The History of the Charleston City Market

The History of the Charleston City Market


The Charleston City Market is a popular tourist attraction well known for its patronage of local vendors selling handmade products. Like all of the peninsula, the City Market possesses a rich history. While shopping in the Market, you can listen to the sound of horses’ hooves clattering against the cobblestone roads and admire the building’s historic architecture. Take a step back in time and learn about the fascinating origins of the City Market.

The Market’s official slogan is “the cultural heart of Charleston since 1804.” It all began in 1788 when Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the owner of the land, ceded it to the City of Charleston with the stipulation that it must be used as a market space for perpetuity. Beginning in 1804 until the 1830s, the iconic buildings were constructed from Market Hall to the waterfront.

Although the horses and carriages remain the same, the vendors of yesteryear were quite different than todays. While the modern Market is the perfect venue for a Charleston-themed gift or memento, the vendors in the early 1800s mainly sold meat, produce, and fish. A booth could be rented for between $1.00 and $2.00 per day. The buzzards which gathered outside the market for scraps of meat tossed to them by the butchers were nicknamed the Charleston Eagles.  

The Market Hall of today was erected in 1841 after the previous Masonic Hall was destroyed by fire. The new Market Hall was designed by architect Edward Brickwell White. He was paid $300 for the blueprints. He modeled the Market Hall after the Temple of the Wingless Victory in Athens. The beautiful Market Hall is the first structure which greets visitors to the market. It’s hard not to stop and photograph the Grecian building that stands tall and stately to remind us of Charleston’s captivating history.

In the 1970s, the City Market began to look more familiar as the vendors shifted from selling food to unique Charleston wares. These small, unique shops were very similar to the ones found in the City Market today. Over fifty different sweetgrass basket weavers who sell their handmade goods in the current Market carry on a special tradition that began in the 1970s at the City Market.

One of the oldest markets in the country, the Charleston City Market is featured in a permanent exhibit at the American History Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. titled “Life in Coastal South Carolina c. 1840.”

Experience the beauty and history of Charleston, S.C. with Charleston Harbor Tours. Enjoy an exclusive glimpse into Charleston’s past and marvel at the magnificent food, shops, and scenery that the city has to offer.

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