Charleston, South Carolina

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Charleston, South Carolina
City of Charleston
St. Michael's on Broad Street
St. Michael's on Broad Street
Flag of Charleston, South Carolina
Official seal of Charleston, South Carolina
Nickname(s): "The Holy City", "Chucktown"
Motto: Aedes mores juraque curat (Latin: "She guards her buildings, customs, and laws")
Charleston, South Carolina is located in South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Location in South Carolina
Coordinates: 32°47′00″N 79°56′00″W / 32.78333°N 79.93333°W / 32.78333; -79.93333Coordinates: 32°47′00″N 79°56′00″W / 32.78333°N 79.93333°W / 32.78333; -79.93333
Country United States of America
State South Carolina
Historic colonyColony of South Carolina
 • MayorJoseph Riley, Jr. (D)
 • City330.2 km2 (127.5 sq mi)
 • Land282.3 km2 (109.0 sq mi)
 • Water47.9 km2 (18.5 sq mi)
Elevation4 m (20 ft)
Population (2013)[1]
 • City127,999 (US: 205th)
 • Rank2nd (SC)
 • Density444.9/km2 (1,152/sq mi)
 • Urban548,404 (US: 76th)
 • MSA712,220 (US: 76th)
Time zoneEST (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST)EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code(s)29401, 29403, 29405, 29407, 29409, 29412, 29414, 29424, 29425, 29455, 29492
Area code843
FIPS code45-13330
GNIS feature ID1221516
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Not to be confused with Charleston, West Virginia.
Charleston, South Carolina
City of Charleston
St. Michael's on Broad Street
St. Michael's on Broad Street
Flag of Charleston, South Carolina
Official seal of Charleston, South Carolina
Nickname(s): "The Holy City", "Chucktown"
Motto: Aedes mores juraque curat (Latin: "She guards her buildings, customs, and laws")
Charleston, South Carolina is located in South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Location in South Carolina
Coordinates: 32°47′00″N 79°56′00″W / 32.78333°N 79.93333°W / 32.78333; -79.93333Coordinates: 32°47′00″N 79°56′00″W / 32.78333°N 79.93333°W / 32.78333; -79.93333
Country United States of America
State South Carolina
Historic colonyColony of South Carolina
 • MayorJoseph Riley, Jr. (D)
 • City330.2 km2 (127.5 sq mi)
 • Land282.3 km2 (109.0 sq mi)
 • Water47.9 km2 (18.5 sq mi)
Elevation4 m (20 ft)
Population (2013)[1]
 • City127,999 (US: 205th)
 • Rank2nd (SC)
 • Density444.9/km2 (1,152/sq mi)
 • Urban548,404 (US: 76th)
 • MSA712,220 (US: 76th)
Time zoneEST (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST)EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code(s)29401, 29403, 29405, 29407, 29409, 29412, 29414, 29424, 29425, 29455, 29492
Area code843
FIPS code45-13330
GNIS feature ID1221516
The downtown Charleston waterfront on The Battery
Charleston has scores of historic buildings and homes downtown
Residential gardens such as this one at the Calhoun Mansion abound in Charleston.
Waterfront Park overlooks Charleston Harbor and offers views of Fort Sumter and the Ravenel Bridge.

Charleston is the oldest and second-largest city in the southeastern State of South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County,[2] and the principal city in the Charleston–North Charleston–Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area.[3] The city lies just south of the geographical midpoint of South Carolina's coastline and is located on Charleston Harbor, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, or, as is locally expressed, "where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean".

Founded in 1670 as Charles Towne in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston adopted its present name in 1783. It moved to its present location on Oyster Point in 1680 from a location on the west bank of the Ashley River known as Albemarle Point. By 1690, Charles Towne was the fifth largest city in North America,[4] and it remained among the ten largest cities in the United States through the 1840 census.[5] With a 2010 census population of 120,083 [6] (and a 2013 estimate of 127,999), current trends put Charleston as the fastest-growing municipality in South Carolina. The Charleston Metropolitan area, comprising Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties, population was counted by the 2013 estimate at 712,220 – the third largest in the state – and the 76th-largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States.

Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, and mannerly people, Charleston has received a large number of accolades, including "America's Most Friendly [City]" by Travel + Leisure in 2011 and in 2013 and 2014 by Condé Nast Traveler,[7][8] and also "the most polite and hospitable city in America" by Southern Living magazine.


Colonial era (1670–1786)[edit]

After Charles II of England (1630–1685) was restored to the English throne in 1660 following Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate, he granted the chartered Province of Carolina to eight of his loyal friends, known as the Lords Proprietors, on March 24, 1663. It took seven years before the group arranged for settlement expeditions. The first of these founded Charles Towne, in 1670. The community was established by several shiploads of settlers from Bermuda (which lies due East of South Carolina, although at 1,030 kilometres (640 mi) it is closest to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina), under the leadership of governor William Sayle, on the west bank of the Ashley River, a few miles northwest of the present day city center. It was soon predicted by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, one of the Lords Proprietors, to become a "great port towne," a destiny the city quickly fulfilled. In 1680 the settlement was moved east of the Ashley River to the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers. Not only was this location more defensible, but it offered access to a fine natural harbor. As the capital of the Carolina colony, Charles Towne was a center for inland expansion, but remained the southernmost point of English settlement on the American mainland until the Georgia colony was established in 1732.

A 1733 map of Charles Towne, published by Herman Moll, shows the city's defensive walls.

