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Old Charleston Jail — Charleston, South Carolina

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Old Charleston Jail

Commonly referred to as the Old Jail, the former Charleston District Jail was built in 1802 and operated as such until 1939. In 1822 renowned architect Robert Mills designed a fireproof four-story wing, which was later demolished so the current octagonal wing could be added in 1856. The rear tower of the jail was damaged in the 1886 earthquake and subsequently removed, as was the original fourth floor of the main building. However, the jail is more known for its ghosts and abject prisoners than its architecture.

Old Charleston Jail

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Among this prison’s most infamous occupants was the notorious Lavinia Fisher, who was hanged in Charleston in 1820. The first woman in South Carolina to receive the death penalty, she also is credited with being America’s first female serial killer, though she officially was convicted of highway robbery, and her role as a murderess remains unproven. According to legend, her last words were, “If anyone has a message for the devil, tell me and I’ll deliver it myself.” Although Lavinia was interred at nearby Potter’s Field (now MUSC), she is widely believed to haunt the jail, where she was held for a year before her execution.

Charleston City Jail

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Marauding pirates in port and Federal prisoners of the Civil War were also housed here during the jail’s sordid history. Denmark Vesey was famously held in the jail’s ominous-looking tower as he awaited being put to death after his slave rebellion plot was discovered; four of his white supporters were also jailed here, though they were not hanged.

Charleston Jail Historical

The building was purchased by the Housing Authority of Charleston in 1939 after the jail closed. It remained empty during the following decades until the American College of the Building Arts acquired it in 2000. The college was founded in 1998 and originally located at McLeod Plantation on James Island. The school offers Bachelor of Applied Sciences in the Building Arts in six craft specializations, and students frequently host galas and tours to benefit the school’s programs. In October of 2016, the college relocated to a restored trolley barn on upper Meeting Street.

Old City Jail

Ann Helms of Spartanburg, 2011 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

As stated above, the Old City Jail is rumored to be haunted, and some downtown Charleston tour companies even have access to the jail for ghost tours. Haunted or not, the historic building is well worth a look to those interested in the Romanesque Revival jail, its legends, and its ghosts.

Old Charleston Jail

Ted Jennings of Summerville, 2018 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

More Pictures of Old Charleston Jail

Old Charleston Jail

Ted Jennings of Summerville, 2018 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Old Charleston Jail Info

Address: 21 Magazine Street, Charleston, SC 29401
GPS Coordinates: 32.778714,-79.937225

Old Charleston Jail Map

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4 Comments about Old Charleston Jail

Michal and Lin Easton,Hendersonville,NC says:
December 28th, 2015 at 2:34 am

We visited Charleston this holiday week. The weather is unseasonably warm. This week the evening temperature has been around 65 degrees. Crazy. We headed to our favorite place for a few days. We had heard of “the old jail” but never really stumbled across it during the dozens of visits we have spent in the past. This evening, Dec 27th, 2015, we decided to stay out late after dinner and into the evening. We booked a visit to this jail and scheduled a 9:00 tour. This tour left us feeling very humble. We were told as many as 14,000 people had died in side these prison walls. The jail sits at the brick sidewalk that lines Magazine Street. It is a brick and cement structure with wrought iron bars across the windows. It is majestic looking, fitting right in among the well-aged neighborhood that now surrounds it. This tour should not be missed. Very informative and important structure for its time then and now.
Inside the old jail, I noticed the extra wide stairway leading up to the 2nd floor cell area. The tiny tour group climbed up into the blackness of this structure, encountering the dank cement smell and tasting the wetness in the air. Not knowing exactly what was in front of me – I listened to shuffling of people ahead. I was able to get an occasional glimps at the dark steel steps. The flash of a cell phone camera going off now and again allowed for guidance in an unsettling way. I noticed the steps, each missing most of the crisscross pattern. The pattern most of us have seen pressed into metal or steel. But no crosses here. Not on these steps. The surface on these steps were smooth and reflective from the flashes of light. The solid raised crisscross pattern one would expect was missing. Rubbed off from the hundreds of thousands of footsteps before me. Suddenly, my thoughts were focused on how real this “tour” had been. It was a place in time for the many innocent and for those by the hundreds most certainly guilty, as they too climbed theses same steps…
On this night, not only did I recognize the southern air was alive and well, but also the history of these early times in Charleston. The southern air inside these walls was truly the last breath of so many from years before.
~ The only time we should ever look back, is to see how far we have come ~ God Bless This Holy City.

Patrick Griffiths says:
December 12th, 2014 at 2:48 pm

March 7th, 2015. We will be there!

SCIWAY says:
December 30th, 2013 at 9:16 am

Here is a link to the American College of the Building Arts, which now occupies the building:

Mark Newman says:
December 27th, 2013 at 8:37 pm

We are ghost hunting group named Southern Spirit Chasers – “SSC”. We would love to come and investigate the Old County Jail. Thank you.


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