Tour One I. Welcome and Introduction
Welcome to the Old Charleston Jail. My name is Tim and I'll be showing you around today. We will begin our tour on the outside of the building; we're going to talk about the construction of the building and what you would have seen in this neighborhood throughout the years. Then we'll go inside and look at the cells and work spaces and we'll talk about some of the historic preservation work that has been done here over the last twenty years or so. Today this building is the campus for the American College of the Building Arts; that’s who I work for. We use it for our offices and our classrooms and workshops during the week, so we'll also talk a little about the college as we go along. The one thing we will not be talking about is ghosts. If you want ghosts, you have to come back at 7:00. II. Before 1802 - Courtyard outside of main side door
Let's start with the neighborhood. If you had visited Charleston in 1680 when the city was being planned, this area would have been almost entirely marsh. At high tide, much of it would have been underwater. For that reason there were no settlements here and our block would have been outside of the city walls.
That doesn't mean that this land was unused. For at least a little while at the end of the 17th and at the beginning 18th century, this was a burial ground. Notice I didn't say cemetery. This was not part of a church yard and those who could arrange it would have been buried next to one of the two churches between Church Street and Meeting Street. But if you were an Indian or a new immigrant that no one knew or a slave then you might be buried out here. The area outside the city walls was also used to dump trash.
Over the years, partly due to lots of trash and partly due to public works projects, a lot of the marsh was drained and several of the small creeks on the peninsula were filled in. We know that by the 1730s there were buildings on this spot. Those buildings would have included a work house or poor house, a powder magazine (hence Magazine Street) and eventually army barracks.
During the revolution this area was fortified and as many as five hundred soldiers were stationed here to prevent an assault on Charleston through the marshes. When the city surrendered to the British in 1780, the British Regulars stacked captured weapons in the powder magazine on this site. Unfortunately some of those weapons were still loaded and the result was a devastating explosion that destroyed most buildings for two blocks and resulted in an estimated two hundred deaths.
After the Revolution, it took about ten years for the economy to recover to the point where the city and the state could start rebuilding, but by 1802 they had found the money to begin constructing a new jail and it’s that 1802 building that forms the core of the site today.
That original building would have been a much simpler brick box measuring 50’ X 100’. The bricks were arranged in a Georgian pattern called English Bond and you can see some of that brickwork here. It's doubtful that the building would have been stuccoed at that time as exposed brick was considered attractive. It might have been whitewashed later.
We’ll talk more about that 1802 jail on the inside. For now let's walk out to the street to see what Charlestonians that was attractive fifty years later. III. 1858 Jailer's Quarters –
This is the façade that everyone thinks of when they talk about the jail and this is the part people photograph. The castle-like appearance of the building dates from the third expansion of the building and dates from 1856. The work was probably completed in 1858 or 59. Technically, today, we would use the term Romanesque Revival to describe the building, but the people at the time would have said Gothic or more likely Castle or Castellated. It’s clear they were thinking of castles, which is…