Remembering St. Andrew’s Hall

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Whether you have deep roots in Charleston or are a recent visitor, you simply can’t help but caught up in the sense that history is right around the corner

One of the most significant events in American history took place right here on Broad Street in 1860 that is remembered vividly to this day.

Saint Andrew’s Hall, once the pride of antebellum Charleston, remains today only on the pages of history and in the hearts of the members of the St. Andrew’s Society.

While the entire nation watched with apprehension the Presidential election, the “Black Republican Party,” as it was called in the Southland, had nominated an Illinois lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. So when the Republicans won, SC was ready to spring into action. and used her Constitutional right to withdraw from the Union.

And right here, on Broad street, nestled between the Rutledge mansion and the Catholic cathedral, St. Andrew’s Hall was where the politicians gathered.

Meeting of the Southern Seceders from the Democratic Convention at St. Andrew’s Hall, Charleston [S.C.] April 30, 1860

As one of Charleston’s most prestigious buildings, it had been built for the St. Andrew’s Society early in the 19th century. Its membership was the cream of Charleston society. The hall also served as meeting place for the South Carolina Jockey Club, the St. Cecilia Society and the Hebrew Benevolent Association. When they visited Charleston, both President James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette had lodged there.

They met in Charleston and arrived amid much fanfare. It seemed only natural that St. Andrew’s Hall was chosen as venue for resolving the momentous question of secession. The legislators met behind closed doors, where the fiery eloquence of the secessionists prevailed. The Ordinance of Secession was duly drafted and unanimously passed by roll call vote. The only witness permitted to attend was the Reverend A. Toomer Porter.

After the deed was done, someone leaned out the window and gave a signal to the mass of men who were assembled below on Broad Street. The crowd cheered with a “mighty shout” that rose higher and higher until it was like the roar of a tempest and spread from one end to end of the city to the other.

Later, on that fateful evening of December 20, 1860, the Ordinance of Secession was ratified at Institute Hall at 134 Meeting Street, in a solemn, two-hour ceremony. Three thousand wildly enthusiastic spectators witnessed the momentous events and punctuated the speakers’ remarks with cheers that presaged what has become known to history as the “Rebel yell.”

But despite its history and legacy, St. Andrew’s Hall suffered a miserable fate.

The 1861 fire’s devastation, seen from Meeting Street

On December 11, 1861, one of the worst fires in the city’s history started near St. Michaels Church, and quickly spread to Meeting Street. Everything in its wake was consumed in the conflagration. The losses were staggering; 540 acres were laid waste, including the hallowed St. Andrew’s Hall.

The Hall remained a scarred shell for years, as struggling Charleston tried its best to rebuild after The War’s devastation, eventually demolished without much fanfare and the exact date not known. Only the fence remains today. Attached to it is a practically illegible historical marker. Some say if a visitor stands there today, they may possibly feel the flames and hear the rebel yells.

The almost illegible plaque to St. Andrew’s Hall, 2017.