The Powder Magazine’s Role in Charleston History

The Powder Magazine’s Role in Charleston History

Image to the left of outside the Powder Magazine, taken from 

As the oldest public building in South Carolina, the Powder Magazine is a National Historic Landmark, located at 79 Cumberland Street in downtown Charleston. Built in 1713, the Powder Magazine was used to store the supply of military gunpowder for the city. It is the only building remaining from time that Spain and France still disputed England’s claim to the territory.

What is now Charleston, was then Charles Town. In the late 1600s it was the southernmost English settlement. Subject to attacks by the French, Spanish, Native Americans, and pirates, defense of the colony was a first priority and the Powder Magazine, in addition to walls constructed around the city, was built to supply the gunpowder necessary for its defense. The present Meeting, Cumberland, East Bay, and Water Streets bordered the walled city, which were four blocks long and two blocks wide.

The Powder Magazine building has 32-inch brick walls (approximately 3-feet thick) and a steep tile roof. The interior of it was built so that the entire building would implode were any explosions to occur inside. This was necessary so the surrounding properties would not be subject to fire should an explosion occur.

Later on in 1748 a new magazine was built. The original building was condemned in 1770. Soon thereafter with the onset of the Revolutionary War, a new demand for the old Magazine was needed. Again, it was used to store powder. After 1820, the structure was used to house various different things such as storage, a printing house, a wine cellar, and a livery stable.

The South Carolina Society of Colonial Dames has owned the Powder Magazine since 1902, and operates the building as a museum of early Charleston history. It has withstood the effects of nature and the consequences of war. It has recently undergone extensive archaeological and architectural conservation, which was guided by the Historic Charleston Foundation.

If you would like to visit, the museum hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For further information you can call them at: (843) 722-9350.

Palmetto Carriage Works offers carriage tours that bring visitors past the Powder Magazine (NOTE: each carriage tour operates on a different route, so make sure to check with your guide to see if the Powder Magazine is on the route).

With landmarks such as the Powder Magazine, we further our appreciation of America’s national heritage through historic preservation, educational projects, and patriotic services.

In addition to exploring the history of Charleston by land, you can also embark on our 90-minute historic Charleston harbor tour, which is a narrated tour that takes visitors around the beautiful harbor of Charleston! Click here for ticket details

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