Charleston Lost….and Found

Posted By Bill Payer on Nov 15, 2023 | 0 comments

Charleston is full of history….it’s part of the city’s charm and allure. But there’s plenty of the Holy City’s history that has been lost.

Leigh Jones Handal, our speaker at our November 14 program, is one of the people who have found ‘lost’ Charleston history and works to share it with current and future residents.

Handal says change….and accompanying loss….is inevitable. One example she gave was the growing prevalence of steam powered ocean vessels in the 1820s. That made ports further North on the continent more accessible for ships that had been sailing to Charleston. That started a downward economic trend. Soon, Charleston was no longer the ultra prosperous city it had been.

Other factors? The havoc and destruction of the Civil War included more than 500 days of bombardment. And then there was fire! In 1861 the largest fire in Charleston’s history took out a third of the peninsula. Earthquakes played a role in lost history. The 1886 quake wiped out much of the rebuilding that had started with the end of Reconstruction.

And let’s not forget hurricanes! 13 major storms between 1893 and 1911.

When Handal set out to write her book, Lost Charleston, she reached out to the Facebook group Charleston History Before 1945 and asked members what they thought had been some of the biggest losses.

She filled us in on the Charleston elegant edifice on on Meeting street. It was nationally renowned with a lengthy list of amenities. It wasn’t war, fire, hurricanes or earthquakes that took it down. It was lack of onsite parking. By 1950 that was enough to take it down. Ironically, some of the brick from the hotel were used in it’s replacement, the Heart of Charleston Motor Court….also gone from the downtown scene. But not before a girl named Leigh Jones visited with her Brownie troop, stayed there, and fell in love with Charleston and its history.

Another ‘disappearance’ was the Charleston Orphan House. Far from some hovel out of Dickens, it was a magnificent facility. Prior to the American Revolution, orphans in Charleston were wards of the Anglican Church (Church of England.) With Independence there was no state church and care of orphans became a role of the government.

Wealthy Charleston (those pesky steam powered ships hadn’t appeared yet) built a magnificent facility as the first orphanage in the new United States. George Washington laid the cornerstone in 1791.

The Orphan House lasted until 1951 until it was replaced by….you can’t make this up….a Sears, Roebuck department store. Sears didn’t last nearly as long as the Orphan House. The College of Charleston opened the Berry Residence Hall on the site in 1991. Legend has it the site is haunted.

To review the slides Handal used in her presentation CLICK HERE.

We will provide a YouTube link to the video of Handal’s entire November 14 presentation as soon as it’s available.

More pics of this program…….

For Charleston Magazine’s review of Handal’s book, “Lost Charleston”


To visit Handal’s website CLICK HERE

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