This Gothic Revival building on the Medical University of South Carolina campus in downtown Charleston may resemble a fortress, but it has always served as a library. Its design, by New York architect J.B. Snooks, may relate to the history of its land and surrounding buildings. The library sits on a former Potter’s Field – or burial ground for the indigent and unknown – which later became the site of an arsenal and artillery factory from 1825 through the Civil War.
In 1879 the Reverend Doctor A. Toomer Porter acquired the arsenal complex for his Episcopal school for boys, Holy Communion Church School. Dr. Porter converted the arsenal’s artillery shed into the school’s chapel – now called St. Luke’s – in 1883 with the help of African-American builder Holten Bell. He later added a military component to the school, which became Porter Military Academy in 1887.
A visionary, Dr. Porter not only made use of the remaining arsenal buildings but also added his own structural contributions. In 1894 he oversaw the construction of this library, which he named the Hoffman Library for the Reverend Charles Frederick Hoffman of All Angels Episcopal Church in New York. The Reverend Hoffman donated $7,500 to the project.
When Porter Military Academy merged with the Gaud School for Boys and the Watt School in 1964 to form the present-day Porter-Gaud, the school sold its property to the Medical University of South Carolina and moved across the Ashley River to a 70-acre parcel in West Ashley. The Medical University of South Carolina retained the Hoffman Library as a library and dedicated it to Dr. Joseph I. Waring – an early medical professor, historian, and librarian – in 1969. Today the Waring Historical Library houses special collections and rare books as well as historical papers such as student theses from 1825 through 1860.
The Waring Historical Library is listed in the National Register as part of the Porter Military Academy, which notes the following:
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.