Charleston’s historic East Bay Street was once lined with more than two dozen large wharves, where tall-masted sailing ships once loaded large cargoes of rice and cotton. The very first wharves where made by tying together palmetto logs, floating them off the bank and sinking them in the mud at low tide, then bridging the distance with stones, tree limbs and even animal carcasses. Not surprisingly, the first such docks were called “bridges”, and in colonial-era maps, there are numerous bridges protruding out into the Cooper River.
Over time, the docks got wharf names and were built bigger and wider to accommodate warehouses and shipping offices. The picture is a rare glimpse at the famous Southern Wharf, which was busy until after the War Between the States, when commerce declined and the ships disappeared. This shot is the wharf in ruins shortly after the Cyclone of 1885, which wrecked an already-dilapidated area. Today, the old wharf is home to the Carolina Yacht Club, whose buildings include cotton brokers offices visible in the 1885 picture.