Highlights of Charleston South Carolina Walking Tour
This walking tour includes over a dozen historic buildings and landmarks and even includes a few museums along the way.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or “Mother Emanuel,” is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the south. Founded in 1818, it was investigated for involvement in the Vesey slave revolt and burned. The church was rebuilt and worship continued until 1834, when all-black churches were outlawed. Worship still continued underground, until it was reorganized in 1865, and took the name Emanuel, which in Hebrew means “God with us.” A two-story wooden church was built at the current site in 1872, was damaged in the Charleston Earthquake of 1886. The present day structure was built in 1891.
In the middle of Marion Square in Charleston, South Carolina stands the statue of John Caldwell Calhoun (1782-1850), the 7th Vice President of the United States. The statue was originally built by African American builders and commissioned by the Ladies Calhoun Monument Association in 1858. The statue stands over 115-feet tall and the statue was cemented so well it took hours to take down. Because of Calhoun’s connection to slavery and the plantations, people like the Black Lives Matter movement found his statue towering over everyone to be offensive. The statue was taken because after George Floyd’s death a string of events occurred which included a mass need to have anything offensive taken down for good. After a seventeen-day plea from Black Lives Matter protestors with the local government, the statue was taken down. From the perspective of someone from the 21st century it looks horrible what John Calhoun did, but one must understand that they have to develop the perspective of someone at the time in order to provide judgement. As bad as it sounds, slavery was a normal occurrence in that time so while his fight for the plantation system looks awful now, that was the state of the country in those years.
Originally called the Gloria, when the theater opened in 1927 with more than 2,000 seats, it was the largest of its kind in the United States. Movie theaters in the 1920s and 1930s were referred to as "picture palaces" because of the incredible size and seating capacity of the spaces. The Gloria served as both a movie house and a theater space, hosting vaudeville acts that traveled the country. Many theaters like the Gloria were built with marble hallways, eccentric chandeliers, and offered many on-site conveniences. The theater is famous for hosting January 29, 1940, Charleston premiere of "Gone With The Wind," with Charlestonian cast member Alicia Rhett attending the screening. The Gloria theater operated continuously from 1927 until 1975 when it closed.
On April 1, 1960, a group of 24 Burke High School students staged a sit-in at the S.H. Kress & Co. lunch counter. It was the first event of its kind in Charleston and was the catalyst that spurred the local African American community into action. The Kress Co. operated in the building until 1980 and it presently houses a Williams-Sonoma store and private offices. The Charleston Preservation Society unveiled a marker commemorating this historical event on April 4, 2013.
Founded in 1740, the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue is significant for its excellently preserved Greek Revival architecture and the fact that is where Reform Judaism first appeared in America. The building itself dates back to 1840 and is the second oldest synagogue building in use in the U.S. The sanctuary and on-site museum are open to the public for scheduled tours, which can be arranged through the synagogue office. The tour provides insight into the history of Charleston's Jewish population and the KKBE congregation. The museum houses artifacts specific to the synagogue, the Jewish population, and historical Jews of Charleston.
The City Market in Charleston, SC is still a vibrant hub of commerce today as it was in the past. Located between Meeting Street and Broad Street the current City Market stands in almost the exact same location as the original public market that was established in 1692. By 1739 the first official brick building of the market would be erected.
Founded in 1681, Circular Congregational Church is home to one of the oldest congregations in the the South. The building itself was erected in 1892 using bricks of the previous church that had been destroyed by fire in 1861. Despite its name, the church resembles a clover leaf attached to a rectangular structure (the earlier church was circular in shape). It is also an excellent example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, featuring a large central tower on the roof, arched windows, a rose window, an octagonal tower housing a winding staircase, and decorative brickwork. Behind the church is what is believed to be the oldest cemetery in the city. Also on the church grounds is the historic Lance Hall, which was designated a National Historic Landmark for its outstanding Greek Revival architecture and association with its architect, Robert Mills, who designed the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. The congregation is progressive and inclusive.
