Master Preservationist Program-Day One. Charting Charleston’s Past

In our first day of the Master Preservationist Program we spent our classroom session taking a look at Charleston’s maps since 1685.  As I am very much a map person, my eyes were glued to the screen with rapt attention and I furiously took notes.  Then the second half we visited 54 Tradd St and the Heyward-Washington House.  Skip to down below if you want to see a few photos of these homes (but seriously, check out the amazing maps first!)

Maps and History

In 1680, “Charles Towne” officially moved from Albemarle Point (today’s West Ashley) to the Charleston Peninsula.  The original city was set on the banks of the Cooper River, partly because of its easy harbor access and ideal defensive position.  Here is the Crisp Map from 1711 showing the original walled city. (To orient it to what we are accustomed to today, rotate it counter-clockwise 90 degrees.)

Some interesting things to note:

  • Broad Street is in the center of the grid.
  • The Cooper River side is East Bay St today and was walled by brick.
  • The other three walls were earth embankments, created by digging out a moat that surrounded the City.  If you walked around the entire thing, it would be about 1.5miles.
  • The City was bounded on the south and north by two creeks.  One was today’s Water St and the other was today’s Market St.
  • By 1739, people had started moving out beyond the walled City to join the few original pioneers there.  They settled places that are today’s Harleston Village and Ansonborough – made possible by the building of bridges over the creeks.  As a matter of fact, if you know Church St South of Broad, you’ll recall there is a zig-zag in the street.  That’s the site of the original bridge over the water.
  • Other significant changes occurred on the Cooper River side.  People and companies began to buy land there and create wharves for the docking of ships and exchange of goods.  Over time, so many wharves jutted out into the river that silt collected, filled in the gaps, and created new land.  So if you take a walk down by Waterfront Park or on Prioleau St, imagine you once would have been walking on water!
  • By the 1850s, Charleston looked very much like it does today, with the exception of the Ashley River side.  At that point in Charleston’s history, mill ponds and industry still occupied much of that area.  Murray and Lockwood Blvds didn’t come along until much later. (Also in-fill)
  • The 1852 Bridgens and Allen Map, a portion of which is below, showed the layout of all the lots and buildings (even out buildings) in Charleston.

For a look at other really neat maps, check out the Historic Charleston Foundation site.

Site Visits – 54 Tradd St and The Heyward-Washington House

54 Tradd St (William Vanderhorst House), constructed circa 1740, is known as one of the finest and earliest examples of a Charleston Single home, prior to the addition of the side porches.   Equally as important to us as students of the Preservation Society, is the fact that at one point it was the dwelling of Susan Pringle Frost who brought it back to life after WWI when it was in a state of disrepair.  Ms. Frost was the founder of the organization which later became the Preservation Society.   A suffragist and visionary, she was also a realtor who in her lifetime was responsible for renovating a total of 23 homes in Charleston, often in areas that others would shun.

If you’d like to read more about this amazing woman, read the book “Preserving Charleston’s Past, Shaping Its Future: The Life and Times of Susan Pringle Frost”.  In the meantime, check out some of the photos below.  The home at 54 Tradd St is currently privately owned, so we considered ourselves lucky to even be inside.



Front of the three story stucco home.

Inside the Kitchen House. Note the herringbone pattern brick floor and exposed beams. There were two fireplaces here - one for cooking and one for laundry.

The Heyward-Washington House at 87 Church St is most noted in American history as the home in Charleston where General George Washington stayed.  The plan of this home built circa 1770 is traditional Charleston Double House – meaning the home is two rooms wide with a central hallway.  There are many photos of the interior out there so I thought I’d share a couple different ones with you.

View of the home & dependencies from the garden. Note the depth of the lot!

Here's a kitchen house still life for you. I love the blue patina of the walls.

So there it is – Day One of the Master Preservationist Program.  I hope you enjoyed the trip through history.  I can’t wait for next week!

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