The early settlement was often subject to attack from sea and land, including periodic assaults from Spain and France (both of whom contested England's claims to the region), and pirates. These were combined with raids by Native Americans, who violently resisted further expansion of the settlement. The heart of the city was fortified according to a 1704 plan by Governor Johnson. Except those fronting Cooper River, the walls were largely removed during the 1720s.

The Pink House, the oldest stone building in Charleston, was built of Bermudian limestone at 17 Chalmers Street, at some time between 1694 and 1712.

The first settlers primarily came from England, its Caribbean colony of Barbados, and its Atlantic colony of Bermuda. Among these were free people of color, established in the West Indies where color lines were looser in the early colonial years.[9] Charles Towne was attracted a mixture of ethnic and religious groups. French, Scottish, Irish, and Germans migrated to the developing seacoast town, representing numerous Protestant denominations. Because of the battles between English royalty and the Roman Catholic Church, practicing Catholics could not settle in South Carolina until after the American Revolution. However, Jews were allowed, and Sephardic Jews migrated to the city in such numbers that by the beginning of the 19th century, the city was home to the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in North America—a status it would hold until about 1830.[10] Africans were brought to Charles Towne on the Middle Passage, first as servants, then as slaves, especially Wolof, Yoruba, Fulani, Igbo, Malinke, and other peoples of the Windward Coast.[11] The port of Charles Towne was the main dropping-off point for Africans captured and transported to the American English colonies for sale as slaves.

By the mid-18th century Charles Towne had become a bustling trade center, the hub of the Atlantic trade for the southern colonies. Charles Towne was also the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. By 1770, it was the fourth-largest port in the colonies, after Boston, New York, and Philadelphia; with a population of 11,000—slightly more than half of them slaves.

Rainbow Row's 13 houses along East Bay Street were—from the Colonial period until the early 20th century—a commercial center of the town.

Charles Towne was a hub of the deerskin trade, which was the basis of Charles Towne's early economy. Trade alliances with the Cherokee and Creek nations insured a steady supply of deer hides. Between 1699 and 1715, an average of 54,000 deer skins were exported annually to Europe through Charles Towne. Between 1739 and 1761, the height of the deerskin trade era, an estimated 500,000 to 1,250,000 deer were slaughtered. During the same period, Charles Towne records show an export of 5,239,350 pounds of deer skins. Deer skins were used in the production of men's fashionable and practical buckskin pantaloons, gloves, and book bindings.

Colonial Lowcountry landowners experimented with cash crops ranging from tea to silk. African slaves brought knowledge of rice cultivation, which plantation owners made into a successful business by 1700.[12] With the help of African slaves from the Caribbean, Eliza Lucas, daughter of plantation owner George Lucas, learned how to raise and use indigo in the Lowcountry in 1747. Supported with subsidies from Britain, indigo was a leading export by 1750.[13] Those and naval stores were exported in an extremely profitable shipping industry.

As Charles Towne grew, so did the community's cultural and social opportunities, especially for the elite merchants and planters. The first theater building in America was built in 1736 on the site of today's Dock Street Theatre. Benevolent societies were formed by different ethnic groups, from French Huguenots to free people of color to Germans to Jews. The Charles Towne Library Society was established in 1748 by well-born young men who wanted to share the financial cost to keep up with the scientific and philosophical issues of the day. This group also helped establish the College of Charles Towne in 1770, the oldest college in South Carolina and, until its transition to state ownership in 1970, the oldest municipally supported college in the United States.

American Revolution (1776–1783)[edit]

As the relationship between the colonists and Britain deteriorated, Charles Towne became a focal point in the ensuing American Revolution. It was twice the target of British attacks. At every stage the British strategy assumed the existence of a large base of Loyalist supporters who would rally to the king's forces given some military support.[14]

In late March 1776, South Carolina President and Commander in Chief, John Rutledge, learned that a large British naval force was moving toward Charles Town. To defend the city, he ordered the construction of Fort Sullivan (now Ft. Moultrie), on Sullivan's Island overlooking the main shipping channel into Charleston Harrbor. He placed Col. William Moultrie in charge of the construction and subsequently made him the fort's commanding officer.

On June 28, 1776 General Sir Henry Clinton along with 2,000 men and a naval squadron tried to seize Charles Towne, hoping for a simultaneous Loyalist uprising in South Carolina. When the fleet fired cannonballs, they failed to penetrate Fort Sullivan's unfinished, yet thick, palmetto log walls. Additionally, no local Loyalists attacked the town from behind, as the British had hoped. Col. Moultries' men were able to return fire and inflicted heavy damage on several of the British ships. The British were forced to withdraw their forces, and the fort was renamed Fort Moultrie in honor of its commander.

This battle kept Charles Towne safe from conquest for four years, and therefore was perceived as so symbolic of the revolution that it spawned a number of key icons of South Carolina and the revolution:

Clinton returned in 1780 with 14,000 soldiers. American General Benjamin Lincoln was trapped and surrendered his entire 5,400-man force after a long fight, and the Siege of Charles Towne was the greatest American defeat of the war. Several Americans who escaped the carnage joined up with other militias, including those of Francis Marion, the 'Swampfox', and Andrew Pickens. The British retained control of the city until December 1782. After the British left, the city's name was officially changed to Charleston in 1783.[15]

When the city was freed from the British, General Nathanael Greene presented its leaders with the Moultrie Flag, describing it as the first "American" flag flown in the South.

Antebellum era (1785–1861)[edit]

Former German Fire Co. Engine House & Old Slave Mart Museum, 8 & 6 Chalmers St. resp.

