A History of St. Philip Street

40- 70 St. Philip Street

Although a single plot of College property today, for generations this block consisted of a number of privately owned parcels, each with stories of their own. Schools, a synagogue, and residences for black and white Charlestonians are no longer part of the landscape, but property records, city directories, and images record the diversity of the old neighborhood.

During the antebellum period, this block was home to a cross-section of Charleston residents, a few of whom had ties to the College. Some were white Charlestonians with privileged or professional status, such as Francis Holmes, professor of paleontology and curator of the Charleston Museum when it was housed at the College. Professor Holmes lived for almost thirty years at 70 St Philip, at the corner of Calhoun and St. Philip streets, where the College’s Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts now stands. Another member of Charleston’s elite, Dr. John Grimke, lived at 58 St. Philip: Grimke’s brother Thomas was a College trustee, and their sisters, the abolitionist feminists Sarah and Angelina Grimke, had left Charleston and were estranged from their slaveholding family by the 1830s. Other well-off white families living on the block in the mid-1800s included Miss Etta Kelly’s family, at 52; Dr. Anthony Pelzer, who lived with his wife Georgiana at 58 St Philip and used the house for his medical practice, and business owner David LaFar and his married daughters, who lived at 48 and 44.

During the 19th century, many on this block had little interaction with the College. The Main Building (now Randolph Hall) may have loomed large across the street, but enrollments were modest, especially after the College abolished its grammar school in 1836 and went down to twelve students; numbers ranged from fifty in 1878 to sixteen in 1892. People in the neighborhood went on with their lives.  During the 1870s, F. Willliam Rieppe operated a grocery business at the southwest corner of St. Philip and George Street and lived across the street at 58 George. Rieppe also managed 40 and 42 St. Philip as rentals, and these structures were rebuilt by his daughter Annie in 1894. John H. Ludens, owner of 62 St. Philip, rebuilt after the 1886 earthquake, replacing a commercial structure there with a corner store and residence above it.

The properties on this block witnessed additional upward mobility and innovations by individuals who were still not welcome as College students. In 1870, Miss Etta Kelly opened Charleston Female Seminary, offering advanced academic studies for genteel white female students, who were excluded from all-male colleges. “Miss Kelly’s School,” with a curriculum that included physical education, first operated at the Kelly family home at 52 St. Philip. In 1872, a new and graceful structure was built for the Charleston Female Seminary next door, at 50 St. Philip.

Black Charlestonians also lived and sought new opportunities in this neighborhood. In 1852, John L. Francis, a King Street barber and a free person of color, purchased the lot at 68 St. Philip. Francis subsequently rented the property, and in 1861 sold it, to the Brith Sholom congregation. In 1883, a South Carolina-born African-American in his mid-thirties, Alonzo J. Boyden, bought 46 St Philip Street. The year before, Boyden’s first wife, Julia, had died, leaving four children. Boyden, remarried, lived for many years at 46 St. Philip with his four children, his second wife Susan, and their children. By 1910, Susan had borne 16 children; of the eight still living, five were at home with their hardworking and successful parents. A. J. Boyden worked as a clerk, and Susan, an entrepeneur despite enduring constant births and burials, was a dressmaker. Together the Boydens managed real estate investments. They enlarged or rebuilt 46 St. Philip at least twice between 1884 and 1902, and at the turn of the 20th century, they also owned property on Radcliffe Street, Queen Street and Strawberry Lane. Many other African American residents lived on St. Philip St. or on McBride’s Lane, where six two-story wooden houses were built in the late 1800s by John H. Ludens. McBride’s Lane ran from the back of 62 St. Philip to King Street (adjacent to the current Urban Outfitters). It survived as an African American enclave through the 1960s.

This block was also a center of Jewish life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Brith Sholom congregation built a handsome synagogue on 68 St. Philip in 1874, on the property bought from John Francis. Rabbi Jacob Simonhoff lived next door during the early 20th century, at 70 St. Philip, where Professor Holmes had once lived. At 64 St. Philip in 1912, the Daughters of Israel constructed a Sabbath School and meeting hall. And 58 St Philip served Jewish Charlestonians for decades in the mid-20th century. The Charleston Hebrew Institute erected a new building on the site for a school and a new Jewish Community Center (JCC).

