One of the most impressive buildings in Charleston is located in one of the city’s most unlikely places – the corner of Coming and Spring streets. This grand Roman Revival structure towers over the corner atop a high raised basement, with a frontal colonnade of two-story Corinthian columns and a pedimented roof. Designed by Charleston architects Barbot and Seyle and opened in 1858 as the Spring Street Methodist Church, the historic building quickly fell on hard times. During the Civil War, it was used as a field hospital for Confederate soldiers, because it was located out of range of the Federal bombarding guns and had a sizeable cistern with plenty of water. When the Confederates evacuated, the Federal occupying troops also used it as a hospital, and carried away anything that wasn’t nailed down as war trophies.
Following the Civil War, many inhabitants left the Elliottborough neighborhood, and it became a low-income area as buildings fell into disrepair. The church’s congregation dwindled over the years, and the building was in bad shape after damage from Hurricane Hugo when it was rescued by California philanthropist David Karpeles, who converted it into a manuscript museum.
Today, the Karpeles Manuscript Museum is open to the public weekdays, Tuesday-Friday from 11am to 4pm, and features rotating collections of manuscripts and artifacts that may range from Colonial American documents to Egyptian hieroglyphs to Italian opera compositions, and much more.
Assistant director Roy Smith is a very affable host for visitors, and has a wealth of knowledge of the building, its displays and the history of Charleston. It’s worth a visit just to step up on the grand portico and enjoy this classic structure that has stood through thick and thin here in Charleston.