Creator Charleston (S.C.). Special Committee on the City Fire Loan
Date 1867–1893
Physical description 2.5 linear feet
Preferred Citation [Identification of the Specific Item], Records of the Special Committee on City Fire Loans, 1867–1893, City of Charleston Records, Charleston County Public Library, Charleston, SC.
Repository The Charleston Archive
Compiled By Processed March 2008, K. Gray. Previous inventories published in “Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the City of Charleston,” July 1981, M. F. Holling and “Descriptive Inventory of the City of Charleston,” July 1996, S. L. King.
Access to materials Collection is open for research.
Subject Headings Fires--South Carolina--Charleston
Buildings--South Carolina--Charleston--Repair and reconstruction
Municipal bonds--South Carolina--Charleston
  Portions of this collection have been digitized and are available online.

Scope and Content

The collection contains Fire Loan Bonds (1867–1887, bulk 1873–1882), Fire Loan Cash Book (1875–1887), Fire Loan Notices (1875–1878), and loose materials (1869–1893).

The Fire Loan Bonds consist of one ledger that records the transactions on individual fire loans. Entries in the ledger include: name of borrower, description of lot mortgaged including location and dimensions (does not include details about buildings on the property), amount of fire loan bonds, and transactions on each account. For each entry, the left hand side of the page contains the bills (i.e. dates and amounts of payments due to the account) and the right hand side of page contains payments (i.e. dates and amounts of payments made to the city by the issuer; sometimes include remarks about the fate of the bond or property, such as sales, accounts settled, etc.). The ledger is arranged alphabetically, by the first letter of the issuer’s last name. The arrangement is not fully alphabetical and some entries are out of sequence, particularly at the end of the ledger. An index is available at the beginning of the ledger.

The Fire Loan Cash Book is a single ledger, arranged chronologically, that records the transactions of the City Treasury concerning the fire loan bonds. Each left hand page contains amounts coming into the city (payments made by individuals toward interest, insurance, taxes, etc.). The right hand pages contain amounts being paid by the city (purchase of stocks and bonds, payment of state taxes, operational costs, etc.). A recapitulation of the account is presented at the end of each year, beginning in 1879. The ledger includes the names of individuals conducting fire loan transactions with the city, but does not contain detailed discussions of specific properties.

The Fire Loan Notices is one bound volume of notices of forfeited mortgages. Each notice contains the name of the person to whom the loan was issued, date of issuance, amount of loan, description of property, overdue amount leading to forfeiture, and date of notice. Notices are listed in order of notice number, roughly chronological by year. An index is included at the beginning of the volume.

The Loose Materials consist of Fire Loan accounts, Fire Loan lists, and miscellaneous files. Fire Loan account files contain information on individual fire loans, arranged alphabetically by last name of loan recipient. Those accounts administered by a third party are filed under the property owner's name, with a redirection maker filed under the trustee's name. The account files contain papers such as bond applications, vouchers, bonds, mortgages, receipts, deposit slips, tax executions, and certificates of judgment. The contents of the files are inconsistent and vary in completeness. Fire Loan lists contain master lists of fire loan bonds compiled by the Charleston City Treasurer from 1875–1887. The majority of the lists is arranged alphabetically by last name of the loan recipients and includes information such as amount of loan, date of loan, location and description of property, interest accrued, and state of repayment. The files also contain lists documenting state taxation and listings of bonds by number. The miscellaneous files contain financial papers related to the administration of the Fire Loan Fund, including receipts, deposit slips, and correspondence, dated 1875–1892.

Of the one hundred and twenty-five applicants represented in the individual account files, eleven can be positively identified as African American and twenty-eight as women. Eighty-five properties in the Fire Loan files could be readily plotted on a map. Of that number, thirty-three (roughly 40%) are located along the path of destruction of the fire of 1861, with an additional nine in the immediate vicinity.1

1 -- The path of the 1861 fire as delineated in Historic Charleston on a Map, Alfred O. Halsey, 1949.


Administrative/Biographical History

It is well documented that the years of the Civil War (1861–1865) saw the destruction of much of the city of Charleston. The twin dangers of fire and Union artillery combined to demolish much of the city. One eyewitness floridly expounded that, “the highways of Herculaneum and Pompeii never filled one with such a feeling of utter loneliness and desolation as some of the streets of the lower part of the city of Charleston.”2

On December 11, 1861, a fire broke out at Russell's Sash and Blind Company on Hasell Street. This fire, aided by high winds, quickly spread through the city in a southwesterly direction. It cut a swath across the peninsula to the edges of the Ashley River that was 250 yards wide and 1800 yards long, destroying scores of homes and businesses and five of the city's churches.3 This area of devastation became known in local parlance and in the press as the “Burnt District.”