Although the city lost the status of state capital to Columbia, Charleston became even more prosperous in the plantation-dominated economy of the post-Revolutionary years. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 revolutionized the production of this crop, and it quickly became South Carolina's major export commodity. Cotton plantations relied heavily on slave labor, and slaves were also the primary labor force within the city, working as domestics, artisans, market workers and laborers. By 1820 Charleston's population had grown to 23,000, with a black majority. When a massive slave revolt planned by Denmark Vesey, a free black, erupted in 1822, hysteria ensued amidst white Charlestonians and Carolinians who feared that the violent retribution of slaves against whites during the Haitian Revolution might be copied. Soon after, Vesey was hanged along with 34 other slaves. Later, the activities of free blacks and slaves were severely restricted.[16]

As Charleston's government, society, and industry grew, commercial institutions were established to support the community's aspirations. The Bank of South Carolina, the second oldest building in the nation to be constructed as a bank, was established in 1798. Branches of the First and Second Bank of the United States were also located in Charleston in 1800 and 1817.

In 1832 South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, a procedure in which a state could in effect repeal a Federal law, directed against the most recent tariff acts. Soon Federal soldiers were dispensed to Charleston's forts; and five United States Coast Guard Cutters were detached to Charleston Harbor "to take possession of any vessel arriving from a foreign port, and defend her against any attempt to dispossess the Customs Officers of her custody until all the requirements of law have been complied with." This federal action became known as the Charleston incident. The state's politicians worked on a compromise law in Washington, DC to gradually reduce the tariffs.[17]

By 1840, the Market Hall and Sheds, where fresh meat and produce were brought daily, became the commercial hub of the city. The slave trade also depended on the port of Charleston, where ships could be unloaded and the slaves sold at markets. Although the international African slave trade had ended in 1808, the domestic trade was booming. More than one million slaves were transported from the Upper South to the Deep South in the antebellum years as cotton was widely developed; many were shipped in the coastwise slave trade, stopping at ports such as Charleston. From 1830 to 1860, the population of slaves in the city had declined but the free black population continued to grow. By 1860 free people of color comprised 19% of the city's black population, a total of 3,237 persons. They formed a community that was larger than every town in the state other than Charleston and Columbia. Those with wealth and education were an elite.[9]

Civil War (1861–1865)[edit]

The ruins of Mills House and nearby buildings. A shell-damaged carriage and the remains of a brick chimney are in the foreground. (1865).
Cannon on display at The Battery in downtown Charleston
Daughters of the Confederacy monument (dedicated Oct. 1932) in the White Point Garden section of The Battery honors the soldiers of Fort Sumter.

On December 20, 1860, following the election of Abraham Lincoln, the South Carolina General Assembly voted to secede from the Union. On January 9, 1861, Citadel cadets opened fire on the Union ship Star of the West entering Charleston's harbor. On April 12, 1861, shore batteries under the command of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in the harbor. After a 34-hour bombardment, Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort, thus starting the war.

Union forces repeatedly bombarded the city, causing vast damage, and kept up a blockade that shut down most commercial traffic, although some blockade runners got through.[18] In a failed effort to break the blockade on February 17, 1864, an early submarine, the H.L. Hunley made a night attack on the USS Housatonic.[19]

In 1865, Union troops moved into the city and took control of many sites, including the United States Arsenal, which the Confederate Army had seized at the outbreak of the war. The War Department also confiscated the grounds and buildings of the Citadel Military Academy, and used them as a federal garrison for over seventeen years. The facilities were finally returned to the state and reopened as a military college in 1882 under the direction of Lawrence E. Marichak.

Postbellum era (1865–1945)[edit]

After the defeat of the Confederacy, Federal forces remained in Charleston during the city's reconstruction. The war had shattered the prosperity of the antebellum city. Freed slaves were faced with poverty and discrimination, but a large community of free people of color had been well-established in the city before the war and provided leaders in postwar movements. In Charleston, the African-American population increased rapidly as freedmen moved from rural areas to the major city: from 17,000 in 1860 to over 27,000 in 1880.[20] Eric Foner noted that blacks were glad to be relieved of the many regulations of slavery and to operate outside of white surveillance; they quickly left the Southern Baptist Church, setting up their own Baptist congregations or joining new AME and AME Zion churches. They "acquired dogs, guns, and liquor (all barred to them under slavery), and refused to yield the sidewalks to whites."[20]

Industries slowly brought the city and its inhabitants back to a renewed vitality and growth in population. As the city's commerce improved, Charlestonians also worked to restore their community institutions. In 1865 the Avery Normal Institute was established by the American Missionary Association as the first free secondary school for Charleston's African-American population. General William T. Sherman lent his support to the conversion of the United States Arsenal into the Porter Military Academy, an educational facility for former soldiers and boys left orphaned or destitute by the war. Porter Military Academy later joined with Gaud School and is now a prep school, Porter-Gaud School.

