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Finding Aids at The Charleston Archive
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The staff of the Charleston Archive has created finding aids to many of its collections. These finding aids include physical descriptions, historical notes, and collection outlines. To view the entire finding aid, click on the title of the chosen collection.
The surviving records of the first municipal orphanage in the United States form the largest manuscript collection house at the Charleston Archive. Materials include records pertaining to the institution (its administration, staff, and finances) as well applications, indentures, and physician reports pertaining to several thousand children who passed through the Orphan House over the century and a half of its operation. A chronological index of the Applications to Admit and Indentures can be found here: Orphan
House Chronological Index
From its inception in 1768, the Alms House (alternately known as the Poor House) was designed to provide rations and lodging to the destitute citizens of the City of Charleston. The institution also included a hospital for use of the poor. This collection contains the administrative records of the institution’s commissioners, as well as the daily procedures of the institution itself.
Records of the Historic Preservation Planner, Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, 1970–1981
In 1970, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (then known as the Berkeley-Charleston Regional Planning Commission) received federal grant money to produce an historic preservation inventory and plan of the area. This collection consists chiefly of the research materials collected for this aim. The historical researcher originally hired to fulfill this job was Elias Ball Bull, and consequently this collection is commonly referred to as the “Elias Ball Bull Papers.”
When the City of Charleston Board of Health (BoH) was established in 1808, its primary goal was the prevention of contagious diseases. Over time, the BoH also became responsible for hospital administration, quarantine maintenance, and food inspection. This collection contains the administrative records of the BoH commissioners, as well as information about mortality rates, disease occurrences, and ship quarantines.
Colonial Common is the term formerly used to describe an area of land in Charleston bordered by Rutledge Avenue, Lynch Street (now Ashley Avenue), Beaufain Street, and Broad Street, which is now known as Colonial Lake. This collection contains the records of the commission charged with the responsibility of maintaining and developing this area for use as a public pleasure ground. Topics of interest include the pollution of Colonial Lake, boating activities, the creation of Moultrie Park, and the controversy surrounding the Sergeant Jasper Apartment Project.
In 1880, Charleston City Council appointed a Board of Commissioners to oversee the administration of the City Hospital, which at that time consisted of Roper Hospital and portions of the Poor House and Work House. This collection consists of administrative records of the board, and includes financial records, legal documents, information about the construction of the new City Hospital, and one staff payroll.
In 1813, Charleston City Council created the Shirras Dispensary, a municipal free clinic and pharmacy, using funds and property willed to the city for that purpose by Alexander Shirras. This collection includes administrative records of the Board of Trustees. Of particular interest are materials relating to the litigation involving Dr. Porcher’s alleged neglect of a patient and the physicians’ reports, which contain statistical information on diseases and medical cases.
From 1815 until 1926, the City of Charleston collected data relating to deaths and interments within the city limits. During this time, the city’s health officer compiled weekly lists or “returns” of deaths from individual certificates gathered from physicians and cemetery custodians. This collection includes the “Returns of Death” from 1821–1926, as well as two volumes recorded by the Medical Society of South Carolina covering the years 1819–1822.
From the time of its creation in 1787 to its final dissolution in 1979, the office of Sheriff for the City of Charleston was responsible for a plethora of duties. One of the most important and persistent of these duties was the collection of delinquent taxes via executions issued by the City Treasurer. This collection contains records pertaining to the Sheriff’s role as tax collector, including individual names of delinquent taxpayers and paving assessment schedules.
Edmund P. Grice, Charleston Alderman, Postmaster, and Social Work Administrator, spent nearly three decades in public life. During that time, he kept extensive scrapbooks of newspaper clippings pertaining to politics, social issues, postal matters, and Charleston history. This collection consists of 82 scrapbooks covering the years 1933–1959.
The predecessor of the present Arts and History Commission, the Historical Commission of Charleston was formed in 1933 to promote public awareness of the city’s history through a variety of media and forms. This collection consists of annual reports, correspondence, minutes, tour guide exams, and drafts of several unproduced radio plays about Charleston’s early history.
This collection consists of 23 bound volumes and one unbound fascicle of birth records collected by the City of Charleston’s Health Department. The records commence in November 1877 and continue through December 1926. During this period the city limits of Charleston were confined to the peninsular area, as far north as Mount Pleasant Street, so these records do not include any births that occurred west of the Ashley River, east of the Cooper River, or north of Mount Pleasant Street.
This small collection of materials contains the only known surviving historic records of the early years of what is now known as the Charleston Police Department. The bulk of the records contained in this collection date from around the turn of the twentieth century.
This collection contains the extant, historic records of the Fire Department of the City of Charleston. Initially, fire suppression in Charleston was accomplished by volunteer companies that were managed by a governmental body known as the Board of Fire Masters. In 1881, an official paid fire department was created, thus rendering the volunteer system obsolete. The materials in this collection document both incarnations of the Charleston Fire Department, the bulk of which are house journals of individual fire companies, from 1911 to 1979.
The William Enston Home may be one of the oldest examples of public housing for the elderly in the American South. This collection contains the records of the Trustees of the Enston Home from 1882 to 1995. The materials include applications, correspondence, ephemera, financial records, minutes, publications, and superintendents reports.
The Records of the Executive Relief Committee (ERC) consist of correspondence, financial records, repair vouchers, reports, and other materials pertaining to the City of Charleston’s relief efforts in the wake of an earthquake that struck the city on 31 August 1886.
