Old District Jail In Need of Repair

Charleston’s old district jail on Magazine Street is just north of the famed South of Broad district, but a million miles from the consciousness of the daily city visitor. Built in 1803 in a section that was then on the marshy border of city, the towering old fortress construction was never meant to be a tourism showcase. Instead it was a place of punishment and misery for the next 137 years, closing in 1939 and used sparingly by the city as a police station and housing authority maintenance shop since. But time has mellowed the terror of the old place, and made its massive crenelated walls and turrets of much more interest to architectural historians. Since 2000, it has been home to the American College of the Building Arts, where classes are taught in sculpting, woodcarving, and iron work. The old lock-up was fortunate to get tenants who knew something about structural changes, as the jail was quickly crumbling from decades of neglect and damage. The old cells and halls provide a fascinating look into this very mundane aspect of Charleston history, and old walls still bear the graffiti of those locked up more than a century ago. The construction itself is unique in its Romanesque bulk, including attic cisterns and a roofing system that fed the water supply, as well as reverse-arch foundations that have kept the huge half-acre structure from sinking into the soft ground below. The old district jail, which is mistakenly called a city jail by too many who should know better, is in need of considerable repair, but is low on the totem pole of projects in Charleston today, so its future is not guaranteed.