Little Bits of History

Charleston Museum

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 12, 2015
Heyward-Washington House - Part of the Charleston Museum

Heyward-Washington House – part of the Charleston Museum

January 12, 1773: The Charleston Museum is founded. It is the oldest museum in the US. The Charleston Library Society was begun in December 1748 when nineteen men in various trades and professions wanted access to the latest publications from Great Britain. The Society paved the way for the founding of the College of Charleston in 1770 and provided the core collection of natural history artifacts when they founded this museum. The museum was supported by many of the locals involved in the scientific community, Charles Pinckney, Thomas Heyward, Jr., John Bachman, and John Audubon. Many of the original artifacts were destroyed in a fire in 1778 and operations were suspended during the Revolutionary War.

The museum first opened to the public in 1824. By 1852, with expanded collections intact, it was declared to be one of America’s best museums by Louis Aggasiz of Harvard. Once again, operations were suspended during the US Civil War. Soon after the war, the museum was opened for business. Collections were acquired from the late 1700s to the present day and they now display the oldest-acquired and most comprehensive displays of South Carolina materials in the nation. Their focus for collections today includes materials from the natural sciences, ornithology, and historical materials both documents and pictures.

Today, the museum properties also include the Heyward-Washington House which was built in 1772. It is also knows as Charleston’s Revolutionary War House. Heyward was one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. General Washington used the house during his Southern Tour of 1791. When touring the house, one can see the Holmes Bookcase, a mammoth piece of brilliant woodworking and considered to be the finest example of period American-made furniture in existence today. The formal gardens contain plants available to the area when the house was new. It was used by Dubose Hayward as the setting for Porgy and Bess.

The Joseph Manigault House is the second historic home owned by the museum. It is also called Charleston’s Huguenot House and was built in 1803 in the Federal style of architecture. Gabriel Manigault designed it for his brother, Joseph and it is a prime example of the lifestyle of the wealthy rice families of the era. The home is preserved with period furniture and decorative touches, painted with the lavish colors of the era. The Dill Sanctuary is the last property of the museum and is located on James Island. It contains wildlife sanctuaries as well as three earthen Confederate batteries. Also on the island are prehistoric, colonial, antebellum, and postbellum archaeological sites.

Museums are managers of consciousness. They give us an interpretation of history, of how to view the world and locate ourselves in it. They are, if you want to put it in positive terms, great educational institutions. If you want to put it in negative terms, they are propaganda machines. – Hans Haacke

Museums are good things, places to look and absorb and learn. – Alan King

I went to the museum where they had all the heads and arms from the statues that are in all the other museums. – Steven Wright

When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums. – Andy Warhol

Also on this day: Reach for the Stars – In 1866, the Royal Aeronautical Society was formed.
Pow! Bop! – In 1966, Batman premiered on ABC Television.
Presentation is Everything – In 1943, The Office of Price Administration in the US issued an edict renaming food items.
The Big Sleep – In 1967, James Bedford died and was cryogenically preserved.
Amos ‘n’ Andy Precursor – In 1926, Sam ‘n’ Henry premiered.


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