This collection consists chiefly of commissioners’ correspondence, 1874–1934; journals and minutes, 1812–1912; and financial records, 1871–1934. The minutes in particular contain a wide variety of information about the public schools including (but not limited to) the financial struggles of the Board after the Civil War; the controversy of the application of corporal punishment; the development of hot lunches served at the schools; and the disparities between colored and white schools.
William J. Grayson was an Antebellum politician and writer from Beaufort District, South Carolina. His most well known piece of writing is The Hireling and the Slave, a polemic poem that contrasts the life of a slave with that of a wage earner, arguing in favor of an agrarian, pro-slavery society. This collection features copies of two published editions of this work (one heavily annotated by the author), as well as holograph manuscripts of various poems.
Records of the Commissioners of Streets and Lamps and the Board of Commissioners for the Opening and Widening of Streets, Lanes, and Alleys, 1806–1866
This collection consists of the records of two separate government bodies that assumed responsibility for different aspects of Charleston’s streets. The Commissioners of Streets and Lamps, elected by City Council, were responsible for the maintenance, repair, and cleanliness of Charleston’s streets and lamps. The Board of Commissioners for Opening and Widening of Streets, Lanes and Alleys was a supervisory board appointed by the South Carolina General Assembly whose mission it was to review and approve all planned improvements for Charleston’s streets. The duties of these two boards were eventually united in the late nineteenth century under the auspices of the Street Department.
This collection consists of the records of the Special Committee on the City Fire Loan. This committee was formed for the purpose of helping citizens to rebuild the “Burnt District and waste places” of the City of Charleston following the devastation wrought by the Fire of 1861 and the bombardment of the city by Union forces beginning in 1863. This aim was accomplished through the issuance of seven percent bonds. The files and ledgers comprising the collection contain the names of many individuals who participated in the program, along with locations and descriptions of their property.
This collection contains a single register of the inmates of the House of Corrections, a Post-Civil War institution for the confinement of vagrants and violators of city ordinances. The register provides information on all inmates of the institution (men, women, and children) including: date of admission, name, age, birthplace, last residence, length of time in Charleston, occupation, discharge date, and remarks. The volume lacks entries for the years 1876-1880.
A transcription of these records is now available in three parts:
- Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 1868–1885: Front Matter
- Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 1868–1885, sorted by DATE
- Records of the Charleston House of Correction, 1868–1885, sorted by SURNAME
This collection contains various materials relating to the City of Charleston’s Azalea Festival. Included in the collection are newspaper clippings, financial records, correspondence, meeting minutes, publicity materials, ephemera, a scrapbook, and a pageant script.
This collection contains materials relating to well-known children’s author John Bennett. Materials in the collection include typescript fragments of his novels Master Skylark and Barnaby Lee, galley proofs, silhouettes, images of and pertaining to Bennett, and miscellaneous materials. Bennett’s Remington typewriter and typewriter stand are also part of the collection.
This collection contains the extant historic records of the Port Utilities Commission, which managed the operations of Charleston’s municipally-owned waterfront facilities from the time they were purchased from the Charleston Terminal Company until they were taken over by the newly-formed State Ports Authority.
From 1817 until the Twentieth Century, the port wardens of the City of Charleston were responsible for surveying vessels entering the Port of Charleston in a state of distress or damage, or whose cargo was allegedly damaged. This single, incomplete, disbound volume represents the only known record of the Board of Port Wardens. The inspection reports contained therein identify the captain and home port of each vessel, and occasionally the type of cargo. Of particular interest is mention of the bark Azor, which was used in 1878 in an enterprise to repatriate African Americans by providing passage to Liberia
This collection consists of four manuals for tour guides of historic Charleston. These materials have been used to train and license tour guides within the City from 1964 to the present.
In order to insure that business signs within the city limits conformed to new regulations passed in 1985, the City Council ordered an inventory of all eligible signs. This collection consists of letters, forms, and photographs of business signs collected by the City for said inventory.
This collection comprises both the records of the City of Charleston City Court and those of the City of Charleston Police Court. Materials in the collection include: delinquent tax files, ordinance violations, court dockets, judgment records, individual case files, correspondence, and various miscellaneous documents.
The collection consists of 0.25 linear feet of loose administrative records and two incomplete sets of ledgers that document the names and addresses of men who voted in the municipal elections of 1877 and 1879 in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. A compiled alphabetical index of the 1877 precinct ledgers, which contain 7,189 names, is available here.
In 1873, City Council created the office of Corporation Counsel, which is responsible for providing legal advice and services to City Council, the Mayor, and other municipal entities. This collection contains legal opinions, case files, and administrative records.
This collection consists of materials related to the administration of the North Charleston Company and related corporate entities. Significant material include miscellaneous corporate documents, 1912–1955, meeting minutes, 1925–1932, and a ca. 1920 illustrated report entitled “Description of a Model Dairy Farm.”
This collection comprises the research materials of Ruth Williams Cupp, an attorney, writer, and historian. The bulk of the materials consists of seven scrapbooks of newspaper articles written by Ms. Cupp between 1988 and 2002. Other materials include subject files, photographs, and writings. This finding aid includes an index to the scrapbooks.
This small collection contains materials related to the Charleston Industrial Institute, founded by Rev. John L. Dart for the purpose of educating the African American children of Charleston.
This collection comprises the extant records of the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund for the City of Charleston, 1829–1931. A sinking fund is an account into which a corporation or government body sets aside money for the purpose of paying off a debt (often stocks or bonds). This collection includes information about City of Charleston stocks and bonds, fire loan bonds, railroad stock, and forfeited lands.