Chapter 5 – An Historic Hall

Occasionally one finds a building so rich and historic associations that it seems together within its four walls the history of the community in which it stands. To have acquired such a character the building must needs have been a center of many activities – the focus of many interests which have touched the life of the community. It must have been used for social, or cultural, or political, for great variety of purposes, and by all classes of people. Otherwise they will not have embody the whole record. When one has found a building of this kind, he will certainly wish that walls had lips as well as in ears. How much I could tell! The St. Andrew’s Society once owned such a building. For 50 years it was a center of the many and varied activities of the people of Charleston. Then it was destroyed in the great fire of 1861.

The first steps toward direction of this building was taken in 1811. The time was approaching when the school would be discontinued. There would then be released for other purposes the endowment which, through additional subscriptions and profitable investment, have been increased to more than $20,000. This and the general fund amounted in 1811 to $36,050.95.1  The revenue from such a sum was more than sufficient to carry out the charitable policy to which the Society was been committed; so it was resolved that a portion of it should be used to build a hall. With this object in view a site on the north side of Broad Street just east of the Catholic Cathedral, known then as St. John and  St. Finbar, was purchased by Mr. John Izard Wright at a cost of $10,700. There was a house on the lot, and pending the completion of their arrangements the canny Scots rented it at $180 per annum.2

But the project was carried rapidly forward. On St. Andrew’s Day of 1813 a committee consisting of John Black, John M. Davis, William Blacklock, George Macauley, and John Gordon were instructed “to prepare plans and estimates for an appropriate building.”  After careful consideration the committee accepted a design submitted by Mr. Hugh Smith, a member of the Society who is described by a contemporary as an “amateur architect.”3 Construction was begun in the summer of 1814. The committee was most zealous in supervising the work, apparently giving it their personal attention. The result was that when it was completed the St. Andrew’s Hall was one of those rare buildings which embody the very character of their occupants and proved in consequence a constant source of satisfaction to them. According to the meager descriptions which are to be had it was not a pretentious structure – “rather plain” in fact, “resembling a dwelling much more than a public hall.” A drawing which was prepared for Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1860 shows it, however, to have been well-proportioned and dignified.4  There were two stories and a cellar. The upper floor seems to have been devoted entirely to the main hall which must have been capable of accommodating from 250 to 300 people. This was reached by stairways leading up on each side of an entrance hall below. The lower floor was divided into a number of small rooms – “ladies’ room,” a steward’s room, committee rooms, and a kitchen. The cellar was given over to storage of odds and ends including, no doubt, the Society’s stock of imported wines.  To the rear of the hall there was a keeper’s house, and perhaps a garden where there is frequent mention of a “summer-house” in the bills for repairs.5

The hall was finished in time for the annual celebration of 1815. It was an occasion of great importance in the history of the Society. In order that the members might realize its full import precautions were taken to prepare them. A note to the announcement of the anniversary meeting was as follows:

“The members of the Society are also informed that on the day receding St. Andrew’s Day, viz tomorrow the 29th inst. At 1 o’clock the building will be opened, when an appropriate address on the benevolent purposes of the Institution will be delivered before them by Mr. Ogilvie – to which they are respectfully invited.”6

The records do not say as much, but undoubtedly Mr. Ogilvie the Orator, as the gentleman was known to his contemporaries, used his eloquence to arouse the members to the importance of the event which will take place on the morrow.

From the outset it was the policy of the Society to grant the use of its “new hall on Broad Street” for any respectable purpose. And many were the uses to which it was put. Twice it was the residence of distinguished guest of the city. In 1819 Charleston was preparing to receive President James Monroe who was coming to “inspect the coast defenses and make himself acquainted with the people.”8 It was proposed that the St. Andrew’s Hall should serve as a residence for the President and his party, and accordingly the permission of the Society with sought.  It was granted, of course, but the zealous stewards took the precaution of ascertaining in advance from the union insurance company “whether such an occupation would affect their Insurance with them.”9 The Company agreed that it would not, in the preparations were hastened. What a task it must have been to make the necessary arrangements! But it was evidently accomplished to everyone’s satisfaction, for it is recorded that “when the Procession arrived in Broad Street, it proceeded up that street to St. Andrew’s Hall, where every accommodation had been some time previously provided, by the City Corporation that could tend to the comfort and convenience of the President and his suite, into which he was introduced and welcomed by the Constituted Authorities.”10  Again, in 1825, the hall rendered the same service when General LaFayette revisited old scenes as the guest of the city.

