It was hard to believe I was standing inside the oldest building in South Carolina. The nice wooden floors, protective beige stucco, and interactive displays made it seem more like a modern museum. Then again the seamless blend of centuries old history with modern life is one of the most popular themes in Charleston, South Carolina, so the Powder Magazine fit in very nicely.
Almost as soon as I closed the entrance door John Young, the assistant director of the Powder Magazine, eagerly hopped into sight. His enthusiasm for history, preservation, and the magazine specifically was undeniable and welcoming. He began telling the history of magazine even before I bought my admission ticket and never really stopped after that. He was a wealth of local information in a friendly manner quite contrary to the used car salesman approach.
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The Powder Magazine was part of the original Walled City of Charles Town and was built in 1713. Today the museum is located along Cumberland Street across from a massive parking garage. As I explored the small museum John waved me outside into the small courtyard and asked an intriguing question, “Why do you think this building is set back from the street when all the others are neatly lined up?” I scratched my head for a moment before he gave me the answer but you’re gonna have to visit to find out for yourself!
The museum has a wealth of information about the early years of Charles Town, the Yemasee War, Revolutionary War, and Civil War, and of course everything you ever wanted to know about safely storing gun powder. An interactive display is a great way to see how the Walled City looked centuries ago and get a feel for how it compares to today’s Charleston. There’s even a video game and scavenger hunt for children to enjoy.
It didn’t take long to make my way around the twenty-seven square foot museum. Yeah it’s that small but it packs a punch with all the visual displays, recreation of firearms and uniforms, and a few artifacts. I learned a lot of history and mechanics of gun powder but my favorite part was a story from John about the magazine being used as a wine cellar and gun powder being hidden in the basement of the Exchange Building.
I had a great time in South Carolina’s oldest secular public building which is probably one of the smallest museums as well. I’ll definitely come back again if for no other reason than to listen to John tell a few more stories about Charleston. When will you visit for the first time, or have you been already? Tell me about it in the comments below!
79 Cumberland Street, Charleston, SC | 843-722-9350 | Monday – Friday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. | Admission is $6 for Adults and $3 for Children | www.powdermag.org