 Calhoun Street

Old Bethel United Methodist Church is the third oldest church building surviving in Charleston. The church is an architectural reminder of the significant relationship between African Americans and the Methodist Church in Charleston. Methodists conducted extensive missionary work among African Americans in South Carolina, sometimes suffering persecution for their suspected abolitionist tendencies. Indicative of the Methodist Church’s philosophy of encouraging black membership, Old Bethel was founded and paid for by both black and white citizens. Construction began in 1797 and was completed in 1807. The church was originally constructed in the gabled meetinghouse style with white clapboards after a design by Francis Asbury, the first Methodist bishop in the United States. It stood at the corner of Pitt and Calhoun Streets, then the extreme northwestern part of the city. Membership in the congregation of Old Bethel was open to both free blacks and slaves. However, in 1834 a schism developed over whether blacks were to be restricted to sitting in the galleries. By 1840 the black members seceded to form their own congregation. In 1852 the church was moved to the western portion of the lot on which it stood, to be used by the black congregation. A new church, Bethel Methodist, was built on the original site, to serve the white congregation. After the church was given to the black population, in 1880, it was moved across Calhoun Street to its present location. The addition of a gabled portico supported by four fluted Corinthian columns documents changing styles in ecclesiastical architecture. The interior of the church was likely damaged by the 1886 earthquake in Charleston, and the pressed metal ceiling and Victorian era furnishing of Old Bethel date to the end of the 19th century. The church currently serves a black congregation, which includes descendants of the 1880 congregation. ornate iron balcony added in the 1840s. 

Bethel Methodist Church
57 Pitt Street, southwest corner of Calhoun Street

The first Methodist congregation in Charleston purchased this parcel of land in 1795 and the Old Bethel United Methodist Church building was erected here in 1797. A schism between black and white members of the congregation developed in the 1830s. As a result the original church was moved to the western portion of the lot in 1852, to be used by the black Methodists. Shortly thereafter work was begun at the original site for this second Methodist Church for the white congregation. Records from 1852 indicate that the anticipated cost for the church was $18,000. The building was constructed in 1853-1854 by local architect, Mr. Curtis, who came from a family of architects and builders. Bethel Methodist Church is an exceptional example of Greek Doric Temple architecture common to antebellum churches. Even with an uncharacteristic steeply-pitched roof, the church is one of the best examples of Greek Doric temple architecture in the State. The steep pitch would have allowed rainwater to drain more quickly. The most prominent architectural feature is the massive hexastyle Doric portico, with simple pediment and entablature. Windows, chimneys, verandahs, and refined details, as well as the building’s overall mass, materials, and craftsmanship are elegant and innovative. Bethel was the only Methodist church in Charleston which remained open during the Civil War, and it survived the earthquake of 1886 intact. Although there have been interior alterations, the exterior has been well-preserved.


Wilson-Sottile House
11 College Street

Samuel Wilson, one of Charleston’s most progressive merchants of the late 1800s, built the city’s most exuberant Queen Anne residence in 1891. Designed by S.W. Foulk, the house explodes in a profusion of shapes and textures with turrets and double-tiered bowed piazzas. The elaborate jigsaw-cut trim and spindlework are exemplary.

Bolles Female Academy
5-7-9 College Street

A teacher from Connecticut, Abiel Bolles, opened his own school a few years after his arrival in Charleston in 1807. After experiencing steady growth for the next three decades, Bolles built this two-and-a-half story Charleston single house for his school in the mid-1830s. The house is set on a high foundation with side piazzas in the emerging Greek Revival style.


College of Charleston
bounded by Calhoun, St. Philip, Wentworth, and Coming streets

The College of Charleston is the oldest municipal college in the United States. Founded in 1770, and chartered in 1785, the College possesses additional historical significance as the oldest institute of higher learning in South Carolina, and the 13th oldest in the country. The center of the small campus contains its core of historic mid-19th- century buildings. Three principal structures--the Main Building, the Library, and Gate Lodge--are situated around a square college green with evergreen oaks, known as The Cistern. This name is derived from a 19th-century oval cistern constructed there to hold the campus’s water supply. The founders of the college include three signers of the Declaration of Independence, and three fathers of the United States Constitution. Classes were held in former Revolutionary War barracks until the first new building was constructed. Designed by Philadelphia architect William Strickland, the simple rectangular brick Main Building was completed in 1829. In 1854 prominent local architect Edward Brickell White extensively remodeled the Main Building (now known as Randolph Hall), adding an Ionic portico and wings. White had previously designed the Gate Lodge (now Porter’s Lodge), a two-story Roman Revival brick building, in 1852. The Towell Library, constructed in the 1850s by George E. Walker, is a Classical Revival two-story brick building with Italianate details, now serving as administrative offices. Both the Lodge and Library have been little altered.


Feldman-Teskey Store
314 King Street

This three story, stuccoed brick building was built circa 1878 by Benjamin Feldman and Robert Teskey, grocers, as a store and residence. The typical Italianate storefront featured a bracketed cornice and corner quoins.

Gloria Theater Building
327-329 King Street

The double tenement was built in 1855-56 by John D. Meyer, a prosperous German grocer. lt was built by contractor Christopher C. Trumbo after plans by Barbot & Seyle, architects. The facade was subsequently remodeled in the latter part of the 19th century. ln 1923-27, the Gloria Theater, designed by architect C.K. Howell was built to the rear of the building, with an entrance foyer through the first floor of 329 King Street.

Francis Marion Hotel
387 King Street

Named for the daring South Carolina Revolutionary War hero, the 12-story Francis Marion Hotel was the grandest in the Carolinas when it was built in 1922-24 by the Marion Square Realty Company.

St. Matthew’s German Lutheran Church
405 King Street

The 265-foot steeple of this church once made it the tallest structure in South Carolina; it remains the tallest spire. The congregation was organized in 1840 by German speaking Lutherans. Their first building, at Hasell and Anson streets, is now St. Johannes’ Lutheran. The church in 1856 purchased land outside the city for Bethany Cemetery. Having outgrown the old church, the congregation built the present one in 1867-72. Patterned after a German church, this Gothic Revival structure was designed by architect John Henry Devereux. A fire in 1965 sent the tall steeple crashing spectacularly into King Street. The church was rebuilt exactly as it had been, at a cost of over a half million dollars.

Marion Square   
bordered by King, Calhoun, Meeting and Tobacco streets

Marion Square, spanning six-and-one-half acres was established as a parade ground for the state arsenal under construction on the north side of the square. It is best known as the former Citadel Green because The Citadel occupied the arsenal from 1843 until 1922, when the college moved to Charleston’s Westside. The name was then changed to Marion Square. Among the monuments in the park are apiece of tabby from Horn Works Fortress of city’s original defensive wall and an 1896 recasting of an 1858 statue of John C. Calhoun. 

South Carolina State Arsenal
337 Meeting Street

The South Carolina State Arsenal, more commonly known as the Old Citadel, is associated with several aspects of Charleston’s history. The impetus for the Arsenal’s construction in the early 1830s was the 1822 slave revolt led by Denmark Vesey. In 1842 the South Carolina Military Academy, a liberal arts military college, was established by the state legislature. The new Academy took over the arsenal the following year, and the school soon became know as The Citadel in reference to the fortress-like appearance of the building. From 1865 to 1881, during Reconstruction in Charleston, Federal troops occupied the Citadel and the school was closed. Classes resumed at the Citadel in 1882, and continued here until the school was relocated to a campus on the banks of the Ashley River in 1922. Two well-known Charleston architects, Frederick Wesner and Edward Brickell White, are credited with the Citadel’s design. The original State Arsenal building was a simple-two story brick building surrounding an interior courtyard, designed by Wesner. White was responsible for changes to the building later in the century, and added the upper floors and wings. These two periods of construction are most visible from the courtyard, where the original first floor arches are offset by tiers of smaller arches in the upper floors. Charleston County used the building for government offices during much of the 20th century and in 1994 it was converted into a hotel.

Citadel Square Baptist Church
328 Meeting Street

On the 23rd of November, 1856, the church dedicated its original house of worship still in use today. Located on the corner of Meeting and Henrietta Streets, this house of worship was known into the early twentieth century as the finest Baptist house of worship in all the South. What is more significant, however, is that this beautiful edifice, built to seat 1,000 persons, belonged to a congregation which just two years earlier was fourteen in number and, at the time of dedication, had a mere membership of two hundred and seventeen, one hundred and nineteen of whom were slaves.


Joseph Manigault House
360 Meeting Street

Rice was South Carolina’s economic base in the early 19th century. Profits from growing and trading it made possible the buildings which comprise Charleston’s noted architectural heritage. Among the most elegant of these is The Charleston Museum’s Joseph Manigault House, a National Historic Landmark, located in downtown Charleston close to the Museum and the City Visitor Center. Designed by gentleman architect Gabriel Manigault for his brother, Joseph in 1803, this three-story brick town-house is an exceptional example of Adam-style, or Federal, architecture. The Manigaults descended from French Huguenots who came to America to escape persecution in Europe. Joseph owned plantations, sat in the state legislature, and was a trustee of the College of Charleston. Gabriel, who owned plantations and commercial investments, is credited with designing Charleston’s City Hall and the South Carolina Society Hall.


Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue   
90 Hassell Street

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue is the country’s second oldest synagogue and the oldest in continuous use. The American Reform Judaism movement originated at this site in 1824. The congregation of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim--meaning Holy Congregation House of God--was established in colonial Charleston in 1749, and is now the nation’s fourth oldest Jewish community. The building reflects the history of Jewish worship in Charleston, as well as the high degree of religious tolerance within the Carolina colony. This synagogue was built in 1840, on the site of the congregation’s first synagogue destroyed in the Charleston fire of 1838. The building is an excellent example of the Greek Revival style, as its form, portico and rich ornamentation are adapted from classic Greek temples. Designed by New York architect Cyrus L. Warner, the temple was built by congregation member, David Lopez.

St. Mary’s Church
89 Hassell Street

The congregation of St. Mary’s was the first Roman Catholic Church in the Carolinas and Georgia. A sufficient number of Catholic immigrants had arrived in Charleston by the late 18th century, that Reverend Ryan, an Irish priest, was sent to the city in 1788. The Hasell Street site was purchased for the church by trustees one year later, and the congregation has worshiped here ever since. The congregation first worshiped in a dilapidated Methodist meeting house that was at the site. In 1801 the congregation constructed their own brick church. The Charleston fire of 1838 that burned much of the surrounding Ansonborough neighborhood also destroyed most of the Catholic church. The present building was completed in 1839 in the Classical Revival style. 


Hyman’s Seafood
215 Meeting Street

Wolf Maier Karesh started Southern Wholesale in this location in 1890. This became one of our first distributors of Union & Hanes underwear in the Southeast. Karesh’s son-in-law, Herman Hyman, took over the business in 1924, changing the name to Hyman’s Wholesale Company. The floors are heart pine and the bricks are Old English, with the original Oyster mortar. The wrought iron stair case was built in Kenton, Ohio in 1887 and shipped to Charleston upon construction of this building. Twice the facade has been saved from fire, in 1910 and in 1979. 

Charleston Center
200-235 Meeting Street

This row of commercial buildings date from circa 1840 to 1915, and many have cast iron storefronts. When they were rehabilitated in1986, the buildings retained the original facades.