One Broad Street (circa 1853) is a historic four story antebellum building located at the corner of Broad Street and East Bay in Charleston, SC.
One Broad Street (circa 1853) is a historic four story antebellum building located at the corner of Broad Street and East Bay in Charleston, SC.

The corner of Broad and East Bay traces its roots to Charleston’s founding and was a prime location from the Carolina colony’s very beginning.

Designated as Lot 13 on the Grand Modell, the site was granted to Jacob Waite in 1680. Waite died in 1690 and part of the lot was acquired in 1696 by wealthy Goose Creek planter, Benjamin Schenckingh who is best remembered for taking part in the peaceful overthrow of the Proprietary government in 1719.

The original two story building at various times housed a watchmaker, grocer, druggist, bookbinder and stationer before becoming a bank.

Harper's, Illustration of Broad at East Bay Harper's, Illustration
of Broad at East Bay
In 1852 the State Bank of South Carolina (chartered in 1802) and its President, Edward Sebring, purchased three two story brick buildings at the corner of Broad and East Bay streets, razed them, and in 1853 built the Italian Renaissance One Broad Street and the adjacent building, 3 Broad Street. Mr. Sebring was wealthy and prominent and built and lived in a Greek Revival style home located at 268 Calhoun Street, which still stands today.

One Broad Street was a modern marvel at the time. The building was designed by Charleston’s most notable antebellum architectural firm, Jones & Lee (Edward C. Jones and Francis D. Lee). This firm designed many local buildings, Magnolia Cemetery and worked elsewhere in South Carolina (including designing the campus layout and Main Hall at Wofford College). When the partnership dissolved in 1857, Lee located his office into One Broad.

Proclaiming the bank’s stature in the business community and enjoying the premier location in Broad Street’s commercial area, the brownstone façade was quarried in Connecticut; each lion head is unique and said to be patterned after bank managers, and its entry doors were faux-grained mahogany with cast iron grills. The interior was equally impressive and catered to the tastes of the luxury-loving Charleston elite.

Harper's, Illustration of Broad at East Bay Book Cover Found in Wall
According to the June 1857 edition of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine the place was a “Palmetto Temple of Mammon” featuring “oak carving being rich and abundant and the paving of the banking hall being of the most showy fashion of encaustic tiling”. Above the bank was an open floor with oversized windows facing both East Bay and Broad Streets. Flooded with an abundance of natural light, this space was constructed for the Mercantile Library of Charleston, which was patterned after the Young Men’s Mercantile Library Association of Cincinnati (which still exists). This library was funded by the local chamber of commerce, banks and merchants and was part of a national mercantile library movement dedicated to “shielding young men from the society of the vicious and profane and furthering their moral cultivation by providing an anchor against moral shipwreck on the lee shore of the brothel and grog shop.” The third floor had private office space, with cooler office accommodations located in the half basement. Because the building is on high land, the below ground-level rooms feature 11-foot ceiling heights, fire places, stylish trim with ventilation and ample light provided by windows with handsome grillwork that opened to a window well with grating installed to protect pedestrians.

Harper's, Illustration of Broad at East Bay
Like other prominent Charleston banks of the era and to facilitate trade, State Bank of South Carolina issued its own currency which was widely accepted throughout South Carolina. An illustration of the One Broad Street building was featured on its $5 notes that were issued in the early 1860’s.

Cannonball hole uncovered in 2015 Cannonball hole
uncovered in 2015
The building was the pride of lower Broad Street until the Federal bombardment started in 1863. By the end of the war, it had been wrecked by shelling. The destruction was so severe that it made the April 1, 1865 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper under the caption “'Interior of the State Bank of South Carolina, Charleston, showing the effect of our shells.” (Evidence of the destruction still remains. During the most recent restoration, scars of burned beams and a cannon ball hole were revealed once again and almost perfectly match the Leslie illustration.)

The bank relocated the business but didn’t escape a bad fate as its Blue Ridge Railroad Company Bonds

Banking Hall Shelling Damage, Leslie’s 1865 Illustration Banking Hall Shelling Damage,
Leslie's 1865 Illustration
were later discovered and stolen by Federal Soldiers; (2) the bank collapsed with the Confederacy. Edward Sebring, who was also a founder and trustee of Magnolia Cemetery, was blamed for allowing a Union Soldier to be buried there and was sentenced to be hanged. (3) He escaped this death sentence but never regained his prominence and quietly finished his business career in the insurance brokerage business. The Mercantile Library of Charleston also died with the Confederacy; it’s reading room being destroyed by bombing and fire and its young men taken away by warfare.

The bank’s architects fared better. During the war, Jones was attached to the commissary of the Regiment of Reserves in 1861. In 1866, he moved to Memphis, where he had a second career designing numerous landmarks in Tennessee, Mississippi, and elsewhere in the south. Where Jones’ early buildings were produced with sixteenth century techniques and tools, by 1890 he had mastered steel and rivets, thus enabling him to produce the first skyscraper in Memphis, which still stands today. One of his churches later became Clayborn Temple, where the 1960’s civil rights sanitation worker marches started and ended, and Martin Luther King spoke several times. Jones died in Memphis in 1902.