The main hall proved to be admirable for social occasions. It was consequently in constant demand. Here the South Carolina Jockey Club, “an association embracing many of the first gentlemen of the land,” regularly held their meetings and entertainments.11 The St. Cecilia Society used it so frequently for their concerts and balls that they were granted a room in which to store their candelabra, and felt justified in asking that the doorway be altered “to increase the comfort of themselves and their musicians.”  The record does not say whether this request was granted, but it probably was, for it was not long afterward that the same Society was permitted “to lay down a carpet on the floor of the Hall for their assemblies…. on condition that they shall not injure or deface the floors.”12 The New England Society secured it in 1847 for their great dinner in honor of Daniel Webster. For this occasion “the spacious chamber where the North Briton is wont to celebrate festive and hospitable rites, under the

  The St. Andrew’s Hall
 

smiles of his patron saint, was beautifully, tastefully, and appropriately decorated…..At the head of the table, immediately behind the presiding officer, and in front of a large and splendid mirror reflecting the whole festive scene, stood a miniature and mimic representation of the Bunker Hill monument.”13  At one time or another this “magnificent and commodious hall” rendered similar service to the Scots Charitable Association, the St. George’s Society, and the Hebrew Benevolent Association.

But the Hall served other purposes as well. The Scottish Guard and the Union Light Infantry had their meetings and one of the lower floors.14 In 1851 a committee making arrangements for the approaching convention of the American Medical Association requested and received the use of it because in other cities “the use of the prominent buildings had been readily granted to them,” and the committee “was unwilling that there should be less courtesy extended to them,” in Charleston than elsewhere.15  Professor F. A. Porcher, of the College of Charleston, for a time taught history to a group of “young ladies,” and in the early 1850’s Louis Agassiz lectured to admiring Charleston audience in the same place.16

A building so frequently used, too often the scene of a function which involve the pride of the city, was something of a responsibility to its owners. It must be kept in the finest condition. No opportunity should be lost to improve it – to add to its furnishings or to install some modern convenience. These matters were taken care of in the main by the stewards, but an important improvement was frequently the occasion for serious deliberation on the part of all the members and the appointment of a special committee to superintend the work. When the exterior walls needed attention, a committee saw that they were properly “coloured” by competent workmen.17 When the keeper, who was usually a member of the Society, reported the garden in need of shrubbery, the stewards placed an order with Mr. Philip Noisette carefully itemizing so many oleanders (red and white), gardenias, Roman myrtles, and Noisette roses. 18 The heating of a large building in those days was no small problem. Frequent orders for Liverpool coal and bill for two Rumford stoves suggest the solution which the stewards provided. Lighting arrangements were also the matter of some concern. Sperm oil lamps and spermaceti candles had to be depended upon for a time, but at length a better means was discovered. It was not adopted, however, without careful investigation.

Dissatisfaction with the lighting facilities, the Society in 1846 order the purchase of five “solar lamps” but they were not secured because by the next meeting “Mr. Douglas [the hall-keeper] had had the old lamps put in such good order for the late concert given by Mr. Templeton that he thought it better to try how they would yet answer the purpose.”  Two years later, however, the subject came up again, and the Society  considered the advisability of using gas for the purpose. The committee on lighting made the following report:

“Your committee beg leave to report that they have had estimates from two of the most respectable parties in this line of business and find their estimates for pipes and alterations of 3 chandeliers to be nearly the same. Your committee have made calculations and find that for lighting all parts of the building with gas, 62 burners for 4 hours, will cost from $17 to $18. The cost of candles to the St. Cecilia Society per night is $25 to $28. Gas, 62 burners, will furnish more than double the present light and at a gain to the Society of about $10 per night and for small parties in this hall in the same proportion to gas used. It will also be a saving to the society at their monthly anniversary meetings. Your committee are of the opinion that nearly $100 per annum will be made and saved to the society by the introduction of gas. For various reasons and particularly being to the interest of the Society, your committee strongly but respectfully urge its adoption. Your committee have also examined and ascertained the price of chandeliers and fixtures suitable in their opinion for supper rooms, halls, stairs, etc.  They estimate the cost of all at $500 but as the alteration of the three chandeliers cannot be precisely estimated at present they may cost $30 more or less. Your committee are of the opinion that if the work is to be done, it should be done well and respect fully suggest that $550 should be appropriated is so much should be required.”

