The Streets and How They Got Their Names
By: Ill. Bro. McDonald “Don” Burbidge, 33º
In 1677 the town name was “Oyster-Point-Town” then it was renamed in 1680 to “Charles Town” then in 1783 was renamed again to Charleston as we know it today.
The town was originally laid off no further to the West than Meeting Street, a line to the Bay, a little to the North of the present St. Philip’s Church formed its northern boundary, and somewhere about Water Street was its southern extremity. For many years the streets were not distinguished by any names.
In a deed of sale dated January 20, 1696/1697 a street is first described as “Queen Street.” Found in deeds of the same period, East Bay Street was described as “a street running parallel with the Cooper River, from Ashley River to the French Church.”
In a deed dated July 30, 1698 some bounds are described as being on “Broad Street, alias Cooper Street that lead from Cooper River by the Church and Market place to the Ashley River.” Also found in a deed dated August 17, 1699, it appears that the lots upon which City Hall and the Court House now stand, were the original sites of the Market place and some additional lands are described as bounding upon “the great street (now called Meeting Street) that runs north and south through the Market Place.”
Broad Street was just that, the broadest street in Charles Town. The street was 61 feet wide at the intersection of East Bay and 100 feet wide between St. Michael's Church and the Beef Market (which stood on the site of City Hall). Records during the period, 1698 to 1714, interchangeably refer to Broad Street and Cooper Street, presumably for Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper.
Chalmers Street, the longest remaining Cobblestone Street, has had various names. The block from Union (now State) to Church was early called Union Alley, and after he purchased property on it in 1757, was called Chalmers Alley after Dr. Lionel Chalmers. Dr. Chalmers (1715-1777), a Scot, studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh before settling in South Carolina where he became one of the leading physicians and was associated with Dr. John Lining (see 106 Broad). He was a scientist who, like Lining, recorded weather observations and published the results in London in 1776. His work on tetanus was published in the Transactions of the Medical Society of London (1754) and his Essay on Fevers was published in Charles Town (1767). He corresponded with leading European scientists, as did Lining and Dr. Alexander Garden of Charles Town. The great fire of 1778 destroyed Chalmers’ residence in the alley. It was on the north side; otherwise its location is uncertain. The continuation of the thoroughfare, from Church Street to Meeting was Beresford Alley, named for Richard Beresford, a Wando River planter who in 1715 left his large estate for the establishment of a free school. The fund continues to provide scholarships for needy students. Forty years after the Revolution, the two alleys were widened, paved and merged into one street under the name Chalmers Street.
Church Street, named for the new St. Philip's Church, was one of the regularly laid out streets of the 1672 Grand Modell, extending the length of the town from what is now Cumberland Street to Vanderhorst Creek (present Water Street). Early references call it New Church Street, signifying the removal of St. Philip's from its original site, and in some cases, new Meeting street, reflecting perhaps the loss of Old Meeting Street due to construction of the city walls, and perhaps the presence of the Baptist Church near it's south end. By 1739, it was known simply as Church Street. By that time, also, Vanderhorst Creek had been bridged and Church Street Continued was cut from Vanderhorst Creek south to Broughton's Battery on White Point.
Cumberland Street was probably named for William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who defeated the pro-Stuart Scots at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The street does not appear on the "Iconography" of 1739. Cumberland was originally one block long, from Meeting to Church. It. was widened in the early part of the 19th century, and extended to East Bay. In the process, a slice was taken from Amen Street, which ceased to exist. Amen Street began at East Bay and extended northwestwardly to Church Street. One tradition says it was so named because it was the last street on the north side of town; another that it was so-called because it was in hearing range of the "Amens" from nearby churches.
East Bay Street was originally called Bay Street or The Bay. According to Ramsay, the first houses were built along the waterfront. The early grants described lots as bounding east on Cooper River. It was literally true, as there was nothing to the east of East Bay but marsh and water. From the settlement of the town, East Bay was the center of a growing commerce. As commerce grew and the town grew, so did the number of wharfs or "bridges" as they were called. With the buildup of land east of the town wall on curtain line, short streets were laid out east of East Bay and office buildings and warehouses were built on the street and wharfs. Most of that development occurred after the American Revolution. During the colonial period, the East Side of East Bay was fortified, from Granville's Bastion on the South to Craven's Bastion on the north. The West Side of the street was lined with buildings, stores below and residences above, while the wharf’s projected to the east of the curtain line. East Bay crossed a small swamp at the foot of Queen Street and crossed a drainage canal at present-day Market Street via the Governor's Bridge, whence it continued north to Colleton Square and the other suburbs. Above the Governor's Bridge it was known as East Bay continued as far as Laurens Street, where it was known as Front street or So-Be-It Lane.
Located within the most ancient confines of Charleston, an area well inside of the town’s old walls, in a section where the French Huguenots once lived and worked was “Simmon’s Alley,” which later was renamed “Lodge Alley” in reference to the Masonic Lodge located there. It was a thruway for merchants working at the docks on East Bay Street during the 1750’s.
Market Street was built partly over a creek, which divided the town proper from the suburb of Colleton Square. Ellery Street, of Colleton Square, approximated the course of present-day North Market Street, and was laid out in the 1730s. South Market street was opened later, when the Market was built sometime between 1790 and 1807.
Meeting Street was one of the "great streets" laid out according to Lord Shaftesbury's instructions about 1672. Meeting Street takes its name from the White Meeting House of the Independents or Congregationalists. Before that name was adopted, the street was usually described in terms of its course, such as: "The Great Street that Runneth from Ashley River to the Market." While St. Philip's Church was briefly (in terms of its history) where St. Michael's now stands, the street was sometimes called Church Street, and after St. Philip's moved, was called Old Church Street.
Originally named “Cow Alley” then renamed to “Philadelphia Street” and later changed to “Philadelphia Alley.” Originally named Kinloch Court but in 1810 changed to Philadelphia by William Johnson who owned much of the property in the vicinity. He had been sent to Philadelphia as a prisoner during Revolutionary War and named the street in admiration of Philadelphia. (Charleston News and Courier April 29, 1935.) An ordinance in 1811 for widening and opening Kinloch Court through the block and change of name. (Commissioner of Orphan House, 1807-1815.)
State Street was formerly called Union Street, to celebrate the union of England and Scotland in 1707. The named was changed to State Street in 1812.
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