In 1875 blacks made up 57% of the city's population, and 73% of Charleston County. With leadership by leaders from the antebellum free black community, historian Melinda Meeks Hennessy described the community as "unique" in being able to defend themselves without provoking "massive white retaliation," as occurred in numerous other areas.[21] In the 1876 election cycle, two major riots between black Republicans and white Democrats occurred in the city, in September and the day after the election in November, as well as a violent incident in Cainhoy at an October joint discussion meeting.[21]

There were violent incidents throughout the Piedmont of the state as white insurgents struggled to maintain white supremacy in the face of social changes after the war and granting of citizenship to freedmen by federal constitutional amendments. After former Confederates were allowed to vote again, election campaigns from 1872 on were marked by violent intimidation of blacks and Republicans by white Democratic paramilitary groups, known as the Red Shirts. Violent incidents took place in Charleston on King Street in September 6 and in nearby Cainhoy on October 15, both in association with political meetings before the 1876 election. The Cainhoy incident was the only one statewide in which more whites were killed than blacks.[22] The Red Shirts were instrumental in suppressing the black Republican vote in 1876 and narrowly electing Wade Hampton as governor, and taking back control of the state legislature. Another riot occurred in Charleston the day after the election, when a prominent Republican leader was reported killed.[21]

On August 31, 1886, Charleston was nearly destroyed by an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale. It was felt as far away as Boston, Massachusetts to the north; Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the northwest; as far west as New Orleans, Louisiana; as far south as Cuba; and as far east as Bermuda. It damaged 2,000 buildings in Charleston and caused $6 million worth of damage ($133 million in 2006 US$), at a time when all the city's buildings were valued at approximately $24 million ($531 million in 2006 US$).

Investment in the city continued. The William Enston Home, a planned community for the city's aged and infirm, was built in 1889. An elaborate public building, the United States Post Office and Courthouse, was completed by the federal government in 1896 and signaled renewed life in the heart of the city.

Contemporary era (1944–present)[edit]

Charleston languished economically for several decades in the 20th century, though the large military presence in the region helped to shore up the city's economy. The Charleston Hospital Strike of 1969, in which workers protested discrimination and low wages, was one of the last major events of the civil rights movement; it brought Ralph Abernathy, Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young and other prominent figures to march with the local leader, Mary Moultrie. Its story is told in Tom Dent's book Southern Journey.

Joseph P. Riley, Jr. was elected mayor in the 1970s, and helped advance several cultural aspects of the city. Riley has been the major proponent of reviving Charleston's economic and cultural heritage. The last thirty years of the 20th century saw major new reinvestment in the city, with a number of municipal improvements and a commitment to historic preservation. These commitments were not slowed down by Hurricane Hugo and continue to this day. The eye of Hurricane Hugo came ashore at Charleston Harbor in 1989, and though the worst damage was in nearby McClellanville, three-quarters of the homes in Charleston's historic district sustained damage of varying degree. The hurricane caused over $2.8 billion in damage. The city was able to rebound fairly quickly after the hurricane and has grown in population, reaching an estimated 124,593 residents in 2009.[23]


Charleston is famous for its unique culture, which blends traditional Southern U.S., English, French, and West African elements. The downtown peninsula is well known for its art, music, local cuisine, and fashion. Spoleto Festival USA, held annually in late spring, has become one of the world's major performing arts festivals. It was founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who sought to establish a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (the Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy.

Charleston's oldest community theater group, the Footlight Players, has provided theatrical productions since 1931. A variety of performing arts venues includes the historic Dock Street Theatre. The annual Charleston Fashion Week held each Spring in Marion Square brings in designers, journalists, and clients from across the nation. Charleston is known for its local seafood, which plays a key role in the city's renowned cuisine, comprising staple dishes such as gumbo, she-crab soup, fried oysters, Lowcountry boil, deviled crab cakes, red rice, and shrimp and grits. The cuisine in Charleston differs greatly even from the rest of South Carolina, with British and French elements heavily prevalent.


The traditional accent of Charleston has long been noted in the South and elsewhere. It traditionally has ingliding or monophthongal long mid-vowels, raises ay and aw in certain environments, and is non-rhotic. Some attribute these unique features of Charleston's speech to its early settlement by French Huguenots and Sephardic Jews, both of whom played influential roles in Charleston's development and history. However, given Charleston's high concentration of African Americans who spoke the Gullah language, the speech patterns were probably more influenced by the creole dialect of the Gullah African-American community. Some also say the large influx of Barbados immigrants in Charleston's early history also plays a role in its unique dialect. Two important 19th-century works shed light on Charleston's early dialect: Charleston Provincialisms (1887) and The Huguenot Element in Charleston's Provincialisms, both by Sylvester Primer, who gave these as papers to the Modern Language Association. Further scholarship is needed on the possible influence of Sephardic Jews on Charleston speech patterns.

The rapidly disappearing traditional "Charleston accent" can be particularly noted in the local pronunciation of the city's name. Some elderly and usually upper-class Charleston natives ignore the r and elongate the first vowel, pronouncing the name like "Chah-l-ston."

Today, the Geechee language and dialect is still spoken among many African-American locals. However, rapid development, especially on the surrounding Sea Islands, is slowly diminishing its prominence.


Charleston is known as The Holy City,[24] perhaps by virtue of the prominence of churches on the low-rise cityscape, perhaps because, like Mecca, its devotees hold it so dear,[25] and perhaps for the fact that Carolina was among the few original colonies to tolerate all Protestant religions, though it was not open to Roman Catholics.[26] The Anglican church was prominent in the colonial era and the Cathedral of St Luke and St Paul is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Many French Huguenot refugees settled in Charleston in the early 18th century.[27]

Carolina allowed Jews to practice their faith without restriction. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, founded in 1749 by Sephardic Jews from London, is the fourth-oldest Jewish congregation in the continental United States.[28] Brith Sholom Beth Israel is the oldest Orthodox synagogue in the South, founded by Ashkenazi German and Central European Jews in the mid-19th century.[29]

The city's oldest Roman Catholic parish, Saint Mary of the Annunciation Roman Catholic Church, is the mother church of Roman Catholicism to North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In 1820, Charleston was established as the see city of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, which at the time comprised the Carolinas and Georgia and presently encompasses the state of South Carolina.

