Discover Charleston

A Field Guide to Charleston SC History

Follow our video guide to discover fascinating facts about Charleston, SC history as we take you from the city's origin to the fort where the Civil War began.

Consistently voted a top travel destination, Charleston's appeal is undeniable. Visitors come for the Lowcountry cuisine and fresh seafood, the sun-soaked Atlantic beaches, and, of course, the city’s historic charm.

Discover an in-depth look into Charleston, SC history with our exclusive video guide.

Charleston’s location at the tip of a peninsula and its deep harbor made it a key port city for the nation and a logistic stronghold during the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Fortunately, for today’s travelers, much of the rich and varied Charleston, SC history is preserved for visitors. Follow us along on our video tour of this charming South Carolina city.

If you're planning your own trip, follow this quick checklist to make sure you're seeing some top historical destinations in the Charleston area:

#1: The Four Corners of the Law

Your first destination to get an insight into Charleston, SC history is in the center of the city, at the corner of Broad and Meeting streets. It's host to historic structures that locals call “the Four Corners of the Law.” For federal law, the U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse have stood since 1896. State law is represented by the Charleston County Courthouse, first built in 1753 as the state’s provincial capital. Municipal law comes as the historic City Hall, and ecclesiastical law is on the fourth corner where St. Michael's Episcopal Church sits.

#2: Churches: Lots of Them

Nicknamed "the Holy City" for its hundreds of places of worship, the original Charles Towne settlement was founded on principles of religious tolerance. Established in 1681, St. Philip's Episcopal Church (142 Church St., Charleston) is the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina and one of the most iconic steeples on the peninsula. Today, the church and the adjacent graveyard are open to the public for limited hours on weekdays.

Travel tip: If you’re staying in town and want a magnificent view of the steeple, book the St. Philip's Suite at the Andrew Pinckney Inn for its prized view.

The history of Charleston South Carolina starts with its many churches | WhereTraveler
The iconic steeple of Charleston's St. Philip's church wasn't added until a decade after the main structure was completed. (©Kathie Allen/Pixabay)

#3: Where the Civil War Started

As you are ferrying out to our next stop on this Charleston, SC history tour, turn around to view the city's skyline (you'll see all those steeples that earned the "Holy City" nickname). Originally a federal fort, Fort Sumter is best known for being where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. It is now host to more than a quarter-million visitors a year.

#4: Historic Homes

Back on land, immerse yourself in the exquisite architecture of Charleston’s historic homes—like downtown’s Joseph Manigault House, the conservancy of which spurred the Preservation Society of Charleston, the oldest community-based preservation organization in the United States. Many such similar homes are open for visits and can be found in the historic district south of Broad Street.

#5: Southern Plantations

Not far from the city, you’ll find Southern plantations offering grand vistas and Lowcountry flora and fauna. At estates like Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place and Boone Hall Plantation, the programs and exhibits offer insights into what life was like for both the wealthy families and the enslaved Africans whose backs bore the brunt of Charleston’s economic bounty.

#6: The City Market

Wrap up your Charleston, SC history tour with a stop at the Charleston City Market. The Greek revival-style structure hosted farms and plantations that sold produce and beef in the late-1700s. Today you’ll find vendors that include local artists and craft artisans like Gullah Sweetgrass basket makers. No visit to Charleston is complete without a stroll through the charming market.

Much of modern-day Charleston’s charisma is owed to its historic past, yet down every cobbled street are hundreds of years of history just begging for you to map out your own adventure. Dive deep into Charleston, SC history and plan more of your Holy City adventures using the WhereTraveler® Guide to Charleston and the Lowcountry.

Please be sure to contact each establishment to verify opening hours, reservation policies, health requirements, and any other variations as the month’s progress.