The Four Corners of Law: Old SC Statehouse, Charleston County Courthouse Part I


84 Broad Street is the oldest structure at the Four Corners of Law. Built in 1753 when Charles Town was still a royal colony, 84 Broad Street was constructed as the seat of the Colonial government in South Carolina. Charles Town was one of the most important ports of the American colonies, and 84 Broad symbolized the wealth and growing significance of this city. As the colony's governmental building, 84 Broad is the site where announcements and important documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, were read to the people from the second floor balcony, which fronted on Meeting Street. After the American Revolution, this building became the South Carolina Statehouse.

The original building was two stories tall. Unfortunately, the building was badly burned in 1788. This fire occurred right before South Carolina was to ratify the Constitution of the United States; it was later ratified in the Old Exchange Building. Like City Hall, which was designed by Gabriel Manigault, the "Gentleman Architect," the Old Statehouse was also designed by an amateur architect, Judge William Drayton, who added a third story to the building. Supposedly, a young Irish architect here, James Hoban, also helped with rehabilitating the structure from the remaining walls. Hoban later moved on to Washington D.C. where he designed the White House.

"Charles Town" became "Charleston" when the city incorporated in 1783, and in 1786 the capital of South Carolina was moved to Columbia. The South Carolina Statehouse then became the Charleston County Courthouse. Today 84 Broad Street is the home of the Charleston County Probate Court, with the other county courts now being housed in the new annex attached to the O.T. Wallace Building next door on Meeting Street.

Like many old buildings, 84 Broad Street was altered through the years after 1792. Before Hurricane Hugo in 1989, I remember visiting the Probate Court Judge in his office on the first floor (the Master-in-Equity's office was here, as was the Marriage License office). The interior was more of a hodgepodge of offices that were unplanned but obviously developed in response to then-current needs. Hurricane Hugo damaged 84 Broad Street to the point that there was serious discussion about demolishing it. Thankfully, our preservationists won out and the structure was restored by 2001 to its 1792 footprint.

Next week, we'll explore the interior of the Old South Carolina Statehouse/Charleston County Courthouse.