The French Protestant (Huguenot) Church is one of only two remaining Huguenot churches in America.
The St. Matthew's Lutheran Church's spire soars 255 feet (78 m) above Charleston.
The First Presbyterian Church on Meeting Street was known as the "Silent Church" because it donated its bells to the Confederate military.
The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was started in 1890, and its spire was added in 2009.

Annual cultural events and fairs[edit]

Charleston annually hosts Spoleto Festival USA founded by Gian Carlo Menotti, a 17-day art festival featuring over 100 performances by individual artists in a variety of disciplines. The Spoleto Festival is internationally recognized as America's premier performing arts festival.[30] The annual Piccolo Spoleto festival takes place at the same time and features local performers and artists, with hundreds of performances throughout the city. Other notable festivals and events include Historic Charleston Foundation's Festival of Houses and Gardens and Charleston Antiques Show, the Taste of Charleston, The Lowcountry Oyster Festival, the Cooper River Bridge Run, The Charleston Marathon, Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE), Charleston Food and Wine Festival, Charleston Fashion Week, the MOJA Arts Festival, and the Holiday Festival of Lights (at James Island County Park). The Charleston International Film Festival is one of the premiere film festival events in the U.S. Every Fall the CIFF showcases sneak previews of studio and independent films, red carpet premieres, nightly after-parties, free workshops & seminars, and the Awards Gala. Over 80 films of all subject matter and genre are showcased over the 5 day event, including features, short films, documentaries and animations from the U.S. and around the world. The CIFF is an event not to be missed if you're in town.


Main article: Music in Charleston

As it has on every aspect of Charleston culture, the Gullah community has had a tremendous influence on music in Charleston, especially when it comes to the early development of jazz music. In turn, the music of Charleston has had an influence on that of the rest of the country. The geechee dances that accompanied the music of the dock workers in Charleston followed a rhythm that inspired Eubie Blake's "Charleston Rag" and later James P. Johnson's "The Charleston", as well as the dance craze that defined a nation in the 1920s. "Ballin' the Jack", which was a popular dance in the years before "The Charleston", was written by native Charlestonian Chris Smith.[31]

The Jenkins Orphanage was established in 1891 by the Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins in Charleston. The orphanage accepted donations of musical instruments and Rev. Jenkins hired local Charleston musicians and Avery Institute Graduates to tutor the boys in music. As a result, Charleston musicians became proficient on a variety of instruments and were able to read music expertly.[32] These traits set Jenkins musicians apart and helped land some of them positions in big bands with Duke Ellington and Count Basie. William "Cat" Anderson, Jabbo Smith and Freddie Green are but a few of the alumni from the Jenkins Orphanage band who became professional musicians in some of the best bands of the day. Orphanages around the country began to develop brass bands in the wake of the Jenkins Orphanage Band's success. At the Colored Waif's Home Brass Band in New Orleans, for example, a young trumpeter named Louis Armstrong first began to draw attention.[33]

As many as five bands were on tour during the 1920s. The Jenkins Orphanage Band played in the inaugural parades of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft and toured the USA and Europe.[34] The band also played on Broadway for the play "Porgy" by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, a stage version of their novel of the same title. The story was based in Charleston and featured the Gullah community. The Heywards insisted on hiring the real Jenkins Orphanage Band to portray themselves on stage.[33] Only a few years later, DuBose Heyward collaborated with George and Ira Gershwin to turn his novel into the now famous opera, Porgy and Bess. George Gershwin spent the summer of 1934 at Folly Beach outside of Charleston writing this "folk opera". Porgy and Bess is considered the Great American Opera and is widely performed.[35]

To this day Charleston is home to many musicians in all genres. A unique showcase of Charleston's musical heritage is presented weekly. "The Sound of Charleston....from gospel to Gershwin", is staged at the historic Circular Congregational Church.[36]

Live theatre[edit]

Charleston has a vibrant theater scene and is home to America's first theater. In 2010 Charleston was listed as one of the country's top 10 cities for theater, and one of the top two in the South.[37] Most of the theaters are part of the League of Charleston Theatres, better known as Theatre Charleston [10]. Some of the city's theaters include:

Museums, historical sites and other attractions[edit]

The Gibbes Art Gallery includes local art, including many works from the early 20th century Charleston Renaissance.
The Calhoun Mansion at 16 Meeting Street was built in 1876 by George Williams but derives its name from a later occupant, his grandson-in-law Patrick Calhoun.

Charleston has many historic buildings, art and historical museums, and other attractions, including:


Blackbaud Stadium, home of the Charleston Battery

Charleston is home to a number of professional, minor league, and amateur sports teams:

Other notable sports venues in Charleston include Johnson Hagood Stadium (home of The Citadel Bulldogs football team) and Toronto Dominion Bank Arena at the College of Charleston, which seats 5,700 people who view the school's basketball and volleyball teams.


Charleston is a popular filming location for movies and television, both in its own right and as a stand-in for southern and/or historic settings. For a list of both, see here. In addition, many novels, plays, and other works of fiction have been set in Charleston, including the following:


Map showing the major rivers of Charleston and the Charleston Harbor watershed

The city proper consists of six distinct areas: the Peninsula/Downtown, West Ashley, Johns Island, James Island, Daniel Island, and the Cainhoy Peninsula.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 127.5 square miles (330.2 km2), of which 109.0 square miles (282.2 km2) is land and 18.5 square miles (47.9 km2) is water.[6] The old city is located on a peninsula at the point where, as Charlestonians say, "The Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean." The entire peninsula is very low, some is landfill material, and as such, frequently floods during heavy rains, storm surges and unusually high tides. The city limits have expanded across the Ashley River from the peninsula, encompassing the majority of West Ashley as well as James Island and some of Johns Island. The city limits also have expanded across the Cooper River, encompassing Daniel Island and the Cainhoy area. North Charleston blocks any expansion up the peninsula, and Mount Pleasant occupies the land directly east of the Cooper River.

