This week, we visit a public building that has undergone extensive renovation within the last several years and is now open to the public again -- the Fireproof Building inside Washington Park. The street address and entrance to the museum is 100 Meeting Street.
Completed around 1827, this building is remarkable for several reasons. It was built to be fireproof, using ironwork, brick covered with stucco, and other nonflammable materials inside. The architect was also successful in convincing the city to create a "firebreak," i.e. the building was to be set apart with additional buildings not to be constructed in close proximity. Charleston was laid out much like London with most lots narrow and deep. Just walk down some of the old streets in the most historic section of the city and you'll see how close the houses are to each other. This proximity is a major reason why each of the five great fires of Charleston between 1740 and 1861 destroyed a large number of structures.
The architect for the Fireproof Building was Robert Mills, born in Charleston in 1781. Mills is considered by many to be the first American-born architect. Noted for his county courthouses throughout South Carolina, Mills also designed the First Baptist Church (on Church Street) in 1822. However, most people would be familiar with his work in Washington, D.C.; Mills designed the Washington Monument, the United States Treasury Office, and the Old Patent Office Building.
The Fireproof Building serves as headquarters for the South Carolina Historical Society, whose historical records were housed here for many years. Due to a better temperature-controlled environment, these records are now housed at the Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston. After the extensive renovation costing more than $6 million, the new Museum of the South Carolina Historical Society opened in the Fireproof Building in September of 2018. The museum is an excellent addition to our "Museum Mile" in Charleston, and it is truly a delight to experience history through its interactive and thematic exhibits.
Times of operation and other information can be found at https://schistory.org/museum/. There is an admission fee: adults are $12, military and seniors are $10, children are $5 with those under 5 years old at no cost.
Next week, we will continue to explore Charleston history through her places and people.