Old Charleston Jail – Charleston, South Carolina

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Commonly referred to as the Old Jail, the former Charleston District Jail was built in 1802 and operated as such until 1939. In 1822 renowned architect Robert Mills designed a fireproof four-story wing, which was later demolished so the current octagonal wing could be added in 1856. However, the jail is more known for its ghosts and abject prisoners than its architecture.

Old Charleston Jail

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Among this prison’s most infamous occupants was the notorious Lavinia Fisher, who was hanged in Charleston in 1820. The first woman in South Carolina to receive the death penalty, she also is credited with being America’s first female serial killer, though she officially was convicted of highway robbery, and her role as a murderess remains unproven. According to legend, her last words were, “If anyone has a message for the devil, tell me and I’ll deliver it myself.” Although Lavinia was interred at nearby Potter’s Field (now MUSC), she is widely believed to haunt the jail, where she was trapped for a year before her execution.

Charleston City Jail

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Marauding pirates in port and Federal prisoners during the Civil War were also housed here during the jail’s sordid history. Also, Denmark Vesey was held in one of the ominous-looking towers after his slave rebellion plot was discovered, as were four of his white supporters.

Old City Jail

Ann Helms of Spartanburg, 2011 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The building was purchased by the Housing Authority of Charleston in 1939 after the jail closed. It remained empty during the following decades until the American College of the Building Arts acquired it in 2000. The college was founded in 1998 and originally located at McLeod Plantation on James Island. The school offers Bachelor of Applied Sciences in the Building Arts in six craft specializations, and students frequently host galas and tours to benefit the school’s programs.

As stated above, the Old City Jail is rumored to be haunted, and some downtown Charleston tour companies even have access to the jail for ghost tours. Haunted or not, the historic building is well worth a look to those interested in the Romanesque Revival jail, its legends, and its ghosts.

Old Charleston Jail Info

Address: 21 Magazine Street, Charleston, SC 29401
Website: http://buildingartscollege.us/

Old Charleston Jail Map

Old Charleston Jail – Add Info and More Photos

The purpose of the South Carolina Picture Project is to celebrate the beauty of the Palmetto State and create a permanent digital repository for our cultural landmarks and natural landscapes. We invite you to add additional pictures (paintings, photos, etc) of Old Charleston Jail, and we also invite you to add info, history, stories, and travel tips. Together, we hope to build one of the best and most loved SC resources in the world!

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3 Comments about Old Charleston Jail

Patrick Griffiths says:
December 12th, 2014 at 2:48 pm

March 7th, 2015. We will be there!

SCIWAYNo Gravatar says:
December 30th, 2013 at 9:16 am

Here is a link to the American College of the Building Arts, which now occupies the building: http://buildingartscollege.us/

Mark NewmanNo Gravatar says:
December 27th, 2013 at 8:37 pm

We are ghost hunting group named Southern Spirit Chasers – “SSC”. We would love to come and investigate the Old County Jail. Thank you.


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