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The Market Has a Tale to Tell


LOCATED IN DOWNTOWN Charleston, it is the center of the Holy City’s tourism


BY CAREY NIKONCHUK


universe. But long before it was a magnet for visitors from out of town, it was, simply put, a market – a place where people bought things and sold things.


Te Market, which sits on land granted to the city of Charleston by the Pinckney family, hasn’t changed all that much since it was built between 1788 and 1804. Located at 188 Meeting St., it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Originally a marsh that ran from the Cooper River to what is now Meeting Street, the land beneath the Market was filled in to accommodate construction in the growing city of Charleston. When members of the Pinckney family deeded the land to the city, they did so under one condition: that the land would be used as a market. Once the Market was completed, the city in 1807 passed a law stating that “from and after the passing of this ordinance, the Market in Market- street, throughout its whole extent, from Meeting-street to the channel of the Cooper River, shall be known and distinguished by the name of Centre Market. … as to the Commissioners or a majority of them … to render the Centre Market the principal Market in and for the city of Charleston.” Despite rumors to the contrary,


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IF THE MARKET COULD TALK, IT WOULD RELATE THE STORY OF CHARLESTON


slaves never were a commodity available for purchase at the Market. Tey were sold on the docks until the 1820s, when a law prohibited their sale outdoors. Tis legislation led to the establishment of slave markets such as the Ryan Slave Mart on Chalmers Street in Charleston. Te Market’s vendors – whites, freed persons of color and slaves – originally sold groceries, and the facility was divided into sections for meat, fish and produce, with a special section for plantation owners and planters. Te 1807 ordinance established several rules. For instance, if you sold beef or meat anywhere in the city except at Centre Market, you could be fined up to $20 if you were a freedman or white. Slaves who ignored the regulations could be put in stocks – which were set up right there at the Market.


Te city of Charleston regulated the activities at the Market from the beginning, setting up specific hours when vendors could sell their wares and keeping a close eye on the quality of food sold in the Market. Meat was the only product available on Sundays, and anyone caught selling “any unwholesome or stale articles for provision, or any poor carrion, blown, puffed up, or unsound meat, or measly pork” risked heavy fines and punishment, including whipping. One of the most notable features


of the Market during its early days was the presence of turkey vultures, which quickly cleaned the streets of any


scraps of meat discarded by vendors. A common saying goes, “And nowhere more buzzards meet, than once there met in Market Street.” Te site of today’s Market Hall originally was the beef market. Te building, constructed of brick, had a conical roof with a cupola and served as the meeting place for Market commissioners. Fire destroyed a portion of the Market sheds in 1833, and, a year later, a tornado damaged the sheds further. In 1835, the meat market was burned to the ground, bringing to a halt plans to build a three-story Masonic hall and Market office. Later, with the city of Charleston recovering from the nationwide Panic of 1837, plans were made to build a new Market Hall, and famed architect Edward Brickell White was hired to design the new building. White, a West Point graduate,


returned to Charleston after retiring from the Army and became one of the most influential architects not only in Charleston but in the entire United States. He designed other buildings in the Holy City, such as St. Johannes Lutheran Church, Grace Episcopal Church on Wentworth Street, the Porter’s Lodge at the College of Charleston and the steeple at St. Philip’s Church, added after the church was rebuilt following an 1835 fire. According to one source, White was paid $300 to design Market Hall. Completed in 1841, the Greek


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