The report was adopted, and the secretary enthusiastically recorded in the minutes of February 28, 1849, that “the whole building was this night lighted with gas, and members were notified thereof by advertisement in order that they might judge as to the sufficiency of the light.”  In the discussion which ensued a member called attention to the fact that “in addition to all the gas light, viz 42 burners in the hall, the St. Cecilia Society also used candles at their ball.”  Some members thereupon expressed the opinion that the use of candles in the building should be strictly prohibited, particularly since it would mean “the reduction of one eighth per cent on the premium of insurance.”  But after due deliberation “it was deemed inexpedient to prevent the use of candles in the hall by those to whom it shall be hired from time to time.”19

The building with its ample facilities for display and safe-keeping encouraged the Society to increase its equipment and to collect works of art. It seems to have been the practice of the stewards to take an inventory of these possessions each year. 20 From the one of 1819, the earliest which is preserved, it appears that the Society at that time owned only one painting which is listed as “Dr. Barren’s picture covered with green silk gauze.”  But other objects had already accumulated in greater quantity. They were among other things “3 elegant cut glass chandeliers,” “4 paper parcels containing drops and branches for the chandeliers,” “1 snuff mull with appendages,” “1 Highland Bag Pipe complete,” “29 large and 13 small decanters (15 without stoppers),” “1 flag ‘St. Andrew’s Cross’,” “3 stone jugs containing spirits,” “16-3/12 doz. of bottles of Porter,” “30 doz. empty bottles,” and “6 cork screws (3 out of order).” Many gifts were made in the years which followed. William Birnie gave another snuff mull, “a magnificent Cranium and Horns of a Ram,” at the time of the Centennial celebration. 21 President Andrew McDowall gave a “China bowl and a silver ladle emblazoned with the arms of the society in Scotland.”22 From sections of the Wallace Oak of Torwood, Scotland, and the Cedar which shaded the tomb of Washington, presented by Alexander Kirk, the Society had made a president’s gavel. 23 In 1826 “an agreeable surprise was offered in the appearance of a highly finished and ornamental chair for the use of the president, having the coat of arms (St. Andrew with his cross and on either side the thistle) on the back, which had been presented by a member.”24 A curiosity which visitors invariably admired was “a model in copper of the city of Edinburgh with a corresponding explanatory chart.”25 This had been given by Dr. A. Hasell.

In time the Society was able to place on its walls a number of fine paintings. It was their practice beginning with the administration of Dr. Baron to have their presidents, as they went out of office, to sit for portraits. 26To Dr. Baron’s portrait, which had been painted by Samuel F. Morse, were added successively portraits of Adam Tunno by Shields, of James Robertson by Martin, and of Mitchell King by George W. Flagg.  The Society was also able to acquire Mr. Flagg’s portrait of General Moultrie which had been made from an original by Charles Frazer. 27 Other pictures were presented by generous patrons. In 1842 Dr. Philip Tidyman gave a copy of Henry Raeburn’s Dugald Stewart by Sully, 28 and three years later Mr. Sully himself made the Society a gift of one of his paintings of Queen Victoria. This at once became the center of attraction in the St. Andrews Hall.

The circumstances under which this portrait of Queen Victoria was painted in the mystery which surrounds its fate have attached to it and interest which has never subsided. It appears that in 1837 as Mr. Sully, whose reputation was already well established, was about to depart for England he was commissioned by the Society of the Sons of St. George of Philadelphia to paint a portrait of the young Queen, who had been only recently come to the British throne. Victoria’s consent was secured, and the artist some months after his arrival in London installed himself in Buckingham Palace. There were many difficulties for Mr. Sully.  The Queen was too much engaged to give him lengthy sittings area at times his daughter, Blanche, set in her stead wearing the Royal regalia “which weighed thirty or forty pounds.”  But at length the painting was sufficiently developed to require no further sittings, and the artist returned to his studio in Philadelphia. Naturally the sons of St. George where interested in the progress of their picture. Some of them visited the studio. To their surprise they found Mr. Sully at


Secession Table And Chairs 

Insert – Secession Gavel And Paperweight
 

work on two portraits, one for them and a replica for himself. To this they objected, and the matter was taken to law, but in the end it was decided that the arches was entirely within his rights. 29

It seems that Mr. Sully had been the recipient of courtesies on the part of the St. Andrew’s Society during a period of residence in Charleston, and it was by way of recognition of this that he decided to present to them his replica of the Victoria portrait. On September 30, 1844, the members were informed that “Mr. Sully desired to present….. his celebrated painting of Queen Victoria which painting was now in London and to be received on the payment of certain expenses there.”30 They at once agreed to accept it and began eagerly to await its arrival. On May 31st of the next year “a letter from New York advised of his safe arrival there, London of Mr. Sully’s Picture of Queen Victoria, its entry fee of duty through the custom house there, and trans-shipment on board the Brig Moses to this board now daily expected to arrive.” Evidently the picture arrived before the next meeting (June 30) full of following letter from the artist was read at this time:

 

“Philadelphia 

23d June, 1845 

Jas. Robertson, Esq. 

