Digging Up History at the Charleston City Hall

By:Amy Holtcamp

Date:1/8/2011

I love discovering something new in a city I’ve been to a hundred times.

On a recent visit to Charl​eston I was walking up Gallery Row towards Meeting Street and happened to glance in the window of the basement level of City​ Hall. I saw what looked like a museum exhibit, and I couldn’t help but take a peak inside.

I was rewarded with a tiny, free exhibit chronicling not only the history of the building but also the findings of the archeologists who used the structure’s 2006 remodel to go even further back in Charleston’s past.

The building that stands at 80 Broad St. now was built between 1800 and 1804 to serve as a bank. However, the bank failed and by 1818 it had become City Hall.

But before the bank was built, the corner of Market and Broad housed the city’s beef market, which was destroyed by fire in 1796. The archeologists who worked on the site in the 2000s found the market’s foundation and other artifacts that added to our knowledge of everyday life in 18th century Charleston. Today, in the basement of City Hall, you can see some of them. Displays include 18th century cleavers and even animal bones with the butchers’ markings etched in them. The rest of the discoveries are in the Charleston Museum’s collection.

When you visit City Hall, make sure to head upstairs too. There, in the Council Chamber on the second floor, you will find a portrait gallery that includes a portrait of George Washington by John Trumball.

Incidentally, City Hall is part of what Robert Ripley (of Ripley’s Believe it or Not! fame) called the “Four Corners of the Law.” The four buildings on each corner of Market and Broad represent four different arms of the law -- City Hall (local), the Charleston County Courthouse which was originally constructed as the S.C. provincial capitol (state), the U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse (Federal) and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church (ecclesiastical).

The City Hall building is open to the public Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m. Admission is free. (It might also be of interest to some travelers that the basement of City Hall also houses some of the nicest public restrooms in Charleston.)

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