The Only Walking Tour in Charleston West
The most popular section of Charleston’s historic district, frequented by numerous walking tours, is the original old walled city and its adjacent blocks. Outside this walled area – to the west – on low, marshy, undesirable land, a different, darker part of the city’s history unfolded.
This area was set aside in 1680 to house Charles Town’s charitable, penal and reform institutions and designated as burial ground for poor blacks. By 1738, a combination poor house/work house/insane asylum/jail occupied part of these public lands. This complex grew and diversified with the rising number of enslaved Africans and waves of immigrants from Europe. The Poor House/Insane Asylum was enlarged several times in the 1700s. A “New Jail” (1803 and still standing) was built and the “Old Jail” was transformed into a Work House (destroyed by 1886 Earthquake) where slaves were tortured, sold and imprisoned. A Marine Hospital (1830 and still standing) would later house Jenkins Orphanage for black children in the late 1800s. The Medical College and Roper Hospital (both buildings destroyed by 1886 Earthquake) originated in the Antebellum Era on this block of public institutions.
“West Side Story” begins within the old walled city, viewing impressive public buildings and lovely churches. The route leads west to the block of misery for the “unfortunates”, revealing the underside of the city and giving visitors a more complete understanding of Charleston’s history. The tour ends amidst large Victorian mansions built on sites of earlier structures destroyed by the Great Fire of 1861.
At tour’s end, participants will be invited as guests to my little single house on Broad Street (circa 1878) for light refreshments. My home is only a few blocks from Washington Park.
“West Side Story” is the only walking tour in this part of town. Tour length is 2- 2 ½ hours, with approximately 1 mile of walking. Starting location is in Washington Park – please arrive 10 minutes early for check-in. Tour number is limited to 12 – Reservations required. Special group tours (maximum of 20) can be accommodated. Ticket price is $25.00 per adult and $15 for ages 8-18. (Not suitable for young children.)