Billed as America’s First Museum, Charleston Museum is rich with the natural and cultural history of both Charleston and the greater South Carolina Lowcountry. The Museum was established by the Charleston Library Society in 1773. Centrally located in downtown Charleston, visitors can explore both the museum and its two National Historic Landmark houses: the Joseph Manigault House and the Heyward-Washington House.
The Joseph Manigault House is a classic antebellum edifice that has largely been restored to its former glory. It was built in 1803 for the Manigaults; a wealthy farming family descended from French Huguenots. After being acquired by the Charleston Museum in 1933, it has been redecorated numerous times with art and historic furniture from the museum’s collection. It is an intimate glimpse into the lifestyle of a high-society South Carolinian family of the 19th century.
The Charleston Museum’s other historic house-turned-exhibit, the Heyward-Washington House, was built in 1772 in the Georgian style. It was the home of Thomas Heyward Jr., one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Heyward was a member of the South Carolina militia during the American Revolution, but he was captured in the British invasion of Charleston in 1780. George Washington stayed in the house during a visit to Charleston in 1791, thus giving rise to the name Heyward-Washington. Notable features of the house include its 18th-century kitchen and its formal garden.
The museum itself is host to various permanent exhibits. Among them are Becoming Americans: Charleston in the Revolution, which explores Charleston’s role in America’s fight for independence; Lowcountry History Hall, which shares artifacts from Native American communities on the coast of what is now South Carolina, as well as the history of the first settlers; and Historic Textiles, a rich collection of fabrics and clothing from across the United States. The museum also curates temporary exhibits drawn from its vast collection: past exhibits have included Chintz: A Quilted History and Charleston in Sports: A Photographic History.
The Charleston Museum also hosts various events; every Friday, Curator of Natural History Matthew Gibson hosts Fossil Friday, where he shares his current projects. Past events include a sweetgrass basket weaving workshop, which shared a 17th-century tradition of the Lowcountry, an archaeological tour of the Heyward-Washington House, and a punch needle workshop.
Archaeological research is yet another program sponsored by the Charleston Museum; since the 1970s, the museum has cataloged the history and artifacts of 50+ sites in and outside of Charleston, including Dock Street Theatre, Nathaniel Russell House, South Adgar’s Wharf, Drayton Hall, and more.
Finally, the Charleston Museum has a host of educational experiences for children and families. From classes on animals and the Civil War to immersive activities like scavenger hunts and guided tours, the museum is an exciting place to learn. Children can also enjoy the permanent Kidstory exhibit, an interactive gallery where they can experience.