Historic Sites

Charleston, SC

Charleston, South Carolina, one of the nation's oldest established cities, wears her proud history like a handmade gown of finest Sea Island cotton! The entire area is rich with sites dating from the earliest settlements. Subsequent generations also left indelible marks in this remarkable peninsula, where the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers converge to form the Atlantic Ocean.

Charles Towne Landing, off Old Towne Road, is where 148 English settlers and their livestock put ashore in April of 1670 after a treacherous Atlantic crossing in their tiny 73 ft. wooden sailing ship, the Adventure. Immigrants from the Caribbean island colony of Barbados would join the first group as the settlement grew and prospered. The site is now preserved as a state park, with living history staff members on duty who demonstrate how early Charles Towne was fortified against incursions by hostile indigenous tribes and Spanish marauders. The park area includes a natural habitat zoo, with many animals like those the settlers encountered, as well as a full-scale reproduction of the Adventure.

The party was challenged to develop an experimental crop garden by the Lords Proprietors who financed the expedition. They expected the colonists to create a profitable venture in the new world, and the earliest Charlestonians and their successors have certainly accomplished that goal!

Charleston-area Plantations Middleton Place Museum and Drayton Hall are two magnificent pre-Revolutionary working plantations, preserved and presented for public viewing. These National Historic Landmarks are located well beyond the original boundaries of Charleston, but they are certainly worth a trip away from the sights and sounds of downtown. The original owners of these homes were instrumental in the founding of our republic, and it is fascinating to see how they and their families lived. Explore the grounds and the homes as if you belong and on the way back to town in your car, try to imagine the commute as a long bumpy carriage ride on an unpaved path!

The Holy City is a term for Charleston that is used with the utmost seriousness by its residents. The town has countless historic houses of worship, where many different faiths are practiced and where religious freedom has been respected from the community's earliest days. Even now, the spires of the city's churches are the tallest buildings to be seen, and the quiet of the evening is serenaded by the pealing of church bells. Old churchyard cemeteries are the final resting places of many of South Carolina's most prominent citizens.

The Four Corners of Law are located at the intersection of Meeting and Broad Streets. On each of the corners is a grand monument to a code of legal standards. St. Michael's Episcopal Church on the southeast corner represents the law of God; the U.S. Federal Court building (also housing the main branch of the Postal Service) lies on the southwest. The Charleston City Hall casts an imposing shadow from the northeast, and the Charleston County Courthouse complex occupies the northwest side of the intersection.

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon at the East Bay Street end of Broad Street was built in 1771 as a British Customs House. It later served as a jail for captured American Patriots during the Revolution. It is considered to be one of the three most historically-significant buildings in colonial America.

South of Broad The magnificent homes that line the streets of Charleston's lower peninsula are among the most famously photographed residences in America. Among these are the Edmondston-Alston House, the Aiken-Rhett House and the Heyward-Washington House. Planters and seafaring merchants became wealthy far beyond the imagination of their time, and among the moss-draped live oaks they built elegant mansions that reflected their financial and social status.

Many of these have been conserved due to the efforts of the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Preservation Society of Charleston; they bear bronze medallions on their walls denoting Carolopolis Award status. The Historic Charleston Foundation sponsors a Spring Tour of many of these homes every year, when guests are able to catch a glimpse of Charleston's place in American history.

Fort Moultrie, actually located on Sullivan's Island at the edge of Charleston Harbor, was a colonial-era fortification constructed from palmetto logs and sand in 1776. Its garrison of South Carolina patriots was charged with protecting the city from British naval forces at the outset of the American Revolution. For four years the fort's defenders were successful, but it fell in 1780 and was occupied by the Crown until the war ended and the British withdrew in 1782. Within a decade, the fort was essentially abandoned in disrepair. It was rebuilt in 1798, and destroyed by a hurricane in 1804. A third fortification, this time built of brick, rose on the site in 1809.

Fort Moultrie is notable for the tomb of Seminole warrior chief Osceola, who was captured in Florida during the Indian Wars of the 1830s, when American forces tried to relocate indigenous peoples from the southeast to Oklahoma. Osceola was imprisoned at Fort Moultrie, but he was treated with respect by the Americans, housed in the officers' quarters and allowed free run of the fort, where he entertained Charleston's social elite. His death in January 1838 was reported in newspapers around the world. He was entombed on the grounds with full military honors by his captors.

This fortress stood through the beginning of the Civil War, but was pounded into rubble by rifled cannons developed during the conflict. Fort Moultrie was rebuilt again and remained in service as an active U.S. military coastal defense post through World War II. The site is now maintained by the U.S. National Park Service, and is the only unit in the parks system where the entire 171-year timeline of American seacoast defense can be seen, from 1776 to 1947.

