Modern visitors to Charleston might flock to Church Street for its great hotels and restaurants and its picturesque traditional gas lanterns, but the history of the street is too significant to miss. One of the city’s oldest streets, Church Street was named for the churches located there.
Located on the east side of the city near the Cooper River, Church Street runs from Pinckney Street to White Point Garden where the street ends where the Cooper comes together with the Ashley River. Established in 1672, it was laid out in Grand Modell, the first plan made for city development. The street lies within the French Quarter
After a devastating citywide fire in 1740, followed by a hurricane in 1752, the street was forever changed by three developments.
The Church For Which The Street Is Named
First, the street became the home of the St. Phillips, the oldest European-American religious congregation in South Carolina, which sustained damage to their building at the corner of Broad and Meeting due to the hurricane., They began building a new church in 1710 at 142 Church Street, but due to delays, the edifice was not completed until 1723. This building burned down in 1835 and was immediately rebuilt between 1836-1837, with a new steeple added between 1848-1850.
The church tower served the additional purpose as a “range lighthouse,” or beacon that guided mariners into Charleston harbor. This light, part of a group of towers that started in Fort Sumter, was in used from 1893-1915 and again in 1921 when the regular lights were being repaired.
Over the years, famous congregants included Charles Pinkney, writer and signer of the constitution, founding father Christopher Gadsden, and Vice President John C. Calhoun. Many well-known historical figures are buried in the adjoining graveyard. During the Civil War, Calhoun, a states’ rights advocate, was moved to the part of the cemetery across from the church to prevent its shelling by the Union Army. In 1889, the state of South Carolina erected a monument in his honor,
Over the years, the church has been burned and battered by fires, earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes, but it today remains an active Anglican congregation with 2,400 parishioners. It is well known for its acoustics, which makes it the ideal performing venue for concerts.
In addition to St. Philips, Church Street is also home to the French Protestant (Huguenot) Church and the First Baptist Church. These houses of worship contributed to Charleston being called the “Holy City.” All major Christian denominations have a church in the city which welcome a Jewish synagogue in the 18th century. Visitors can even take a Heavenly Charleston tour to view the artistry and architecture of area churches.
Single And Double House Architecture Adds Romance To The Street
While the churches are noteworthy enough to make Church Street a key stop on city tours, the area also became famous for its architecture. After fire and flood, the area was rebuilt with homes for the wealthy with the Charleston single and double houses predominating until the early 20th century. To provide airflow in the humid climate of Charleston, the house was built long and narrow, with large windows to facilitate air flow and with piazzas on the west or south sides to block the afternoon sun. Additional rooms such as kitchens, laundries, guest houses, or servants’ quarters were located in outbuidings behind the home. the exterior of the home may have reflected Colonial, Federal, Victorian, or Greek Revival styling, while the interiors were sumptuous. The homes earned the street the title “most romantic street in America.”
By the late 18th century, Church Street was a major residential local for white and African American residents. The beautiful architecture remains, and today real estate values for homes along Church Street are often in the millions.
Church Street In The Charleston Renaissance
Besides being a fascinating mix of houses, gardens, churches, and shops, Church Street is center of local cultural. In 1736, the Dock Street Theatre was built on the corner of Church Street and Dock Street (now known as Queen Street) – the first building in America dedicated for theatrical performances, After a first performance of The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar, the theater hosted Flora, the first opera performed in America. The first building was destroyed by fire in 1740 and later became the site of the Planter’s Hotel built in 1809. This building was refurbished during the depression as the new Dock Street Theatre, as a Works Progress Administration project using local carpenters. Renovations as recent as 2010 have kept the Dock Street Theatre a modern facility that hosts Charleston Stage and the Spoleto Festival USA.
Church Street was the epicenter of the Charleston Renaissance of the 1920s, as artists, musicians, and writers flocked to alleys, rear buildings, and tenements in the city to spark a cultural revival. Notable residents who made Church Street home included DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, authors of Porgy, which was the basis for the opera Porgy and Bess, and Samuel Smalls, inspiration for the character of Porgy.
Traditional Gas Lanterns From Lantern & Scroll
Picturesque Church Street was lit with the type of lanterns that comprise the Church Street Collection from Lantern & Scroll. Featuring downward slanted side panels and a heavy top with a decorative finial, the collection includes post column and wall mount styles available as electric or traditional gas lanterns or as an electric hanging model. With finishes of solid coper, aged bronze, or black, the fixture will bring a touch of historical charm to the interior or exterior of your home.
Not sure which fixture is best for your space? Lantern & Scroll, who make solid copper reproductions of fixtures from past eras, want to talk to you. Whether you visit us in our showroom in Charlotte or initiate a conversation by phone or email, we can help you bring just the right lighting vibe into your space to help you create family history of your own.