Exterior: U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Charleston, South Carolina

Building History

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Charleston, South Carolina, is located on the southwest corner of Meeting and Broad Streets in an area known as the "Four Corners of Law." The building is a testament to the importance of the federal presence in the city. On the northwest corner, a 1792 courthouse represents the role of county government in Charleston. City Hall, built in 1802 on the northeast corner, symbolizes the presence of municipal government. Finally, St. Michael's Church, built between 1752 and 1761, signifies divine law as a component in community life.

The location of the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse was the site of the gallows for public executions during British rule. After the Revolutionary War, the property was the location for a police guardhouse, which was destroyed during the devastating 1886 earthquake. Officials determined it an ideal site for a new post office and courthouse.

In 1887, Congress authorized funds for construction. South Carolina architect John Henry Devereux designed the building. He was an Irish immigrant who started his career as a plasterer, but soon became a noted architect and builder of churches and public buildings in South Carolina's Lowcountry. In 1885, Devereux accepted a job as Superintendent of Construction and Repairs of the U.S. Treasury Department, and it was in this capacity that he designed the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse. He selected the Second Renaissance Revival style to convey the grandeur associated with public architecture at that time.

Construction of the building was not finished until 1896 when a gala viewing complete with a German band took place. Completed for a cost of $500,000, the building is credited with playing an important role in the downtown revitalization of Charleston at the end of the nineteenth century.

The building was individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and is also within the boundaries of the National Register Charleston Historic District and the National Historic Landmark Charleston Historic District. Today, the building continues to function as a post office and courthouse.

Architecture

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is an excellent example of Second Renaissance Revival architecture. This style conveyed the dignity of government and was often used for civic buildings during the late nineteenth century. Some of the hallmarks of the Renaissance Revival style found on the building include a prominent cornice, balustrades, and quoins (corner blocks). Belt courses, another common feature, encircle the building at each level.

The building is clad in granite quarried from Winnsboro, South Carolina. On the first story, the granite is finished in rock-faced coursed blocks that are slightly darker in tone than the smooth blocks used on the remainder of the building. The quoins also have a rough finish.

Openings on the first story are arched, which is another characteristic of the Second Renaissance Revival style. The second story features rectangular window openings topped with prominent triangular pediments and flanked with pilasters (attached columns). The pilasters are paneled on the bottom, but fluted with parallel, vertical, linear grooves on the top. This pattern continues on pilasters found in the interior lobby. Windows on the third floor are flanked with plain pilasters, but have molded trim above the openings.

Pediments with dentils (square blocks) are centrally located on the top story of the street-front facades. A prominent corner tower that ascends a full story above the rest of the building is located at the confluence of Meeting and Broad Streets. The uppermost story of the tower contains a series of arched windows. The tower is topped with an open balustrade.

The interior contains opulent public spaces, which were restored in 2002. Like the dignified exterior, the interior splendor indicates the importance of public buildings at the end of the nineteenth century. The postal lobby on the first floor appears much as it did when the building opened in 1896. Rich finishes include red Brazilian marble wainscot and floors, and mahogany walls at the sales and box areas. The grand staircase is ornately finished. The same red Brazilian marble is used on the runners and wainscot, but the risers and the railing are ornamented brass. The prominent brass newel posts are topped with finials and connected by mahogany railings. Ornate brass designs with geometric, curvilinear patterns and rosettes are beneath the railings. Massive plaster columns are painted in a faux marble technique to emulate the red marble and rest on hexagonal brass bases. The magnificent effect of these high-quality finishes is distinctive to the Victorian era.

The courtroom on the second floor features many handsome original details, most notably carved woodwork. The room has carved mahogany wainscot and elaborate mahogany window surrounds. A carved mahogany panel with floral and patriotic motifs, including a shield with stars and stripes, is located directly behind the judge's bench. Oil portraits of past U.S. District judges hang on the walls. On the second and third floors, many original wood-panel doors with mahogany pilasters remain.

In 1922, a modest, single-story, gray concrete addition for service functions was added to the south side of the building. The Hollings Judicial Center was also added to the south side in the 1980s.

Significant Events

1887: Funding for new Federal building authorized

1896: Construction completed

1922: Addition completed

1974: U.S. Post Office and Courthouse listed in the National Register of Historic Places

1980s: Hollings Judicial Center added

2002: Interior restoration

Building Facts

Location: 83 Broad Street

Architect: John Henry Devereux

Construction Date: 1896

Landmark Status: Individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places; Located within the boundaries of the National Register of Historic Places Charleston Historic District and the National Historic Landmark Charleston Historic District

Architectural Style: Second Renaissance Revival

Primary Material: Granite

Prominent Features: Corner Tower Postal Lobby Ornate Staircase

The United States Post Office and Courthouse in Charleston, South Carolina is a raised, three-story (above grade) granite building of the Renaissance Revival style, located at the prominent corner of Meeting and Broad Streets in the Central Business District. The basement and first floor levels are rusticated granite of a slightly darker color; the second and third floors are clad with smooth granite blocks accented by darker, rock-faced granite quoins. A wide, smooth-faced granite belt course appears below the first floor level, and there are narrower molded string courses below the second and third floor levels. All beltcourses continue around the building. The projecting central bays at each facade have a denticulated pediments. There is a
denticulated cornice which continues around the building surmounted by a granite balustrade at roof level. A projecting tower at
the northeast corner dominates the north and east facades. Lower towers appear at the northwest and southeast corners.