The tidal rivers (Wando, Cooper, Stono, and Ashley) are evidence of a submergent or drowned coastline. There is a submerged river delta off the mouth of the harbor, and the Cooper River is deep, affording a good location for a port. The rising of the ocean may be due to melting of glacial ice during the end of the Ice Age.


Damage left from Hurricane Hugo in 1989

Charleston has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa), with mild winters, hot, humid summers, and significant rainfall all year long. Summer is the wettest season; almost half of the annual rainfall occurs from June to September in the form of thundershowers. Fall remains relatively warm through November. Winter is short and mild, and is characterized by occasional rain. Measurable snow (≥0.1 in/0.25 cm) only occurs several times per decade at the most, with the last such event occurring December 26, 2010.[43] However, 6.0 in (15 cm) fell at the airport on December 23, 1989, the largest single-day fall on record, contributing to a single-storm and seasonal record of 8.0 in (20 cm) snowfall.[43] The highest temperature recorded within city limits was 104 °F (40 °C), on June 2, 1985 and June 24, 1944, and the lowest was 7 °F (−14 °C) on February 14, 1899, although at the airport, where official records are kept, the historical range is 105 °F (41 °C) on August 1, 1999 down to 6 °F (−14 °C) on January 21, 1985.[43] Hurricanes are a major threat to the area during the summer and early fall, with several severe hurricanes hitting the area – most notably Hurricane Hugo on September 21, 1989 (a Category 4 storm).

Charleston was hit by a large tornado in 1761, which temporarily emptied the Ashley River, and sank five offshore warships.[44]

Metropolitan Statistical Area[edit]

The Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area currently consists of three counties: Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester. As of the 2013 U.S. Census, the metropolitan statistical area had a total population of 712,239 people. North Charleston is the second largest city in the Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area and ranks as the third largest city in the state; Mount Pleasant and Summerville are the next largest cities. These cities combined with other incorporated and unincorporated areas surrounding the city of Charleston form the Charleston-North Charleston Urban Area with a population of 548,404 as of 2010.[48] The metropolitan statistical area also includes a separate and much smaller urban area within Berkeley County, Moncks Corner (with a 2000 population of 9,123).

The traditional parish system persisted until the Reconstruction Era, when counties were imposed. Nevertheless, traditional parishes still exist in various capacities, mainly as public service districts. The city of Charleston which was originally defined by the limits of the Parish of St. Philip & St. Michael, now also includes parts of St. James' Parish, St. George's Parish, St. Andrew's Parish, and St. John's Parish, although the last two are mostly still incorporated rural parishes.


Historical population
Est. 2013127,9996.6%
U.S. Decennial Census[49]
2012 Estimate[50]

The racial/ethnic makeup of Charleston is 68.6% White, 25.4% African American, 1.6% Asian, and 2.9% are Hispanic and Latinos of any race.


Charleston City Hall is open to tourists for free historical tours.

Charleston has a strong mayor-council government, with the mayor acting as the chief administrator and the executive officer of the municipality. The mayor also presides over city council meetings and has a vote, the same as other council members. The current mayor, since 1975, is Joseph P. Riley, Jr. The council has twelve members who are elected from one of twelve districts.

Charleston voters are among the most liberal in South Carolina. In 2006, Charleston's residents voted against Amendment 1, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in South Carolina. Statewide, the measure passed by 78% to 22% but the voters of Charleston rejected it by 3,563 (52%) to 3,353 votes (48%).[51]

Emergency services[edit]

Fire department[edit]

Fire Department station houses for Engines 2 and 3 of the Charleston Fire Department

The City of Charleston Fire Department consists over 300 full-time firefighters. These firefighters operate out of nineteen companies located throughout the city: sixteen engine companies, two tower companies, and one ladder company. Training, Fire Marshall, Operations, and Administration are the divisions of the department.[52] The department operates on a 24/48 schedule and had a Class 1 ISO rating until late 2008, when ISO officially lowered it to Class 3.[53] Russell (Rusty) Thomas served as Fire Chief until June 2008, and was succeeded by Chief Thomas Carr in November 2008.

Police department[edit]

The City of Charleston Police Department, with a total of 452 sworn officers, 137 civilians and 27 reserve police officers, is South Carolina's largest police department.[54] Their procedures on cracking down on drug use and gang violence in the city are used as models to other cities to do the same.[citation needed] According to the final 2005 FBI Crime Reports, Charleston crime level is worse than the national average in almost every major category.[55] Greg Mullen, the former Deputy Chief of the Virginia Beach, Virginia Police Department, serves as the current Chief of the Charleston Police Department. The former Charleston police chief was Reuben Greenberg who resigned August 12, 2005. Greenberg was credited with creating a polite police force that kept police brutality well in check, even as it developed a visible presence in community policing and a significant reduction in crime rates.[56]

EMS and medical centers[edit]

Emergency medical services (EMS) for the city are provided by Charleston County Emergency Medical Services (CCEMS) & Berkeley County Emergency Medical Services (BCEMS). The city is served by the EMS and 911 services of both Charleston and Berkeley counties since the city is part of both counties.

