I cannot seem to travel without encountering something law-related. During my recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina, our tour guide took us to the “Four Corners of Law” at the intersection of Broad Street and Meeting Street. The term refers to the four buildings that are located at that intersection which represent municipal, county, federal, and ecclesiastical law (church law). It was supposedly coined by Robert Ripley, famous for his entertainment franchise “Believe It or Not!“.
Charleston City Hall
Charleston’s City Hall building was constructed between 1800 and 1804. The building was originally used by the federal government to house a branch of the First Bank of the United States, which operated from 1791 to 1811. The First Bank of the United States was the first national bank, proposed by Alexander Hamilton, and supposedly modeled after the Bank of England. After the charter of the First Bank was not renewed, the federal government conveyed the property back to the City of Charleston and it became City Hall in 1818.
The building is constructed in the Adamesque style. The white marble trim is believed to have come from Italy before it was cut in Philadelphia. The building was designed by the architect Gabriel Manigault, who introduced the Adamesque style to Charleston after studying in Europe. City Hall’s semi-circular projection on the north side and the round basement windows are characteristic of his architectural style.
Charleston County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse of the County of Charleston was built in 1753 and used as a statehouse for the British Royal government for the South Carolina colony. It was partially destroyed by a fire in 1788 and then rebuilt in 1792 in the Neoclassical style with a third floor addition and used for the Charleston district courts. Many more additions and changes occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo damaged the building and it could no longer be used for government functions. In 2001, after lengthy debates on whether the building should be restored as is or restored to its historical 1792 appearance, the building was restored to its historical appearance. That decision meant demolishing the additions and moving most of the county government’s operations to a different building.
The first reading of the Declaration of Independence to the public in South Carolina was performed from the second story balcony of the building.
U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
During the time of British rule over the South Carolina colony, the property where the current U.S. Post Office and Courthouse building stands was used by the government as the site of the gallows for public executions. Until 1886, when an earthquake destroyed the building, it was the site of the police guard house. In 1887, Congress passed a bill authorizing spending for a new post office and U.S. circuit and district courts in Charleston. The construction of the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse building was completed in 1896.
The building was constructed in the Second Renaissance Revival style which the Irish-born architect John Henry Devereux selected to “convey the grandeur associated with public architecture at that time.” The prominent cornice, balustrades, quoins (corner blocks), belt courses, and arched openings are illustrative of that architectural style. In 1974, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It still functions as a post office and courthouse today.
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church is the oldest church in Charleston. It was built between 1752 and 1761 on the site of the first Anglican Church built south of Virginia, which dated from 1680. The type of architecture follows the tradition of Sir Christopher Wren, which was widely used throughout the colonies. The interior of the church still retains its original design, with a three-sided second story gallery and native cedar box-pews. Pew number 43, known as the “The Governor’s Pew,” was used by George Washington to worship on May 8, 1791.
The clock and ring of eight bells were imported from England in 1764. The colonial tower clock is thought to be the oldest functioning one in the United States. The bells were confiscated by the state government during the Civil War and sent inland. They were cracked when the shed in which they were stored burned, but were recast in London at the original foundry after the war ended. Unfortunately, the new frame was incorrectly installed, so that the bells could not be rung but only chimed from 1868 until 1993. After the 1989 hurricane, the bells were again sent to London to the original foundry. They were restored and returned to Charleston and rehung in 1993.