In 1964, the JCC moved out and the College purchased 58 St. Philip. It then renovated the building to house a private, all-white middle and high school, spearheaded by President George Grice in response to the impending desegregation of public schools in Charleston. College Preparatory School rented the property from the College until 1970. The effort to support a feeder school for an all-white College failed when the College integrated in 1967. Under the leadership of President Ted Stern, the College undertook a new mission of inclusion rather than exclusion, a mission which is still a work in progress in the 21st century.

In the 1970s, to make way for the College’s growing Fine Arts Department, 68 St. Philip was torn down along with all but one of the remaining houses on this block. The College bought 44 St. Philip, adding the lot to the Simons Center complex. Buildings at 40 and 42 St. Philip  had already been razed, and contractors for the College moved 44, the McCrady House, 100 feet to the south, where it stands in the former garden of 40 St. Philip. The early 20th century house number, 44, is still displayed on the front piazza column of the building, which is now office space for the School of the Arts.

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Images

Aerial View of St. Philip Street Pre-1970s
Aerial View of St. Philip Street Pre-1970s About half of the street’s historic structures were gone by the time this photo was taken. At the corner of Calhoun and St. Philip, 70 St. Philip was now part of a parking lot, where the Brith Sholom Synagogue (68 St. Philip) and a house at 66 had also stood. The Daughters of Israel Hall is no longer at 64 St. Philip, but 62 St Philip St. and three tenement houses on McBride Lane are still standing, next to the structure at 58 St. Philip, first the Jewish Community Center and then College Preparatory School. The structures on 56 and 54 St. Philip are gone, as are “Miss Kelly’s School” (Charleston Female Seminary) at 50 and the home of Henrietta Kelly’s family at 52. Still standing are 48, 46, 44, 42, and 40, plus 58 George St. on the corner. Of these structures, only 44 St. Philip and 58 George St. remained after 1974. Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries, Special Collections.
Francis S. Holmes
Francis S. Holmes Francis Simmons Holmes (1815-1882) lived at 70 St. Philip for three decades. From 1850-1869 he was professor of paleontology and curator of the Charleston Museum, which was housed at the College from 1850 to 1914. The South Carolina Encyclopedia characterized the museum in that era as “the best natural history museum in the South and among the best in the nation at the time.” Holmes moved to 70 St. Philip when he married Elizabeth S. Toomer in 1837; she and her unmarried sisters continued to share the residence with Holmes and their children. Their seventh child was a toddler when Elizabeth Toomer Holmes died in 1859. He remarried Mary Hazzard in 1861, and they moved out of 70 St. Philip after the Civil War. Professor Holmes oversaw the development of the Charleston Museum collection until 1869, when he resigned after the College reduced his salary (the City of Charleston had ceased to provide funds for his position). Holmes authored The Southern Farmer and Market Gardener, Pleiocene Fossils of South Carolina (co-authored with Michael Tuomey), Post-Pleiocene Fossils of South Carolina, and Phosphate Rocks of South Carolina and the “Great Carolina Marl Bed.” Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries, Special Collections.
44 St. Philip Street
44 St. Philip Street When this pre-Revolutionary house at 44 St. Philip Street was sold in 1846, it was the most valuable of three rental properties (44, 46, and 48 St. Philip) sold by the McCrady Estate, being “now rented at $200/year.” Charles Mouzon paid $1,790 for the house with its separate kitchen building; a decade later, Mouzon’s estate sold the property to David B. LaFar for $3,500. LaFar had bought the other McCrady houses, 46 and 48 St. Philip, in 1846 for his two married daughters; a widower since 1828, he bought 44 St. Philip in 1857 to gain a residence near them. He died a year later, though, and the house passed to his daughter Julia Olsen. In 1885, the Catholic Bishop of Charleston bought and resold the house. The diocese added the rear (east) part of the lot to the grounds of Central School on George Street, and sold the house, still with a deep back yard, to Annie Magill. She and her husband, John Magill, made their home at 44 St. Philip until 1910. The College of Charleston bought 44 St. Philip in 1974 to use its land for the Simons Center. The early house was deemed worthy of preservation, so it was moved 100 feet to the south where it currently serves as offices for the School of the Arts. Courtesy of Historic Charleston Foundation Archives.