Lee's Wrecked Torpedo Boat David Lee's Wrecked Torpedo Boat David
When the war started, Lee was given a commission in the engineer corps and was in the first battle at Port Royal’s Fort Walker. He served on General P. G. T. Beauregard´s staff during the siege of Charleston and planned Battery Wagner on Morris Island. He also invented a submarine torpedo boat (built by Southern Torpedo Boat Company in Charleston) known as David (as in David versus Goliath). David had no luck in sinking any Union ships. After the war Emperor Napoleon III invited him to France to showcase his invention. In 1866 he moved to St. Louis, where he formed a partnership with Thomas Annan and designed many buildings, including the well-known Merchant´s Exchange and the Jesuit’s College. Lee died in St. Louis in 1885.

In 1866 the damaged building was sold to partners of Fraser, Trenholm and Company which was the company led by George A Trenholm, one-time Secretary of the Treasury of the Confederate States of America.

Geo A Trenholm & Son
Mr. Trenholm, who made his home at Ashley Hall, was a larger than life character who stirs debate to this day. One disputed theory is Trenholm was the real Rhett Butler. Another is that he was linked to lost Confederate gold. Orphaned as a boy, it is a fact that he was a self-made, gifted businessman who was generous to his community with his time and resources.

Trenholm and his firm were a leading, cotton brokerage, shipping,
G.A.Trenholm G.A.Trenholm
blockade running and Confederate financing agency that covertly arranged the procurement and conveyance of Confederate navy ships and armaments. Mr. Trenholm was captured in 1865 by Union Troops, thrown in prison in Georgia, was bankrupted when the US Government sued for import duties, and a short time later pardoned by US President Andrew Johnson. He quickly regained his fortune and set about rehabilitating One Broad Street, where he located his new business, George A. Trenholm & Son Co. The building was sold to The Carolina Savings Bank of Charleston in 1875 and a year later Trenholm passed away.

The Garolina Savings Bank
George Walton Williams founded the Carolina Savings Bank of Charleston in 1875 and located it on the first floor of One Broad Street. Williams had been highly successful before the war and amassed a small fortune through his blockade running enterprises. He was wise enough to invest his profits in British Pound Sterling instead of Confederate currency and came through the war with more than one million dollars. Mr. Williams was a teetotaler (3), hard-working business tycoon who lived the part— he owned several successful enterprises and built and lived in the largest home in Charleston—The Calhoun Mansion located at 16 Meeting Street.

In 1876, the second floor of One Broad Street was used as an armory for the Carolina Rifle Battalion, which was a large Charleston-based militia group associated with the Red Shirts of Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Wade Hampton III. Hampton’s win marked the end of Reconstruction (4) and the military occupation of South Carolina. In 1879, three years after Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone, the second floor of One Broad Street became the first telephone exchange in South Carolina and the telephone exchange eventually took over the whole floor.

From 1877 until 1897, the top floor was occupied by the local office of U.S. Signal Corps (and its offshoot, the U.S. Weather Bureau) . On August 31, 1886, an earthquake destroyed much of Charleston; One Broad Street survived and its repair was supervised by the U.S. Signal Corp.

Earthquake Rod Spider Web Design. Earthquake Rod "Spider Web" Design.
The earthquake mitigation work within the building is a beta site for earthquake construction. A spiderweb of iron earthquake rods was placed above the original roof and a new roof was installed above them. Since the building’s original cornice fell during the earthquake, a replacement cornice of cast iron (which is the cornice you see today) served as an anchor for the rods. The structure was further secured with an additional set of rods disguised as a row of small, decorative lion heads. After the 1938 tornado swept through Charleston and Broad Street, another set of earthquake rods were added to the third floor to shore up the damage.

The three layers of stabilizing rods were revealed during the 2016 restoration. Mark Dillion, a structural engineer working on the building remarked that “the tension rod system in One Broad is the most elegant and comprehensive I have seen in my 32-year career and the roof rod design closely approximates what modern earthquake engineering design is supposed to do.”

In 1948 Carolina Savings Bank did an update of the building. Simons and Lapham architects gave the banking hall a contemporary mid-century look by lowering the door heights, simplifying the trim details and opening up the decorative alcove with a modern steel vault door with entry to the vault directly from the main room. (5) The building was air conditioned, new stairs and a fireproof records vault were added to the 2nd floor for the bank’s bookkeeping department’s relocation. Since it never floods, the basement was turned into a storage area for cancelled and live checks and bank forms.

