The city's old homes and winding streets, historic sites, and charm, together with its mild climate and nearby beaches and gardens (including Middleton Place, Magnolia Gardens, and Cypress Gardens), attract tourists. Many colonial buildings survive, among them St. Michael's Episcopal Church (begun 1752), noted for its chimes, and the Miles Brewton house (1765–69). Also here are the Powder Magazine (c.1713); the Gibbes Museum of Art; the Charleston Museum (1773) and the City Market (1804–41), each among the oldest of their kind in the country; and Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park. The waterfront, especially the Battery, and the Grace Memorial Bridge over the Cooper River, are famous Charleston landmarks; the South Carolina Aquarium is on a wharf in the harbor. Cabbage Row surrounds a court that was the
Catfish Row of DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy. The annual azalea festival is a popular event, and the Spoleto U.S.A. music and arts festival (see Spoleto Festival) has been held in the city since 1977. Charleston is the seat of the Citadel, the Medical Univ. of South Carolina, Charleston Southern Univ., and the College of Charleston (1790), which in 1837 became the first municipal college in the United States. Noted resorts lie east and west of the city.
The English settled (1670) at Albemarle Point, on the western bank of the Ashley River, c.7 mi (11 km) from modern Charleston. They moved in 1680 to Oyster Point, where their capital, Charles Town, had been laid out. The city became the most important seaport, and the center of wealth and culture, in the southern colonies. Non-English immigrants, among whom French Huguenots were prominent, added a cosmopolitan touch. Charleston was an early theatrical center; the Dock Street Theatre (opened 1736) was one of the first established in the country. In the American Revolution, after being successfully defended (1776, 1779) by William Moultrie, Charleston was surrendered (May 12, 1780) by Benjamin Lincoln to the British under Sir Henry Clinton, who held it until Dec. 14, 1782. The capital was moved to Columbia in 1790, but Charleston remained the region's social and economic center.
The South Carolina ordinance of secession (Dec., 1860) was passed in Charleston, and the city was the scene of the act precipitating the Civil War—the firing on Fort Sumter (Apr. 12, 1861). With its harbor blockaded and the city under virtual siege by Union forces (1863–65), Charleston suffered partial destruction but did not fall until Feb., 1865, after it had been isolated by Sherman's army. A violent earthquake on Aug. 31, 1886, with an estimated magnitude of 7.3., took many lives and made thousands homeless; it was the most powerful earthquake on the E coast of the United States in historic times. Periodic storms, such as Hurricane Hugo (1989), have also caused great damage. The city's port experienced signficant growth during the late 20th cent.
See R. N. Rosen, A Short History of Charleston (1982); Q. Bell et al., Charleston (1988); S. R. Wise, Gates of Hell (1994); P. Starobin, Madness Rules the Hour: Charleston, 1860 and the Mania for War (2017).
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