1860 advertisement for house on St. Philip Street
1860 advertisement for house on St. Philip Street Dr. Anthony P. Pelzer bought the property in 1860, and moved his medical office and residence here. In 1886, after his death, and after the earthquake, Dr. Pelzer’s family built a rental house on the “flower garden” section of the lot, which faced Green Street (today’s Green Way). The 1850s address, 46 St. Philip Street, was changed to 56 St. Philip in the late 19th century. The rental house became 54 St. Philip Street, now the site of the sunken garden in front of the Simons Center. Mystery novelist John Dunning lived in the old Pelzer house during the mid-20th century and enjoyed visiting the Book Basement at 9 College St. In a 2001 letter to John Zeigler, co-owner of the Book Basement, Dunning recalled, “We lived at 56 St. Philip, that big rambling three-story white house with the wall around it, sandwiched between the Jewish Community Center and the Rhodes back lot. None of it is there anymore, the College has taken it all out, but it was a short walk of a block to the Book Basement.” Dunning’s letter goes on to state that his life as antique book seller and novelist is due to the inspiration found in the Book Basement. Charleston Courier, 1860.
52 St. Philip Street
52 St. Philip Street In 1870, Miss Henrietta (Etta) Aiken Kelly opened the Charleston Seminary for Young Ladies in this building. Only 26 years old, she was living with her widowed father and her younger siblings when she began her enterprise in the home her parents had bought in 1838. J. C. Long’s Construction Services Co. razed the house in 1964 to create a parking lot for the Gloria Theatre (Sottile Theatre). Charleston Evening Post May 3, 1964. Courtesy of Charleston County Public Library.
Henrietta “Etta” A. Kelly (1844-1916)
Henrietta “Etta” A. Kelly (1844-1916) “Miss Kelly” opened her Female Seminary in 1870 after three years as a teacher and vice principal for the State Normal School for Girls (Memminger) on Beaufain Street. Charleston’s white elite sent their daughters to her school, which operated on St. Philip until 1882, when it relocated to 151 Wentworth St. Three daughters of Professor F. S. Holmes graduated from her seminary in 1874, 1883, and 1886. The Rev. A. Toomer Porter, founder of Porter Academy for white boys, said in 1880, “If I had fifty daughters I would send them all to you.” Her well-respected curriculum included not only science, French, and elocution, but also physical education. Miss Kelly closed her seminary in 1896. She did not live to see women, even those as well-prepared as graduates of her private school, admitted to the College of Charleston. She died in 1916, and the first female students entered the College in 1918. Courtesy of the Charleston Museum Archives, Charleston, South Carolina.
Charleston Female Seminary, 50 St. Philip Street, 1872-1882
Charleston Female Seminary, 50 St. Philip Street, 1872-1882 Also known as “Miss Kelly’s School,” the Charleston Female Seminary had 140 students and 10 teachers in this location by 1874. Miss Etta Kelly commissioned the Devereux Brothers (architect John Henry Devereux and three of his brothers) to design and build this two-story stuccoed brick school building on the grounds of her family home, 52 St. Philip Street, seen at left. The Charleston Daily News reported that “Miss Kelly’s School is conducted on the principle that, in order to fully develop the mind, a child should be taught in the midst of attractive surroundings” (July 27, 1872). Arthur Mazyck’s 1875 Guide to Charleston Illustrated, where this engraving was published, noted that Miss Kelly “insists upon calisthenics as much as on mathematics. Her success has been simply wonderful, and if it continues, she will be compelled to enlarge her accommodations, and the seminary will become, what Charleston has long needed, a first class female college.”
50 St. Philip Street
50 St. Philip Street Artwork by Arthur Street, published in the Charleston Evening Post, 1964. Courtesy of Charleston County Public Library.
62 St. Philip Street, circa 1972