Charleston is the primary medical center for the eastern portion of the state. The city has several major hospitals located in the downtown area: Medical University of South Carolina Medical Center (MUSC), Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, and Roper Hospital. MUSC is the state's first school of medicine, the largest medical university in the state, and the sixth oldest continually operating school of medicine in the United States. The downtown medical district is experiencing rapid growth of biotechnology and medical research industries coupled with substantial expansions of all the major hospitals. Additionally, more expansions are planned or underway at another major hospital located in the West Ashley portion of the city: Bon Secours-St Francis Xavier Hospital. The Trident Regional Medical Center located in the City of North Charleston and East Cooper Regional Medical Center located in Mount Pleasant also serve the needs of residents of the city of Charleston.

Coast Guard Sector Charleston[edit]

Coast Guard Station Charleston responds to search & rescue emergencies, conducts maritime law enforcement activities, and Ports, Waterways & Coastal Security missions. Personnel from Station Charleston are highly trained professionals, composed of federal law enforcement officers, boat crewmen, and coxswains who are capable of completing a wide range of missions.


Charleston Police Department police transporter

The following table shows Charleston's crime rate for six crimes that Morgan Quitno uses to calculate the ranking of "America's most dangerous cities", in comparison to the national average. The statistics shown are not for the actual number of crimes committed, but for the number of crimes committed per 100,000 people.[57]

CrimeCharleston, South Carolina (2011)National Average
Auto thefts270222.3

Since 1999, the overall crime rate of Charleston has begun to decline. The total crime index rate for Charleston in 1999 was 597.1 crimes committed per 100,000 people, while in 2011 the total crime index rate was 236.4 per 100,000. (The United States average is 320.9 per 100,000.)

According to the Congressional Quarterly Press 2008 City Crime Rankings: Crime in Metropolitan America, Charleston, South Carolina ranks as the 124th most dangerous city of cities with more than 75,000 inhabitants.[58] However, the entire Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area had a much higher overall crime rate, ranking as 221st.

Infrastructure and economy[edit]

Economic sectors and major employers[edit]

Charleston is a major tourist destination, with a considerable number of luxury hotels, hotel chains, inns, and bed and breakfasts and a large number of award-winning restaurants and quality shopping. The city has two shipping terminals, owned and operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority, which are part of the fourth largest container seaport on the East Coast and the thirteenth largest container seaport in North America.[59]

In 2009, Boeing selected the City of North Charleston for their southeast commercial aircraft assembly facility. The assembly facility began operations in 2011. Also, Boeing is constructing an Engineering Design Center in the City of North Charleston.

Piggly Wiggly Carolina Company, a grocery store chain with stores in South Carolina and Georgia, is headquartered in the city. Charleston is becoming a prime location for information technology jobs and corporations and has experienced the highest growth in this sector between 2011 and 2012 due in large part to the Charleston Digital Corridor.

In 2013, the Milken Institute ranked the Charleston region the ninth best performing economy in the US due in large part to the growing IT sector. Notable companies include Blackbaud, SPARC, BoomTown,CSS and Benefitfocus.

Higher education is also an important sector in the local economy, with institutions such as the Medical University of South Carolina, College of Charleston, The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, and Charleston School of Law. Charleston is also an important art destination, named a top 25 arts destination by AmericanStyle magazine.[60]



Charleston is served by the Charleston International Airport, which is located in the city of North Charleston (IATA: CHSICAO: KCHS) and is the busiest passenger airport in the state of South Carolina. The airport shares runways with the adjacent Charleston Air Force Base. Charleston Executive Airport is a smaller airport located in the John's Island section of the city of Charleston and is used by non-commercial aircraft. Both airports are owned and operated by the Charleston County Aviation Authority.

Interstates and highways[edit]

Near the exit from I-26 onto Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Intersection of Meeting Street and Line Street visible in photo.

Interstate 26 enters the city from the northwest and connects the city to North Charleston, the Charleston International Airport, Interstate 95, and Columbia, South Carolina. It ends in downtown Charleston with exits to the Septima Clark Expressway, the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge and Meeting Street. The Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge and Septima Clark Expressway are part of U.S. Highway 17, which travels east-west through the cities of Charleston and Mount Pleasant. The Mark Clark Expressway, or Interstate 526, is the bypass around the city and begins at U.S. Highway 17 North/South. U.S. Highway 52 is Meeting Street and its spur is East Bay Street, which becomes Morrison Drive after leaving the Eastside. This highway merges with King Street in the city's Neck area (Industrial District). U.S. Highway 78 is King Street in the downtown area, eventually merging with Meeting Street.

Major highways[edit]

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge[edit]

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge across the Cooper River opened on July 16, 2005, and was the second longest cable-stayed bridge in the Americas at the time of its construction.[citation needed] The bridge links Mount Pleasant with downtown Charleston, and has eight lanes plus a 12-foot lane shared by pedestrians and bicycles. It replaced the Grace Memorial Bridge (built in 1929) and the Silas N. Pearman Bridge (built in 1966). They were considered two of the more dangerous bridges in America and were demolished after the Ravenel Bridge opened.

The new Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge, constructed in 2005 and named for former U.S. Representative Arthur Ravenel, Jr., who pushed the project to fruition, was at the time of its construction the second longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere.[citation needed]

Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority[edit]

The city is also served by a bus system, operated by the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA). Most of the urban area is served by regional fixed route buses, which are equipped with bike racks as part of the system's Rack & Ride program. CARTA offers connectivity to historic downtown attractions and accommodations with DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) trolley buses, and it offers curbside pickup for disabled passengers with its Tel-A-Ride buses.