Beginning in 1863, further destruction was rained upon the city by Union forces stationed at Morris Island. For over a year, hundreds of artillery shells were fired upon the city, causing massive damage and laying waste to many buildings.

After the cessation of the Civil War, the city fathers began to contemplate the rejuvenation of Charleston. On August 25, 1866, Charleston City Council passed an ordinance to aid in the rebuilding of the city's “Burnt District and waste places”, through the issuance of seven percent bonds. A property owner wishing to receive these bonds was required to submit an application to a special committee, containing a plan and cost of the proposed building, situation and dimensions of the lot, and an abstract of title to the land. A representative of the Committee would then appraise said lot. Once the Committee had approved the proposal and the city attorney approved the title, a loan in bonds was made to the applicant for one half the appraised value of the property. The property owner would then mortgage his property to the City to secure the bond. The applicant was required to pay back the principal sum to City Council in fifteen annual installments, beginning three years after the date of the bond's issuance. Additionally, the applicant was required to pay seven percent interest yearly on the bonds. If the applicant failed to repay the loan or if s/he were in arrear for one year's interest, the mortgage would become forfeited, and City Council was empowered to sell the property to satisfy the bond.4

There were several restrictions placed upon the issuance of the bonds. Before a loan was made, one fifth of the proposed work had to be completed. In addition, it appears that the bonds could only be used toward the completion of new construction, as there is no discussion of repairs or renovations to pre-existing buildings. No loans were issued for lots with wooden structures or for buildings less than two stories.5 The sum of the loans had to be expended within six months of issuance on buildings of stone or brick construction with roofs, cornices, and coverings of incombustible materials. Once the initial sum was spent, applicants could apply for a second and third loan, also for one-half the sum of the appraised value. To secure the additional loans, the applicant was required to take out an insurance policy on the property equal to the amount of the loan.6

It appears that the Fire Loan bonds were issued with the intent that property owners would raise money for construction costs by selling the bonds for fifty or sixty cents on the dollar. This premise proved to be faulty and resulted in ruinous losses for many property owners, sometimes culminating in bankruptcy.7 In 1885, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that, since the bonds were issued for private rather than public purposes, the 1866 ordinance was unconstitutional and void.8 Nevertheless, the City Treasurer continued to include the Fire Loan Fund in his annual reports up until 1903.9

The 1866 ordinance was the second utilization of fire loan bonds in the city of Charleston. A previous fire in 1838 had caused an estimated $5,000,000 in damages.10 In that year, the South Carolina Legislature passed an act issuing bonds for the rebuilding of the city. The provisions and guidelines for the fire loan bonds were much the same as those found in the later ordinance. However, these earlier bonds were issued on the credit of the state and were administered by the Bank of South Carolina.11 Like its later incarnation, the fire loan of 1838 was also considered a failure.12

All Fire Loan materials included in this collection and housed in the Charleston Archive are associated with the Fire Loan Ordinance of 1866.

2 -- “Four Years Under Fire at Charleston,” Harpers New Monthly Magazine, August 1865, p. 358–366.

3 -- “The Great Fire of 1861,” News & Courier, 29 July 1962, p. 3C.

4 -- Ordinances of the City of Charleston, 1859–1870, p. 21–24.

5 -- The ordinance was amended in 1870 to allow for the erection of wooden buildings using Fire Loan bond funds. See Ordinances of the City of Charleston, 1859–1870, p. 107.

6 -- ibid., p. 21–24.

7 -- City of Charleston Yearbook, 1880, p. 9.

8 -- The Lawyers Reports Annotated, 1898, p. 286, accessed online 14 May 2008 at

9 -- City of Charleston Yearbook, 1903, p. 2.

10 -- “The Burning of Charleston” Harper's Weekly, 28 December 1861, p. 823.


Additional Finding Aids

An index to the Fire Loan Accounts is available in the Charleston Archive.



This collection comprises a portion of the historic records of the City of Charleston. These materials were put on permanent loan to the Charleston County Public Library by the City of Charleston Records Management Division in 2002.


Collection Outline

I. Bound Materials  
A. Fire Loan Bonds BOX 1
B. Fire Loan Cash Book BOX 2
C. Fire Loan Notices BOX 2
II. Loose Materials  
A. Fire Loan Accounts (Individual)  -- Folders 1–121 BOX 3-4
B. Fire Loan Lists -- Folders 122–124 BOX 5
C. Fire Loan Miscellaneous Papers -- Folders 125–129 BOX 5