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What was the Arch Building used for?

Architecture
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If you've visited the Gaillard Center since it opened or traveled down Calhoun Street on your way to the S.C. Aquarium or to Fort Sumter, you likely passed a much older building that might have escaped your attention.

The Arch Building, as 85 Calhoun St. is commonly known, was constructed at least before 1859, but the property was part of Christopher Gadsden's land when surveyed in 1795, according to documents from the Library of Congress. Gadsden was a delegate to the First Continental Congress and considered to be the person who created the "Don't Tread on Me" flag used during the American Revolution.

Photos exist from 1937, when the building served as storefront with painted windows on the left and period signage, including a Good Year sign, on the right storefront. Pull the slider below from right to left to see the building in 1937 and today in 2016.

In the early 1960s, the National Park Service sent architects to study 85 Calhoun as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. They found a building that was architecturally intriguing but in disrepair.

"This is an interesting example of anonymous architecture, in poor condition, two-and-a-half stories of stuccoed brick with a gable roof parapeted at the ends, a rectangular plan, and a central passage way to the rear yard."

The architects listed the condition of building as "Poor" with the front wall "noticeably bowed" and a two-story wooden porch on the back of the building in bad condition.

Today, the building is much different, having been restored and serving as the offices of the Charleston Civic Design Center. The building is owned by the city.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. maps from 1888

Some of the property's history seems to have been lost, including what the Arch Building was used for and who owned the property between 1797 and 1859. The building was commonly thought to be used as a place for farmers to store their wagons when they were bringing produce to market. The idea was that famers from other parts of the state would pull wagons through the arch and park them in the back after unloading their wares.

But as the National Park Service architect notes, the property wasn't big enough for a wagon yard, which would also need to accomodate horses and mules. A look at Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. maps from 1888, available through the University of South Carolina, shows the Arch Building existed among many buildings, including tenement housing. The architects addressed the building's supposed use:

"There is nothing but tradition of fairly recent invention that links an interesting building with an improbable function."

The Sanborn maps show 85 Calhoun St. adjacent to a green grocer, barber and fruit stand. Local produce being available in that part of Charelston likely reinforced the idea of the arch being used to park wagons, but could more than a wagon or two have possibly fit in the backyard of the Arch Building? Use the slider below to see a photo of the backyard in 1958 and a photo today in front of the Gaillard Center from a similar perspective.

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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July 23, 2016

Very nice Andy!