Old Charleston Jail

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Old Charleston Jail
Old Charleston Jail is located in South Carolina
Old Charleston Jail
Location of the Old Charleston Jail in South Carolina
Location21 Magazine Street, Charleston, South Carolina
Coordinates32°46′42″N 79°56′13″W / 32.77833°N 79.93694°W / 32.77833; -79.93694Coordinates: 32°46′42″N 79°56′13″W / 32.77833°N 79.93694°W / 32.77833; -79.93694
Governing bodyU.S. National Park Service
The Old Charleston Jail was used as a school for building trades.

The Old Charleston Jail is a site in Charleston, South Carolina. It held many notorious criminals, among them Lavinia Fisher.[1]

Charleston, SC Old City Jail


The Old County Jail is located on a four-acre parcel set aside for public use from Charleston's earliest settlement. The jail, which was operational from 1802 until 1939, housed Charleston's most infamous criminals, and, during the Civil War Federal prisoners of war.[2] The Old Jail building was constructed in 1802 and served as the Charleston County Jail until 1939. In 1680, as the city of Charleston was being laid out, this location was designated for public use. In time a hospital, poor house, Workhouse for runaway slaves, and this Jail was built on the square. When the Jail was constructed in 1802 it consisted of four stories, topped with a two-story octagonal tower. Charleston architects Barbot & Seyle were responsible for 1855 alterations to the building, including a loo rear octagonal wing, expansions to the main building and the Romanesque Revival details. This octagonal wing replaced a fireproof wing with individual cells, designed by Robert Mills in 1822, five years earlier than his notable Fireproof Building. The 1886 earthquake badly damaged the tower and top story of the main building, and these were subsequently removed.[1]

The Old Jail housed a great variety of inmates. John and Lavinia Fisher, and other members of their gang, convicted of highway robbery in the Charleston Neck region were imprisoned here in 1819 to 1820. Some of the last 19th-century high-sea pirates were jailed here in 1822 while they awaited hanging. The Jail was active after the discovery of Denmark Vesey's planned slave revolt. Although the main trials were held in the Workhouse, some slaves were briefly held in both the Jail and the Poor House, and four white men convicted of supporting the 1822 plot were imprisoned here. Tradition holds that Vesey spent his last days in the tower before being hanged, although no extant document indicates this. Increased restrictions were placed on slaves and free blacks in Charleston as a result of the Vesey plot, and law required that all black seaman be kept here while they were in port. During the Civil War, Confederate and Federal prisoners of war were incarcerated here. It is one of more than 1400 historically significant buildings within the Charleston Old and Historic District.[1]

Since 2003 the Jail has been a popular with tourists as well as television. It has been featured in a variety of television shows including The Travel Channel, The Food Network, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and Ghost Brothers. Daytime history and night time ghost tours are available through Bulldog Tours. In exchange for exclusive touring rights of the building, Bulldog Tours has contributed over $1m to the restoration of the historical building.

Notable Inmates[edit]

  • Lavinia Fisher and her husband John Fisher, publicly executed after being accused of highway robbery. Both held claim to their innocence.
  • Denmark Vesey Accused of planning a slave revolt, executed in 1822.[1]
  • Jacque Alexander Tardy held from 1825-27 for attempt to steal a pilot boat, also responsible for innocent John Gibson being tried and hanged for his 1817 piracy.
  • Civil War prisoners of war
  • High Sea Pirates

American College of the Building Arts[edit]

In 2000, the American College of the Building Arts (ACBA) acquired the Old City Jail from the Housing Authority of the City of Charleston, which had obtained the building along with the Robert Mills-designed Mariners Hospital and other land to be redeveloped as the Robert Mills Manor public housing project. The jail was generally unused during the Housing Authority's 61 years of ownership. Most of the facility's original structures remain intact. Upon acquisition, the College initiated an emergency stabilization program; preservation efforts are on-going. The College began in 1998 when a small team led by Alabama native John Paul Huguley created the School of the Building Arts (SoBA) in Charleston. Inspired by legendary Charleston master artisan, Philip Simmons, SoBA was established to solve the growing problem in building preservation that became evident in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo swept through Charleston severely damaging many of the city's historic structures.

It was soon discovered that despite Charleston's commitment to historic preservation, there were only a few local craftsmen trained and qualified for the task. The lack of master craftsmen is not unique to Charleston as quality design and craftsmanship training have been steadily declining throughout the nation. After the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education licensed the School to begin recruiting on July 8, 2004, the name of the institution was changed to the American College of the Building Arts (ACBA) to more accurately reflect its place in the American educational hierarchy. Today, the Old City Jail is an official "Save America's Treasures" project of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the White House Millennium Council. The American College of Building Arts (ACBA) moved out of the Jail in the summer of 2016 after the building was sold to a real estate developer.


  1. ^ a b c d "Old Jail". Nps.gov. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  2. ^ "The Old City Jail of Charleston". Discovercharleston.com. 2004-07-08. Retrieved 2012-07-17.