7 historic landmarks in Charleston, South Carolina

Published Date: January 17, 2023

Downtown Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston has an incredibly long history. Just how long? The town was founded in the late 1600s as the English settlement known as Charles Towne. Today, with some 150,000 residents, it is the biggest city in South Carolina.For history lovers, Charleston has all the makings of a storied destination: wartime battles, ghost stories, pirate captures, stunning architecture and plenty of local folklore. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or are returning to learn more, here are the seven sites you won’t want to miss.

1. Charles Towne Landing 

Charles Towne Landing is the site of the first Charleston colony, established when settlers arrived in the area in 1670. Today, this state historic site gives visitors of all ages a crash course in American Colonial history, done via incredible hands-on exhibits and a self-guided history trail. A popular activity for families, visitors can explore the deck and cabins of a replica 17th century ship like the settlers arrived on, view archeological dig sites and walk the Animal Forest Trail to spot native species present at the time of the early settlers.  

2. The Angel Oak 

Believed to be over 400 years old, the Angel Oak is both a historical treasure and a natural wonder. This Southern live oak is 65 feet high with a circumference of 25.5 feet. This live oak, thought to be one of the oldest east of the Mississippi River, provides an incredible 17,000 square feet of shade — a must when you wander through this beautiful park in the summer. 

3. The Old Exchange Building

This National Historic Landmark is a must-visit for anyone wanting to learn more about South Carolina history. The Old Exchange Building has been part of the American story since its completion in 1771. Along with its underground Provost Dungeon, the exchange was used as a prison during the American Revolution, and it’s said the notorious pirate Blackbeard was once held there. The building’s history has its share of shame (public slave auctions were held there) and pride (it is one of only four remaining structures where the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788). The site is open for guided tours. 

4. The Old City Jail 

The imposing, castle-like and slightly foreboding building in downtown is the Old City Jail. Built in 1802 and used until 1939, the jail housed a range of storied individuals, from plundering pirates and Union Army prisoners during the Civil War to Denmark Vesey, who was jailed for planning a slave revolt. It also has a reputation as Charleston’s most haunted building, and a number of local ghost tours include it on their spookiest tours. 

5. Fort Sumter 

Did you know that the American Civil War started right in Charleston? The Confederacy fired on the U.S. garrison of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and the rest is history. Take a ferry to the fort, where you can wander stone caverns and marvel at the size of Civil War-era cannons. An on-site museum details the fort’s role in the war, and you can opt for either a quick ranger talk and a self-guided tour or a full guided tour. 

6. Middleton Place National Historic Landmark

Go back in time at Middleton Place. The 110-acre estate of the Middleton family tells the story of both the plantation’s white owners and its enslaved African and African-American workers. The House Museum is filled with family artifacts, including those of Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, while Eliza’s House provides insights into the enslaved people who labored and lived there. Visitors can also explore stable yards and 65 acres of the country’s oldest landscaped gardens. 

7. Old Slave Mart Museum

Charleston played a major role in the tragic history of American slavery. At one time, 35-40% of the Africans brought to North America as slaves were processed through Charleston. Considered the last surviving slave auction gallery in the state, the Old Slave Mart today has an in-depth exhibit detailing Charleston’s slave history. Many museum staff members have traced their history to enslaved people in Charleston. 

Immerse yourself in Charleston history

With its deep history to explore, one trip to Charleston is never enough. Explore Pacaso second home listings and start making your own history in Charleston. 

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Jen Lyons

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