I see in the Newspaper that the Best Friend of Charleston has come home from Atlanta! It’s great that this important piece of America’s Industrial Revolution history is back home. It was the first train to offer regularly scheduled train passenger service and originated from Charleston on December 25, 1830. The South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company’s new steam locomotive, Best Friend of Charleston, “flew” 141 brave souls along six miles of wood and metal rails at speeds of 15-25 miles per hour. Part of the wreckage of that train was later used to cast the first cannon to be built in the Confederate States.
Of course, Charleston was, early on, a progressive city and there are a number of things that happened here first. I had some guests on my walking tour last week who had just retired to Charleston, into a downtown townhouse they purchased some 25 years ago when they last lived here. Their son was fascinated by Charleston’s ‘firsts‘. That prompted me to brush up on some of those firsts, and so here I share my latest list with you!
America’s first free library was established in Charleston in 1698.
Henrietta Johnston, originally named Henrietta Deering (born before 1670, probably Ireland—buried March 7, 1729, in Charles Towne, South Carolina, was the first female professional portrait artist in America, paid for her work in Charleston as early as 1708.
The first mutual fire insurance company, Friendly Society for the Mutual Insurance of Houses, was established in 1735.
The first opera in America was performed in Charleston on February 18, 1735.
The Charleston Chamber of Commerce, established in 1773, was the first city Chamber of Commerce and the longest in continuous operation.
The Charleston Museum, America’s first public museum, was organized on January 12, 1773.
The first time a British flag was taken down and replaced by an American flag was in Charleston in 1775.
The first independent government among American colonies was formed in Charleston in March 1776.
The South Carolina Golf Club—now chartered as the Country Club of Charleston—was founded in 1786 and has been recognized by no less an authority than GOLF Magazine as the first golf club.
The first cotton mill was built on James Island in 1789.
The College of Charleston, chartered in 1785, became America’s first municipal college on April 1, 1838.
On the night of February 17, 1864, eight men led by Lt. George Dixon entered an experimental vessel that was to become the first submarine in world history
to successfully sink an enemy ship. That night, the H. L. Hunley entered the dark waters off Sullivan’s Island and rammed her spar torpedo into the hull of the USS Housatonic
In April 1737, Dr. John Lining recorded the first systemic scientific recording of weather information, taking observations of Charles Towne’s weather three times a day from his home on Broad Street. He recorded temperature, rainfall, atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind direction, and wind speed.
In 1762, The St Cecilia Society was founded in Charles Towne and was the first organization with a mission of supporting music and the arts.
Chartered in 1785, the College of Charleston is the oldest municipal college in America. Additionally, it is the only college in America to have four signers of the Declaration of Independence as founding members. It became America’s first municipal college in 1838.
Construction of the first fireproof building in the United States began in 1823 and was completed four years later. This building, which is located at 100 Meeting Street, was designed by Robert Mills to house state records. Robert Mills, the first trained native-born American architect, was himself a Charleston original.
The First Reform Jewish Congregation, known as the Reformed Society of Israelites, was founded in Charleston on Nov. 21, 1824, by 47 members of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim after their petition to change the Sephardic Orthodox liturgy was denied.
The first artificial ice was made in Charleston by John Gorrie in 1851.
The nation’s first historic preservation ordinance was passed by Charleston City Council on October 13, 1931.
Charleston Old Walled City Tours offers themed tours of Historic Charleston including the Old Walled City Tour, the Home and Garden Tour, the Slavery and Freedom Tour, and the Charleston Ghost Walk. Go to www.walledcitytours.com
to learn more!