Carolina Savings Bank owned and operated from One Broad Street for 82 years. Prior to its 1948 renovation, the bank leased out the upper floors to various tenants. One of the more prominent companies whose headquarters were located on the 2nd and 3rd floor from 1912 through 1930 was Carolina Portland Cement Company. (6) Hanahan, SC is named after the company’s president, J. Ross Hanahan, who was also a founder of the Charleston Water System. Mr. Hanahan’s company established several chemical and phosphate fertilizer plants in Charleston’s Neck Area, and the environmental cleanup is still being litigated today. Other tenants included Magnolia Cemetery’s office, the French Consular Agency, law offices, real estate agents, foresters, engineers and a public stenographer.

In 1957 Carolina Savings Bank was sold to First National Bank of South Carolina of Columbia and the vacated building was sold to an Irving, Melvin, Klyde and Rudolph Robison family partnership. The building was leased for a short while by SCN Bank and the Federal District Court. Carolina Bank and Trust moved into the building to use as its main office in 1963 and in 1968 they purchased the building from the Robison partnership. One year later, Bankers Trust of South Carolina purchased Carolina Bank and Trust and One Broad Street.

In 1978 Bankers Trust carried out a $320,000 restoration of the building. The contractor for the work was Frisch Construction Company. The exterior was in very poor condition due to moisture penetration, freezing and cracking; the brownstone was flaking and failing onto the street.

1960's photo showing brownstone flaking 1960's photo showing brownstone flaking
Using modern techniques, Ball Corporation developed a brownstone polymer coating to stabilize the surface and repair the damage. The lush interior was designed by John Ragsdale and included a major commission by “Charleston Blacksmith”
1980 renovated interior 1980 renovated interior
Philip Simmons for ornate iron teller grills and extensive stair and landing railings. Irish artist Jim McDonald (known for his paintings of the Titanic and shipyards) was commissioned to recreate the hand painted ceiling in the President’s office on the first floor.

In 1985 Bankers Trust was acquired by NCNB (North Carolina National Bank) which became Bank of America.

In 1993, NCNB vacated and sold the building to investor Helen Bradham who sold the building to One Broad Street LLC in 1998. During this time, Carolina First Bank of Greenville, SC used the location for its downtown branch in Charleston. In 2004 the building was sold to Broad Street Ventures, LLC and in 2006 Carolina First Bank (now called TD Bank) vacated the building because it was obsolete for lack of a convenient drive through. The interior was stripped and plans were made to convert its use to luxury condominiums. Unfortunately, the conversion plan was upended by the Great Recession of 2007, and the building has been vacant ever since.

Recently, there’s new life at Broad and East Bay. In 2015, The building was purchased by Mark Beck, the founder of a multinational business technology firm based in Mooresville, NC. Mr. Beck restores historic buildings as a hobby and he and his team, made up of Charleston-based architect Bill Huey and Associates and contractor NBM, took the interior back to its 1853 appearance with original door heights, restored decorative plaster, encaustic floor tile imported from England and period Cornelius and Baker gasoliers (restored for LED lights). The space is adapted for mixed use with retail on the first, office on the second and an apartment on the third floor. The exterior was patched to retain as much of the original finish as possible, the windows and sashes were repaired, reglazed and painted their original dark green color.

“One Broad Street is totally modern underneath—all new energy efficient mechanicals, plumbing, fiber, security and fire safety—carefully hidden inside the original fabric of a truly spectacular 1853 building” Beck says.

In the restoration, some of the old has returned, but in new ways. One item Beck located and purchased is a never-circulated 1861 printer’s proof for the State Bank of South Carolina’s $5 note that features a picture of the building. He commissioned a dimensional artist to photograph, print and twist the image into an original 6 x 4-foot acrylic artwork, which can be seen in the Alley Way entrance on Broad Street.

Special thanks to Peg Eastman for her tremendous insight and research that contributed so much to this information. Her article Rescuing One Broad Street, Part I and II was published in the Charleston Mercury, January and February 2016 editions and One Broad Street: Architectural Gem in the South Carolina Historical Society Carologue Summer 2016, Vol. 32, No. 1 edition.

Authors and historians Peg Eastman and Robert Stockton contributed to this information

  • HABS No. 1 Broad St. SC-559 • Charleston Historic District, National Register # 66000964, 1966 • declared National Historic Landmark District, 1960
  • Stockton, DYKYC, June 25, 1979.
  • Charleston Daily Courier, March 7, 1853;
  • Bergeron, passim; Stoney, This is Charleston, p. 10; Ravenel, Architects, p. 212, 214; Mazyck & Waddell, illus. p. 59; Simms, "Charleston, The Palmetto City"; Severens, "Architectural Taste", p. 6; Green, unpub. notes, HCF
  • The History of the Banking Institutions Organized in South Carolina Prior to 1860 by Washington Augustus Clark
  • A History of Banking in the United States by John Jay Knox
  • Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 0015 Issue 85 (June 1857), Title: Charleston, The Palmetto City
  • Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920, By Paul S. BOYER, Paul S Boye
  • Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The 'Real Rhett Butler' & Other Revelations Paperback – January 1, 1995 by Edward Lee Spence
  • Neck Area redevelopment: A tale of arsenic and old money plays out in a Charleston courtroom, David Slade, The Post and Courier, August 19, 2014

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