62 St. Philip Street, circa 1972 After the 1886 earthquake, John H. Luden, a merchant, constructed this stucccoed brick building as a corner store with residence above. Part of a lot that originally extended to King Street, running 440 feet through the block, this site had been used by grocers and tavern keepers for decades. Behind the store, along a path on the south side of the property, known as McBride’s Lane, stood a row of tenement buildings. Courtesy of Historic Charleston Foundation Archives.
Brith Sholom Synagogue, 68 St. Philip Street
Brith Sholom Synagogue, 68 St. Philip Street Brith Sholom was organized in 1854 by Charleston’s Orthodox Jews, who held their first meetings in a building rented from John Francis, a barber and the first person of color to own real estate on this block of St. Philip Street. In 1874, the congregation began construction of this synagogue, where it met until 1954 when Brith Sholom merged with Congregation Beth Israel on Rutledge Avenue. This photo was taken circa 1900. Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries, Special Collections.
Simonhoff Family
Simonhoff Family During the years he led Brith Sholom (1901-1922), Rabbi Jacob Simonhoff lived next door to the synagogue with his wife, Jenny, and their five children. Their daughter Fannie taught at the Shaw Memorial School, which was founded in 1865 to serve African-American students. Named for Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Civil War commander of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of black troops, the Shaw School operated at Mary Street until 1938. Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries, Special Collections.
Daughters of Israel Hall, 64 St Philip Street
Daughters of Israel Hall, 64 St Philip Street The Daughters of Israel constructed a Sabbath School and meeting hall at 64 St. Philip Street in 1912, having removed an earlier small single house from the property. A portion of 62 St. Philip Street is visible on the right. Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries, Special Collections.
Interior of Brith Sholom Synagogue
Interior of Brith Sholom Synagogue In this Orthodox congregation, women sat in the balconies and the men on the main floor. Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries, Special Collections.
40 St. Philip Street, circa 1972
40 St. Philip Street, circa 1972 Rental house built in 1894 on the site of a small “shanty” or tenement house. In 1869, F. William Rieppe bought a tract of land extending 137 feet along St. Philip St. north from George St. For most of the 1870s, Rieppe lived at 58 George St., holding other buildings on the property as rentals while he operated a grocery business across the street. Rieppe’s daughter Annie eventually occupied his corner residence with her husband George H. Mehrtens, and in 1894 they modernized the rental buildings. 40 St. Philip was a rental property from its 1894 construction until 1925, when the builders’ son occupied it as his own residence. Courtesy of City of Charleston Department of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability.
Plat showing the northeast corner of St. Philip and George streets in 1931
Plat showing the northeast corner of St. Philip and George streets in 1931 In 1931, Anna Mehrtens subdivided the large property her father, William Rieppe, had bought in 1869. She gave the family home at 58 George Street to her son W. Rieppe Mehrtens, and the lots and houses at 40 and 42 St. Philip Street to her son George H. L. Mehrtens. Courtesy of Charleston County Register of Deeds.
42 St. Philip Street (left) and 40 St. Philip Street (right), circa 1972
42 St. Philip Street (left) and 40 St. Philip Street (right), circa 1972 These matching houses were built in 1894. The property had held several small tenement buildings, owned since 1869 by William Rieppe, whose tenants were mostly African-American. Those renters were displaced in 1894 when Rieppe’s daughter Annie and her husband George H. Mehrtens built these houses. In 1931 Mrs. Mehrtens gave these two properties to her son George H.L. Mehrtens, who was already living at 40 St. Philip with his wife, Vera. They retained 42 St. Philip as a rental house with white tenants. A glimpse of the piazza of 44 St. Philip is visible in the left of the photo. This structure, known as the McCrady House, has since been moved, near to where the 40 St. Philip house stands in this photo. By the mid-1970s, 42 and 40 St. Philip had been demolished, and the McCrady House moved to a site between 58 George Street and the empty lot where 40 St. Philip had stood. Courtesy of City of Charleston Department of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability.
