A Walk Through History
Located in Charleston’s historic district and close to Washington Square Park, the Charleston County Courthouse is a timeless edifice that commands attention and respect. This Neoclassical building, which stands as a testament to Charleston’s rich and varied history, was designed by the Irish architect James Hoban in 1790-92.
Its significance is magnified because it was a likely model for Hoban’s most famous work, the White House. Both these iconic buildings take their design inspiration from Leinster House, the seat of the Irish Parliament in Dublin.
History whispers from the walls of the Courthouse as it tells a tale of perseverance and resilience. Before the Courthouse was established, the South Carolina Statehouse occupied the site before the Courthouse was established, symbolizing the Colony of South Carolina’s governance under British colonial rule.
Unfortunately, the Statehouse was reduced to ruins by a fire in 1788. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Courthouse was built on the same site, incorporating the remnants of the former Statehouse into its structure. The architect Hoban also designed a new statehouse building nearby, which sadly met the same fate during the Civil War.
The Charleston County Courthouse is steeped in historical significance. The original foundation of this historic site dates back to 1753, when it served as the provincial capitol for the colony of South Carolina. The original Statehouse building was a grand two-story tower with a stunning lobby and an impressive grand staircase.
The ground floor was the meeting place for the Provincial Court, while the Commons House of Assembly and the Royal Governor’s Council Chamber occupied the second floor. Significant state affairs were announced from the second-story balcony overlooking Meeting Street.
This included the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in South Carolina, a momentous event in the state’s history.
However, disaster struck during the Constitutional Ratification Convention of 1788 when the building caught fire and was gutted. Determined not to lose their standing in the new state government, Charlestonians began reconstructing the building in a Neoclassical style.
This effort was supervised by Judge William Drayton, an amateur architect, while James Hoban assisted in the design. By the time the reconstruction was completed in 1792, Columbia had become the capital city, and the building was repurposed as a center for legal activity. This marked the beginning of its journey as the Charleston County Courthouse.
The Courthouse Today
Despite undergoing significant changes and additions throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, the Charleston County Courthouse has retained its late 18th-century appearance. It still functions as a courthouse and also houses various county government functions.
However, its importance transcends its functionality. The Charleston County Courthouse holds a unique distinction as one among over 1400 structures in the Charleston Old and Historic District that bear significant historical value.
Recently, the Courthouse has been the center of some significant events. A new lawsuit was filed last year, which drew considerable attention. The lawsuit alleged that a Charleston County Deputy who had crashed his car into three family members on Highway 17 after speeding through a stop sign was not the only law enforcement officer disregarding the road rules that night.
The incident led to a broader conversation about the responsibility of law enforcement officers and the accountability of the Sheriff’s Office.
The Charleston County Courthouse, far from being a mere artifact of bygone days, remains a pivotal institution in the contemporary landscape, exerting a profound impact on the community and actively contributing to the evolving narrative of Charleston.