About Charleston Time Machine

The Charleston Time Machine is an imaginary time-travel device created by historian Dr. Nic Butler. It uses stories and facts from the rich, deep, colorful history of Charleston, South Carolina, as a means to educate, inspire, amuse, and even amaze the minds of our community. By exploring the stories of our shared past, we can better understand our present world and plan more effectively for the future.

The Charleston Time Machine is piloted by Nic Butler, Ph.D., an interdisciplinary historian with an infectious enthusiasm for Charleston’s colorful past. A native of Greenville County, South Carolina, Dr. Butler attended the University of South Carolina before completing a Ph.D. in musicology at Indiana University. He has worked as archivist of the South Carolina Historical Society, as an adjunct faculty member at the College of Charleston, and as an historical consultant for the City of Charleston. 

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Recent Trips in Charleston's History

  • PREVIEW: Charleston's First Black Detectives, 1869–1886

    Americans love novels and movies that portray detectives following a trail of clues to solve a crime. In our community, the City of Charleston hired its first plainclothes detectives in 1856, during the era of slavery, but a handful of Black detectives joined the force shortly after the Civil War. On February 10th, Charleston Time Machine will explore the brief careers of the city’s first Black detectives and the political forces that ended their employment.

  • Searching For The Curtain Wall of Charleston’s Colonial Waterfront

    If you’ve ever walked along the east side of East Bay Street in the heart of Charleston, you’ve stood atop a forgotten brick wall that once defined the city’s waterfront. This half-mile-long “wharf wall” or “curtain line” commenced in the 1690s to separate the street from the harbor, but it quickly evolved into a defensive fortification. Damaged by a series of hurricanes in the early 1700s, it was substantially rebuilt several times and finally leveled after the American Revolution. We’ll trace the rise and fall of Charleston’s eastern curtain wall and follow its path below the modern streetscape.  

  • Savannah Highway: The Private Roots of a Public Thoroughfare

    Can you imagine Savannah Highway as a narrow toll road traversing a patchwork of rural plantations? The present broad ribbon of asphalt covers a modest country path created more than two centuries ago by a private corporation. Its purpose was to funnel agricultural goods, animals, and people from the hinterland to markets in urban Charleston, across the first bridge connecting the city to the Parish of St. Andrew. In this episode of Charleston Time Machine, we’ll explore the commercial roots of a nine-mile path that evolved into a vital transportation corridor.

  • The Ghost of Christmas Past: Joy and Fear during the Era of Slavery

    During the era of legal slavery in the United States, most people living in bondage enjoyed a brief respite at Christmas. Their holidays often included celebratory meals, music, and dancing, sometimes in company with their White neighbors. This seasonal liberty also generated great anxiety, however: Slaveowners dreaded Yuletide acts of resistance against their authority, while enslaved people feared violent rebukes of their festive joy. Conversations about the history of Christmas in the South benefit from an honest appraisal of the holiday’s troubled past.

  • Park Circle: Vestige of the Original North Charleston Concept

    Long before the rise of the present municipality, a group of capitalists coined the phrase “North Charleston” in 1912 to describe a bold development scheme on the west bank of the Cooper River. The heart of the proposed, 6,000-acre city was an upscale segregated community called Pinewood Park, nestled within a circular array of broad streets and verdant lots. Economic gloom eventually crushed the corporate scheme, but the footprint of the circular neighborhood survived and evolved into the modern community called Park Circle.

  • The Grand Model: John Culpeper's 1672 Plan for Charles Town

    How did a maritime forest between the rivers Ashley and Cooper become the urban streetscape we call Charleston? The spark of this long transformation occurred in 1672, when South Carolina’s Surveyor General drew a plan for a town on the verdant peninsula called Oyster Point. Although John Culpeper’s “model” of the town was imperfectly inscribed on the forested landscape, the grid of streets and lots created 350 years ago framed the growth of Charleston and continue to shape the way residents and visitors experience the Palmetto City in the twenty-first century.

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Don't know how to get a podcast? Let us help! 

Think of a podcast as a radio show that you can get on the internet and listen to, pause, restart, and skip through anytime you want. You have a couple options: You can listen to a podcast through a website like CCPL's, which is called streaming; or you can download the podcast, which means it is saved to your phone, tablet, or computer so you can listen to it anytime -- even without an internet connection. 

To stream the Charleston Time Machine: Visit the Time Machine page and either choose an episode from the player above or choose which story you want to know more about. In each story we embed a player of that episode so you can listen as you read. 

To download: Use an app and it will be delivered each week to your phone, tablet, or computer. You'll get a fresh Time Machine podcast every Friday afternoon! We offer downloads through services you may have heard of before: Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Soundcloud, Stitcher, and Tune In. Just click on the icon above of the service you want to use and click the subscribe button. It's that easy! 

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