Jail Time Blues In Charleston
The Old City Jail is located on a four-acre parcel set aside for public use from Charleston's earliest settlement. The jail, which was operational from 1802 until 1939, housed Charleston's most infamous criminals, and, during the Civil War Federal prisoners of war. The Old Jail building was constructed in 1802 and served as the Charleston County Jail until 1939. In 1680, as the city of Charleston was being laid out, this location was designated for public use. In time a hospital, poor house, Workhouse for runaway slaves, and this Jail was built on the square. When the Jail was constructed in 1802 it consisted of four stories, topped with a two-story octagonal tower. Charleston architects Barbot & Seyle were responsible for 1855 alterations to the building, including a loo rear octagonal wing, expansions to the main building and the Romanesque Revival details. This octagonal wing replaced a fireproof wing with individual cells, designed by Robert Mills in 1822, five years earlier than his notable Fireproof Building. The 1886 earthquake badly damaged the tower and top story of the main building, and these were subsequently removed.
The Old Jail housed a great variety of inmates. John and Lavinia Fisher, and other members of their gang, convicted of robbery and murder in the Charleston Neck region were imprisoned here in 1819 to 1820. Some of the last 19th-century high-sea pirates were jailed here in 1822 while they awaited hanging. The Jail was active after the discovery of Denmark Vesey's planned slave revolt. Although the main trials were held in the Workhouse, some slaves were briefly held in both the Jail and the Poor House, and four white men convicted of supporting the 1822 plot were imprisoned here. Tradition holds that Vesey spent his last days in the tower before being hanged, although no extant document indicates this. Increased restrictions were placed on slaves and free blacks in Charleston as a result of the Vesey plot, and law required that all black seaman be kept here while they were in port. During the Civil War, Confederate and Federal prisoners of war were incarcerated here. It is one of more than 1400 historically significant buildings within the Charleston Old and Historic District.
Since 2003 the Jail has been a popular with tourists as well as television. It has been featured in a variety of television shows including The Travel Channel, The Food Network, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and Ghost Brothers. Daytime history and night time ghost tours are available through Bulldog Tours. In exchange for exclusive touring rights of the building, Bulldog Tours has contributed over $1m to the restoration of the historical building.
August 7th, 2018
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