Self-Guided, Route BAY B
HISTORIC CHARLESTON WALKING TOUR
[START AND FINISH AT THE CUSTOMS HOUSE]
Customs is a port of entry into a country for international goods in order to control the flow of goods, especially restrictive and prohibited goods, into and out of the country. By 1771, the U.S. Custom Service had outgrown its offices in the Old Exchange Building on East Bay Street. This waterfront site was purchased in 1849 and construction began in 1853. Work stopped because of the Civil War and lack of funds. It was finally finished in 1879. It replaced the Exchange and Provost Dungeon and still serves as Charleston’s Custom House.
From the Customs House, walk south down East Bay Street about two blocks to Vendue Range on your left (across from Queen Street) and follow Vendue Range to the water walkway. Go right on the walkway and continue to the end at Adgers Wharf Way. Take Adgers Wharf Way to East Bay Street. Rainbow Row should be in front of you.
Just one look and you know how this stretch of houses along East Bay Street got its name. This series of row houses, painted in bright colors, date back to about 1740. This is near what was the waterfront district of the city back in the 18th century. The houses were owned by well-off merchants who had stores on the ground floor and lived in the upper floors.
Go north on East Bay Street two blocks to Broad Street. The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon will on the right.
This was the last structure erected by the British in Charleston. It is one of only three buildings in the US where the Constitution was ratified. The city’s commercial center was in this area on Bay Street. Public slave auctions were held outside this building and along the adjacent factors’ wharves. Other enterprises included brokers’ offices and a large number of merchants who catered to the maritime trade. Rope, tar, lumber, canvas and nails were kept in good supply. This building originally served as a customs house and a meeting place. Sailing ships arrived with bulk cargo from Europe, while smaller boats and canoes arrived via the local waterways loaded with animal skins, corn and other goods. The Dungeon downstairs was a damp gloomy place where prisoners were held. Today, this building is owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution and is a museum and available for tours.
Go west on Broad Street then right on State Street. Go to Chalmers Street.
Cobblestone Streets on Chalmers Street
This is one of the last remaining cobblestone type streets in Charleston. It is believed that these old stones were used as ballast on ships arriving from England and were discarded upon arrival to make space for cargo for the return voyage to England. These stones were later re-purposed on the roads to minimize mud.
This is the only surviving building in South Carolina that had been used as a slave auction gallery. Leading up to the Civil War, Charleston was a commercial center for the plantation economy. Where there were plantations, there were slaves. The Old Slave Mart was built in 1856 as a result of a city regulation that prohibited public sales of slaves. The Old Slave Mart made it possible for the slave trade to continue in Charleston now that it had been moved to an indoor private location. It only operated for a few years, closing its doors in 1863 in the idle years of the Civil War. Two years later, slavery would be abolished in all the United States.
Built around 1712, the Pink House is believed to be the second oldest remaining structure in Charleston. It never was a house; rather it was a tavern. The Pink House was just one of the structures along cobble-stoned “Chalmers Alley” which was part of the “party” district near the wharfs. It remained a tavern through the 1700s. It has been several different things since then. Some say that the Pink House is haunted.
Go back to State Street and go left to Queen Street. Go right on Queen Street to East Bay Street.
[Return to the Customs House at 200 East Bay Street.]