This non-denominational chapel on the campus of the Medical University of South Carolina in downtown Charleston was built as an artillery shed for a United States arsenal in 1825. It sits on the site of a former Potter’s Field, or burial ground for the indigent or unknown, and was renovated and enlarged in the 1840s.
On December 30, 1860, just ten days after the Ordinance of Secession was adopted by our state, the Confederacy took possession of the arsenal – a position they held until the close of the Civil War. Federal troops then controlled the arsenal until the Reverend Doctor A. Toomer Porter acquired the complex in 1879 for his Episcopal school for boys, Holy Communion Church School.
Though the Confederate army constructed an accompanying artillery shed during the Civil War – now called Colcock Hall – the first shed, which now serves as St. Luke’s, is the only remaining structure from the original arsenal. Porter converted the former shed into a school chapel in 1883 with the assistance of prominent African-American builder Holten Bell and named it St. Timothy’s. In 1887 Porter added a military component to the school, which he then called Porter Military Academy. Dr. Porter also added a Gothic-Revival library to the campus in 1894 and christened it the Hoffman Library for the Reverend Charles Frederick Hoffman of All Angels Episcopal Church in New York. The Reverend Hoffman had made the library possible through a gift.
In 1964 Porter Military Academy merged with two other private schools, the Watt School and the Gaud School for Boys. The campus then moved across the Ashley River to a to 70-acre parcel donated by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (now CSX). That same year the former Porter Military Academy property was purchased by MUSC, which had moved from its original location on the corner of Queen and Franklin streets to nearby Barre Street (now Jonathan Lucas Street) in 1914. The medical college renamed the chapel St. Luke’s for the Patron of Healing. The Hoffman Library is now the Waring Historical Library, named for Dr. Joseph I. Waring, an early Medical University of South Carolina professor and medical historian.
St. Luke’s Chapel suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The building was restored and rededicated on February 10, 1994.
St. Luke’s Chapel is listed in the National Register as part of Porter Military Academy:
The Porter Military Academy property has served as an early burial ground, a United States Arsenal, a Confederate munitions foundry and weapons factory, a chapel, a school classroom building, and a school library. Its association with major events in Charleston’s early history, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and with important individuals give the property importance on numerous levels. The former artillery shed from the original range of the Arsenal dates from the late 1820s and was renovated into a Chapel, presently known as St. Luke’s, in the 1880s through the vision of the founder of Porter Military Academy, Dr. A. Toomer Porter, and the work of Holten Bell, a prominent African-American builder. Much of the nineteenth century brick wall surrounding the complex is the work of the latter contractor. Colcock Hall, a two-story brick building constructed in 1862, is one of two known buildings in South Carolina constructed by the Confederate government for military uses.
The Waring Library, formerly known as the Hoffman Library, is a unique example in South Carolina of an octagonal, Gothic Revival edifice designed by a prominent New York architect, John Butler Snook, for the Porter Military Academy with the influence of its donor, Reverend Charles Frederick Hoffman, a leading clergyman in New York City, [it] was built in 1894. The whole site in its present form is also significant for its association with Dr. Porter, a leading clergyman and educator in nineteenth century Charleston and an important figure in its antebellum and postbellum society.