The Powder Magazine is a military based museum housed in the oldest public building in South Carolina. Originally designed to hold the gunpowder which fueled the cannons protecting 1700’s era Charleston, this important piece of South Carolina history has been preserved to nearly its original condition. Since the early 1900’s it has served as a museum, showcasing important military and wartime artifacts and exhibits from throughout South Carolina. Today the building is just as significant as the content it contains. A revolutionary development for its era, the building was purposefully designed to explode up through the roof, instead of out through the walls.
This chuch stands right in the middle of historic Charleston, SC. It is steeped in rich colonial history as well as beautiful architectural history. It is home to the oldest church congregation in the South. It is also Narional Historic Landmark as of 1973.
The Pirate House is a private residence within the French Quarter of downtown Charleston. Built in the 1700’s, this house is the source of a legendary history. Thought to be a building that once housed Pirate traders, the only existing documentation is large anchor that hangs outside, and now closed off passageways in the home’s basement. The home is celebrated as a tangible piece of Charleston's eclectic history. The home exterior, courtyard, and neighboring cemetery can be viewed from the street.
The Dock Street Theatre is located in the French Quarter of Charleston. The theatre opened on February 12, 1736 and was the first building in America to be erected for the sole purpose of being a theatre. The original Dock Street Theatre was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1740, and was then rebuilt in 1809 as the Planters Hotel, then rebuilt again in 2010 as the Dock Street Theater. Currently, the Dock Street Theatre is home to cultural and theatrical performances.
Established in 1855, the South Carolina Historical Society museum and archives houses the largest collection of private historical documents in the state. Additionally, the collection and administration is housed in the historic Robert Mills Fireproof Building. Built in 1872, the building itself is historically significant. At the time of its completion, the Fireproof Building was the only one of it's kind in the entire country.
The Pink House Gallery is one of the oldest buildings remaining in South Carolina, being built in 1690's. The gallery itself closed in 2013, thus it is currently closed to the public. However, the exterior is still accessible via the street, and the courtyard may be accessible at certain times for a fee by the new owner. The Pink House Gallery is a unique piece of historical architecture. With a sultry and diverse past, the building stands as one of the few remaining structures of its kind. With a unique history ranging from brothel housing to art gallery, the Pink House Gallery is a significant Charleston artifact.
The Old Slave Mart Museum is housed in what was once the Old Slave Mart. Between the years of 1856 and 1863, slaves were held and sold in this building. It is the last standing slave market in South Carolina. The building is now home to the Old Slave Mart Museum, which preserves the building, tells the story of the individuals who suffered within its walls, and displays relevant artifacts and exhibits on South Carolina’s history of slavery.
The Old Exchange Building and Provost located at East Bay and Broad Streets was built originally as the Royal Exchange in 1771. The building completed in 1771, the Exchange and Custom House was the social, cultural center, and economic center of the colony. It is said to be the last public building commissioned by the British in the colonies. The building was made a National Historical Landmark in 1973.
The most nostalgic view in Charleston, South Carolina comes from the historic Rainbow Row. The thirteen 6th century brightly hued homes are located between 79 and 101 East Bay Street. Rainbow Road is recognized as one of the most well-photographed areas in Charleston. The name Rainbow Row was coined after the pastel colors they were painted as they were restored in the 1930s and 1940s. Valued at millions of dollars each, and prized by the city's historical counsel, these homes are treasures to Charleston locals and draw admirers worldwide.
This Georgian-style home, built in 1772, was the town home of Thomas Heyward, Revolutionary war leader and signer of the Declaration of Independence. The home was rented for President George Washington’s weeklong visit to Charleston in 1791. Today, visitors are able to tour the home and view the historic Charleston-made furniture original to the property, an 18th-century well, a 1740s kitchen building, and a carriage house. Original features viewable in the home include the Holmes Bookcase, considered the finest example of furniture made in the U.S.
Branford-Horry House, in Charleston, South Carolina, is widely held to be one of the grandest historic homes in one of the nation's oldest cities. Built for a wealth Charleston planter and later sold to the namesake of one of the state's largest counties, it has withstood nearly 250 years and a high speed car crash.