Deviant Design

I have guests on my walking tours who often ask what is the grandest building in the historic city, and always on the list is the US Custom House on East Bay Street. Arguably one of Charleston’s most magnificent structures, it was intended to be much more magnificent, but literally came up short due to Civil War. New Hampshire architect Ammi Young created the design of the Custom House, which in his original plan, called for four great columned porticoes, topped by a massive cupola, as shown in the drawing below. The work began in 1852, requiring the hammering of 7,000 pilings by steam engine into former waterfront, and hauling in stone and brick in amounts much greater than any other Charleston building at that date. The picture shows how much was completed at the outbreak of the Civil War, and afterward, the Federal government cut funds, which altered the design to exclude the side porticoes and the cupola.

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