Saltwater Salvation

People who visit Charleston and go on my walking tours are usually surprised to learn that there is a lot of history beneath the surface here. Despite being so close to the sea, we have lots of underground cellars and tunnels from centuries ago. One of the most interesting things below us are the “water traps” along the edge of the Cooper River. With so much cotton stored in waterfront warehouses in the 1800’s, fire was a huge threat, so in 1838, the city began digging reservoirs of salt water, stating officially that these offered, “proper provision for such a supply of water as may be equal to the prompt and speedy suppression of fire”. This was long before pressurized water lines, and water for fire was pumped by steam and hydraulics, so the supply had to be contained and close. The water traps had underground doors that would push in with high tide and close when the tide turned, filling the spaces, and it’s interesting that the most significant waterfront fire didn’t occur until 1955, after the old traps were obsolete.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *