Addlestone Library & Rivers Green

Former site of African American cemeteries and Bishop England High School

The land occupied by the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library and Rivers Green has had a complex social, gay, religious and African American history.

Located at the southwest corner of Calhoun and Coming streets, The Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library is the College of Charleston’s fourth library and third library building. When Randolph Hall was first built in 1828-1829, one of its rooms was a library. Outgrowing that space, it moved to the structure known today as Towell Library in 1856. The Robert Scott Small Library, opened in 1972, served as the College’s third library until Addlestone Library was dedicated on April 4, 2005. The structure encompasses 140,000 square feet, roughly the size of three football fields. With over 800,000 visits a year and over 2 million electronic resources used annually, the library also houses the Center for Student Learning, the future John Rivers Communications Museum, and a significant holding of rare books and manuscripts in Special Collections, including the archives of the South Carolina Historical Society. Of special note is the three-story atrium, and artwork by local artists whose papers are housed in the Special Collections. Rotating exhibits are often displayed on the top and ground floors. A coffee shop is located on the ground floor.

Nathan Addlestone, who died in 1999, donated generously to the construction of the building. The son of Jewish immigrants, he became a successful international businessman in the metals and scrap metal field; his wife, Marlene Addlestone-Bursten, is a 1964 alumna of the College and served on the library’s steering committee. “Since I was never able to get a college education, I have made some contributions to institutions of higher education so others may have that opportunity,” Nathan Addlestone once said.

The large open area located behind the library, Rivers Green, honors the long association between the College and various members of the Rivers family. The green features water fountains, benches and a patio with tables and chairs. The space is often used for College events and receptions. On Aug. 21, 2017, Rivers Green hosted a campus viewing event for a total solar eclipse, and NASA TV was broadcast live from the space.

Tucked in a small garden at the southeast corner of the building, between the terrace and a fence along Coming Street, is a memorial paying tribute to librarian Cynthia Graham Hurd, who was one of the victims of the tragic Mother Emanuel shooting on June 17, 2015. Graham was a beloved librarian at Addlestone and at the Charleston County Library.

At the west end of Rivers Green are two pillars of African stone which memorialize the site of several African American burial grounds. By the early 19th century, the area was in use as the burial ground of the Brown Fellowship Society, a mutual aid membership organization founded in 1790 for free men of color (i.e., of African descent) and their families of a comparatively high economic status. At least three more African American cemeteries opened here: The Machpelah Society, taking its name from the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Machpelah) in the Old Testament; Plymouth Church, a nearby African American Congregational Church; and the Free Dark Men Society, another antebellum organization of free people of color.

Along with a small structure, there were numerous significant funerary monuments and tombstones on the site, but over the years the land was sold to the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, and this area became a parking lot. When the land passed to the College and construction of the library began, eight tombstones and four sets of human remains were discovered and reburied elsewhere in 2001; the monument was dedicated in 2008.

The Catholic Diocese began acquiring property on this site, first along Calhoun Street, in 1878, converting (and possibly expanding) an existing structure to house St. Patrick’s Male Orphanage. The Academy of Our Lady of Mercy moved onto the site in 1901. Six years later, the Saint Regis House, a retreat for laywomen, was operated in that building by the Cenacle of the Blessed Sacrament. Expanding its holdings, the Catholic Diocese built a three-story brick structure on Calhoun Street in 1922 for Bishop England High School, which first opened its doors in 1916. The school was named for John England, the first Catholic bishop of the Carolinas and Georgia. The coeducational parochial high school was razed after the school moved to Daniel Island, South Carolina, in 1998. Former Congressman Thomas Hartnett, whose papers are now housed in Addlestone Library, attended both Bishop England High School and the College of Charleston, as did Demetria Noisette Clemons, vice chair of the College’s Board of Trustees. Another graduate was Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam veteran and the first gay member of the U.S. Armed Forces to openly declare his sexuality to fight the military’s ban on homosexuals. He appeared on the cover of Time on September 8, 1975, the first openly gay person to be featured on the cover of a major publication.

In 2017, the College of Charleston Film Club used the Addlestone Library as the main location for their short film "The Shelving," based on Stanley Kubricks's 1980 horror film "The Shining."

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The audio version of this essay was voiced by Joy Vandervort-Cobb, associate professor of theatre at the College of Charleston.
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