Fort Sumter, a fabled city landmark, occupies a small man-made island at the harbor's mouth. Its construction was begun in 1829 as a coastal fortification to protect the South's most important seaport following the War of 1812, and it wasn't quite completed in early 1861, when it became the tripwire for an American tragedy. This new Union fort was the target of the first shells of the Civil War, lobbed from Confederate mortars defending White Point at the tip of the Charleston peninsula.

When the Union forces lowered the flag and surrendered on April 14, 1861, the fort was taken and held by the desperately determined Confederacy for four years. The masonry fortress had been continually besieged by Federal forces and when it was abandoned to them, it was nearly reduced to ruins, buttressed by sandy earthworks and palmetto logs. Four years to the day after the U.S. flag was taken down at Sumter, it was raised again in triumph. That same night, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

In the aftermath of the war, rebuilding efforts were sporadic and poorly funded. The site lay in ruins between 1876 and 1898, when the U.S. Government began a determined program to shore up the country's coastal defenses against a massive naval buildup by the world's major powers. The fort was rendered obsolete by changes in modern warfare, decommissioned in 1947, and deeded to the National Park service in 1948. The Park Service oversaw the excavation and restoration of Fort Sumter and it opened as a national park in time for the Centennial of the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1961.

The College of Charleston is the first municipal college in America, founded in 1770. Randolph Hall, the centerpiece of this beautiful downtown campus, was built in 1828 and paid for by the citizens of the city. It is still in use today as the college's administrative headquarters, and its shaded grounds with brick walkways serve as the stage for the school's commencement exercises each spring.

Among the distinguished founders of the College of Charleston were three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and three framers of the U.S. Constitution. They set a benchmark for high standards that are still in place today. While it began as a city college with a local enrollment, it became a private college between 1950 and 1970, when the College of Charleston was incorporated into the state system. It is now a public liberal arts and sciences college that attracts students from all around the world with cutting edge academic programs, especially in marine sciences and fine arts. A graduate program was added in 1992, which presently offers seventeen degree and six certificate programs.

The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, is renowned for turning out generations of disciplined graduates who have distinguished themselves in America's armed forces. Founded in 1842, the Citadel Academy and its parade grounds were located on Marion Square in the center of the city at Calhoun and King Streets. The young Corps of Cadets was pressed into the service of Confederate South Carolina during the Civil War, even as the school continued to hold classes between martial encounters. Together with students from the Arsenal Academy in Columbia, the young men formed a Battalion of State Cadets that engaged in actual armed combat against Union forces and helped to train civilian recruits to the cause.

The Citadel ceased operations as a military academy when Charleston was occupied by Federal forces in February 1865. The campus was confiscated and occupied as a garrison by Federal troops until 1879, but the property was reclaimed and opened for classes again in 1882. The "academy" designation was dropped in 1910 when the school was granted the authority to confer the Bachelor of Science degree on its graduates. The school outgrew its downtown campus and in 1918 the city offered the state a large tract on the Ashley River at Hampton Park. The cornerstone for the present campus was laid in 1920.

The institution acquired some notoriety in the 1970s and '80s when graduate Pat Conroy published several novels about privileged young men at military colleges. The portraits were not always flattering, and Mr. Conroy's alma mater was presumed by many to be the model for the fictitious schools his characters attended. Social unrest accompanied the admission of the first black cadets, and The Citadel endured even more upheaval when the first women joined the ranks, but it is no longer uncommon to see diversity in the faces of the ramrod-straight uniformed cadets who stroll the streets of Charleston today.

Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum on Charleston Harbor in Mt. Pleasant is a floating monument to the ships, planes and the personnel who have manned them since World War II. The centerpiece of this museum is the decommissioned aircraft carrier the USS Yorktown. This ship served her country with distinction in the Pacific Theater during WWII and during the Vietnam Conflict.

The USS Laffey, a destroyer commissioned in 1944, and the USS Clamagore, a diesel-powered submarine that was launched just after WWII, are also berthed at Patriots Point. Like the Yorktown, these ships were decommissioned after naval service and they are all designated as National Historic Landmarks. The ships are open for museum tours, along with a land-based replica of a Vietnam Support Base and the Cold War Submarine Memorial.

Patriots Point also hosts the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum, housed below the flight deck on the Yorktown. The first Congressional Medal of Honor was issued in May, 1863, and visitors can experience the timeline of American courage and selflessness in conflict through the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Interactive displays exhibit some of the conditions under which these highest Awards for valor above and beyond the call of duty in action were earned, as well as the stories of honor and sacrifice of the 3,445 men and one woman who are in this heroic company.

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