The main (north) elevation is divided into five advancing and receding bays. The main entrance is denoted by a denticulated, pedimented central block with broad granite steps leading to the three main wood panel entry doors. An auxiliary entry door of the same design is located at the northeast corner of the north elevation, at the base of the projecting tower. First floor windows are set within rock-faced granite voussoirs; second floor windows have bracketed balconies. The decorative surround features pedimented window heads and architrave trim; and pilasters which are panelled at the bottom and fluted at the top (a motif carried throughout the original interior of the building). At the east and west projecting bays, the second
floor windows are paired and feature a balcony and pedimented granite surround; third floor windows are paired, flanked by plain pilasters and capped by a granite cornice. Within the recessed bays the windows are hung in groups of five,
separated by simple pilasters and surmounted by a cornice.

The northeast corner tower extends above the roof line with an arcade. Three arched recessed windows with keystones are set within granite surrounds at each facade of the projecting tower. There are engaged columns below the spring lines at the side of each window, with a pilaster at each tower corner and between the windows. A molded cornice crowns the tower, surmounted by a granite balustrade.

The east elevation differs from the north in that the secondary entry of the first floor is less elaborate. There are two small arched windows flanking the doorway. The northeast corner, at the base of the tower, also houses a doorway which is
identical to the northeast doorway of the north elevation. On the second floor within the central bay there is a large Venetian style window which has a pedimented head above the center lights. The side lights have cornice heads and there is a balcony spanning the window opening.

The south elevation is adjacent to the park. A park setting was planned adjacent to each building of the "Four Corners of the Law". Due to the presence of the courtroom on the second floor, south corner, the south facade originally consisted of four bays including projecting bays at the southeast corner and in the center. Windows in the central projection are paired. Each pair has a pedimented and pilastered surround. The central projecting bay features a denticulated pediment matching the
deatiling on both the north and east elevations.

The interior of the building contains several significant spaces. On the first floor, the main postal lobby retains the character of the 1896 postal lobby. The lobby features red, Brazilian marble wainscot, marble floors and mahogany-framed walls at the sales and box areas. The grand staircase is clad with red Brazilian marble; the rail and riser strips are ornamented brass. Massive plaster columns at the staircase, marbleized to match the red marble, rest on hexagonal brass bases. The second and third floor corridors retain many original wood panel doors with decorative, pilastered mahogany surrounds. The surrounds reflect the same design motifs as the exterior pilasters. The ceremonial courtroom on the second floor features carved mahogany panelling and distinctive carved door surrounds.

The Charleston, South Carolina United States Post office and Courthouse is significant because it is an excellent example of
Renaissance Revival architecture, it is of local importance, and it is a continuing symbol of the Federal presence in Charleston. The building exhibits many characteristics of the Renaissance Revival style of architecture including rusticated quoins, architrave framed windows, entablatured doors, pedimented windows and a balustrade above the cornice. The tightly contained rectangular shape and symmetrical composition further illustrate the Renaissance Revival style.

By virtue of its location on one of the "Four Corners of the Law", the United States Post Office and Courthouse is automatically an important local structure in Charleston. On the four corners at the intersection of Meeting and Broad Streets, a 1792 courthouse represents the county government; City Hall, built in 1802 represents municipal law; St. Michael's church, built
between 1752 and 1761 depicts God's law; and the 1896 Post Office and Courthouse represents Federal law. In January of 1887 Congress passed a bill authorizing spending for a new Post Office in Charleston. Contracts were awarded in 1889 for work on the site. Mail was first dispatched from the building on May 16, 1896. The Federal courts moved from the Charleston Custom House at a later date. The architect of the Post Office was John H. Devereux, a well-known Charleston architect. He was born in Ireland but was brought to Charleston as a child. He studied architecture in Charleston and, after serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, became a local architect. He "met with reverses" in 1885 and joined the Treasury Department as superintendent of construction and repairs. In addition to designing the Federal Building, Devereux probably planned the adjacent park.

The site of the United States Post Office and Courthouse is significant for its association with public use. As early as the time of British rule of the South Carolina colony, the property was used by the government as the site of the gallows for public executions. It was the site of the police guard house until that building was destroyed in the 1886 earthquake. Completion of the United States Post Office and Courthouse signaled expansion of the Federal presence in Charleston. The construction of a new courthouse addition (Hollings Judicial Center) in 1989, assures its continuation as a symbol of the Federal government in Charleston.


Individually listed in the National Register for state/local significance.

Year
Start
Year
End
Description Architect
1896 Original Construction Devereux, John H.
1922 Mailing platform constructed at south Unknown
1959 Interior atrium filled-in for offices Unknown
1965 Park restoration and re-paving Unknown
1966 New jury and witness boxes built for courtroom Unknown
1967 New postal boxes installed Unknown
1969 Partition built in lobby Unknown
1974 Steam cleaning of building Unknown
1975 Structural repairs to north and south elevations Unknown
1977 New courtroom roof Unknown
1988 Space alteration and general renovation Unknown
1988 Mailing platform at south elevation, removed Unknown
1989 New building addition constructed to south Unknown