Rural parts of the city and metropolitan area are served by a different bus system, operated by Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Rural Transportation Management Association (BCD-RTMA). The system is also commonly called the TriCounty Link.[61]


Columbus Street Terminal viewed from the southwest

The Port of Charleston, owned and operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority, is one of the largest ports in the U.S. The Port of Charleston consists of five terminals, and a sixth terminal to open in 2018. Despite occasional labor disputes, the port is ranked number one in customer satisfaction across North America by supply chain executives.[62] Port activity at the two terminals located in the city of Charleston is one of the city's leading sources of revenue, behind tourism.

Today the Port of Charleston boasts the deepest water in the southeast region and regularly handles ships too big to transit through the Panama Canal. A next-generation harbor deepening project is currently underway to take the Port of Charleston's shipping channel to at least 50 feet at mean low tide.

Union Pier, in the city of Charleston, is a cruise ship passenger terminal which hosts numerous cruise departures annually. In May 2010, the Carnival Fantasy was permanently stationed in Charleston, offering weekly cruises to the Bahamas and Key West, eventually to include Bermuda. With the addition of the weekly Carnival Fantasy sailings, Union Terminal hosted 67 embarkations and ports of call in 2010.



With the closure of the Naval Base and Shipyard in 1996, Detyens, Inc. signed a long term lease. With three dry docks, one floating dock, and six piers, Detyens Shipyards, Inc. is the largest commercial facility on the East Coast. Projects include military, commercial, and cruise ships.

Nearby cities and towns[edit]

Other outlying areas[edit]


Schools, colleges and universities[edit]

Because most of the city of Charleston is located in Charleston County, it is served by the Charleston County School District. Part of the city, however, is served by the Berkeley County School District in northern portions of the city, such as the Cainhoy Industrial District, Cainhoy Historical District and Daniel Island.

Charleston is also served by a large number of independent schools, including Porter-Gaud School (K-12), Charleston Collegiate School (K-12), Ashley Hall (Pre K-12), Charleston Day School (1-8), First Baptist Church School (K-12), Palmetto Christian Academy (K-12), Coastal Christian Preparatory School (K-12), Mason Preparatory School (K-8), and Addlestone Hebrew Academy (K-8).

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston Office of Education also operates out of the city and oversees several K-8 parochial schools, such as Blessed Sacrament School, Christ Our King School, Charleston Catholic School, Nativity School, and Divine Redeemer School, all of which are "feeder" schools into Bishop England High School, a diocesan high school within the city. Bishop England, Porter-Gaud School, and Ashley Hall are the city's oldest and most prominent private schools, and are in themselves a significant part of Charleston history, dating back some 150 years.

Public institutions of higher education in Charleston include the College of Charleston (the nation's 13th oldest university), The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, and the Medical University of South Carolina. The city is also home to private universities, including the Charleston School of Law. Charleston is also home to the Roper Hospital School of Practical Nursing, and the city has a downtown satellite campus for the region's technical school, Trident Technical College. Charleston is also the location for the only college in the country that offers bachelors degrees in the building arts, The American College of the Building Arts. The Art Institute of Charleston, located downtown on North Market Street, opened in 2007.

Armed Forces[edit]

Portions of the Charleston, South Carolina metropolitan area (Charleston, North Charleston, Goose Creek, and Hanahan) are home to all branches of the United States Military. During the Cold War, the Naval Base (1902-1996) became the third largest U.S. homeport serving over 80 ships and submarines. In addition, the Naval Shipyard repaired frigates, destroyers, cruisers and submarines. Also, the Shipyard was responsible for refueling nuclear subs.

During this period, the Weapons Station was the Atlantic Fleet's load out base for all nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Two SSBN "Boomer" squadrons were home ported at the Weapons Station, while one SSN attack squadron was home ported at the Naval Base. At the 1996 closure of the Station's Polaris Missile Facility (POMFLANT), over 2,500 nuclear warheads were stored and maintained, guarded by a U.S. Marine Corps Security Force Company.

In 2010, the Air Force Base and Naval Weapons Station merged to form Joint Base Charleston. Today, Joint Base Charleston, encompassing over 20,500 acres and supporting 53 Military Commands and Federal Agencies, provides service to over 79,000 Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, DOD civilians, dependents, and retirees.

The unique makeup of Joint Base Charleston, supporting all branches of the Military, provides unmatched assets for the security of this Country.


Coast Guard[edit]



Broadcast television[edit]

Charleston is the nation's 98th largest Designated market area (DMA), with 312,770 households and 0.27% of the U.S. TV population.[64] The following stations are licensed in Charleston and have significant operations or viewers in the city:[65]

Radio stations[edit]

Sister cities[edit]

Charleston has one official sister city, Spoleto, Umbria, Italy.[66] The relationship between the two cities began when Pulitzer Prize-winning Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti selected Charleston as the city to host the American version of Spoleto's annual Festival of Two Worlds. "Looking for a city that would provide the charm of Spoleto as well as its wealth of theaters, churches and other performance spaces, they selected Charleston, South Carolina as the ideal location. The historic city provided a perfect fit: intimate enough that the Festival would captivate the entire city, yet cosmopolitan enough to provide an enthusiastic audience and robust infrastructure."[30]

Charleston is also twinned with Speightstown, St. Peter, Barbados.[67] The original parts of Charlestown were based on the plans of Barbados's capital city Bridgetown.[68] Many dispossessed indigo, tobacco and cotton planters departed from Speightstown, along with their slaves, and helped found Charleston after there was a wholesale move to adopt sugar cane cultivation in Barbados, a land and labor-intensive enterprise that helped usher in the era of trans-Atlantic slave trade in the former British West Indies.[69]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]


Art, architecture, literature, science[edit]


External links[edit]