St Philip Street, 1923
St Philip Street, 1923 In this aerial photo from the College of Charleston yearbook, Brith Sholom Synagogue, the structure with columns, is seen just south of 70 St. Philip, the residence of Professor Francis Holmes from the 1830s until after the Civil War. (70 St. Philip then served as a grocery shop and dwelling until the Brith Sholom Congregation acquired it in 1907 to provide a home for Rabbi Simonhoff and his family.) The tall house at lower right was 58 St. Philip (later replaced by the Jewish Community Center), with 62 St. Philip beyond it, obscuring the Daughters of Israel Hall (its one-story front porch is visible). Between the synagogue and hall buildings was a small single house at 66 St. Philip, which was razed in the 1940s. Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries, Special Collections.
Jewish Community Center, 58 St. Philip Street
Jewish Community Center, 58 St. Philip Street The Charleston Hebrew Institute was organized in 1938 to replace the Jewish Community Center on George Street. The institute’s backers bought a lot at 58 St. Philip where they erected a new building on the site of a “two-story brick building on a high brick foundation” that was the residence of Dr. John Grimké before the Civil War. In 1964, the College bought the Jewish Community Center and rented it to College Preparatory School. Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries, Special Collections.
Aerial view of St. Philip Street, pre-1953
Aerial view of St. Philip Street, pre-1953 Many now-vanished structures are documented here. At lower center is Randolph Hall; Calhoun Street runs top to bottom along the left of photo. 70 St. Philip Street is the white house at the corner of Calhoun and St. Philip streets. The large building to its right is Brith Sholom Synagogue (68 St. Philip) with the 1940s brick-veneered façade that replaced its columned portico. Daughters of Israel Hall, 64 St. Philip Street, stands south of the synagogue’s garden; the adjacent white building is 62 St. Philip with tenements along McBride’s Lane behind it. South of McBride’s Lane, the massive yellow-brick building is 58 St. Philip, the Jewish Community Center (later College Preparatory School). Continuing south are 56 St. Philip, with its walled front garden; 54 St. Philip; 52 St. Philip, the Kelly home (white façade); and 50 St. Philip (set back on the lot and barely visible here). 48 St. Philip, 46 St. Philip (tucked far back), 44, 42, and 40 St. Philip, with 58 George Street facing south, complete the streetscape. At top right is the rear of Gloria Theatre (Sotille); the three-story building facing George Street was Central School, first home of the Jewish Community Center. Courtesy of the Historic Charleston Foundation Archives.
St. Philip Street, circa 1970s
St. Philip Street, circa 1970s Clearing the site for the Simons Center for the Arts. The houses that were on 56 St Philip (foreground) and 58 St. Philip (center) have already been demolished. Still standing are 62 St. Philip and three of the six tenement houses built along McBride’s Lane in 1887. They are visible behind the construction site, against the back of the Downtowner Motel (now College Lodge). The tenement houses and 62 would soon be taken down. Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries.
East side of St. Philip Street, 1888
East side of St. Philip Street, 1888 Wood frame construction shown in yellow, brick in pink. Sanborn Company Insurance Map, 1888. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
East side of St. Philip Street, 1955
East side of St. Philip Street, 1955 Wood frame construction shown in white or yellow, brick in pink. Brith Sholom Synagogue had lost its columns when it was renovated with brick veneer in the 1940s, 54 St. Philip was replaced by a parking lot sometime after 1944, and Miss Kelly’s Female Seminary building was occupied as duplex apartments. Sanborn Company Insurance Map, 1955. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
44 St. Philip Street Today
44 St. Philip Street Today Moved to this site in 1974, this building now houses administrative offices of the School of the Arts. Courtesy of the College of Charleston.

Location

44 St Philip St., Charleston, SC 29424

Metadata

Sarah Fick and Julia Eichelberger, “A History of St. Philip Street,” Discovering Our Past: College of Charleston Histories, accessed June 14, 2024, https://discovering.cofc.edu/items/show/12.