  President St. Andrew’s Society 

     Charleston, S.C. 

Dear Sir: 

     I am very glad that you have at last received the Portrait of the Queen, but I have some fear that the expense attending his recovery was large. To tell the whole truth I am not sorry that a frame is provided for it as I felt a reluctance that the Society should be drawn into the purchase of the one I have. It would you more agreeable to me that the whole concern was a free and unencumbered present. My intended visit to Charleston next winter was on condition that one of my sisters would pass the summer with us, but as the season is so far advanced I doubt her coming.  

     I sincerely desire the prosperity of the St. Andrew’s Society, 

               and for you and your family 

                 my unfeigned regards 

                     Yr. friend & obt ser’t 

                                         Thos Sully” 31 

 

On August 2d the Society elected “the accomplished author and generous donor” an honorary member “in testimony of their gratitude for his most liberal and valuable nation.”

After consulting “some artists with regard to the disposition of the painting,” the stewards placed it in the main hall above the “president’s dais.”  For a week it was on display “from 4 to 7 in the afternoon to give an opportunity to ladies and gentlemen generally to see it.” There it remained, the object of constant admiration, for almost a score of years. Then like many another art treasure in the South it disappeared in the confusion of war. It was rescued at the time of the fire of 1861 and taken to the home of one of the members. There it was, it seems, until November, 1862, when all along with other valuables of the Society, it was sent to Colombia, S.C., and stored in Mr. Robert Bryce’s warehouse. At the time of the burning of Columbia this place was destroyed. Was this the end of the Victoria Portrait? Or was it taken away before the fire? Is it in existence today? These are questions which have never been satisfactorily answered. 32

The management of the building was not unattended with difficulties. In 1816, it appears that a great many chairs were stolen from a hall, and the services of three constables were required to retrieve them. 33 On another occasion the members heard with considerable distress that “the large central chandelier of the hall had accidentally fallen while the keeper was in the act of lowering it down.” The damage was so great that the extra “drops and branches” were not sufficient to repair it, and in the end it was necessary to import from England 400 new “drops.” 34 In 1845 the Society received with indignation the report of a trespass upon their premises. This was committed “at a late hour of the night by Mr. Tate and Mr. Meggett and a constable who being in quest of a negro absconded from the employment of the former did take the keeper of the hall from his residence at a late hour and undressed avowedly because said keeper of the hall refused to surrender said negro supposed to be harboured on the premises.” After some investigation it was decided “to notify Messrs. Tate and Meggett that a prosecution for a Riot at St. Andrews Hall would be instituted against them.” This was not done, however, for the rioters disavowed “any intention of injuring or offending the society,” and the matter was dropped. 35 Such problems, however, were not so numerous or serious that they outweighed the satisfaction and pride which the society must have had in its hall.

The last scenes in the St. Andrew’s Hall belongs to the great crisis through which South Carolina passed in 1860. The representatives of the people came together in Colombia on December 17th to decide whether the state would secede from the Union. 36 A small-pox epidemic, or a report that there was one, calls them to adjourn to Charleston on the next day. Arrangements for their accommodation, particularly for a place of meeting, had to be hastily made. The Institute Hall, which had accommodated the National Democratic Convention only a few months before, was offered and accepted, but this did not prove to be satisfactory area it was so large that the speakers could not make themselves heard. They found it cold in the chilly December weather. The Charleston delegation, who had taken charge of these arrangements, decided to try the St. Andrew’s Hall. 37 Permission was secured from the Society, and the convention assembled there on December 19th. It was not entirely satisfactory either area there was no room for the many spectators who applied for admission. They crowded the entrance and stairways making it difficult for the delegates to come and go. Once they prevented the passage of servants who were carrying drinking water to the gentlemen and thereby cause them some distress. 38 The Society, however, did what they could to make them comfortable. They permitted an alteration in the arrangement of the hall “so that the seat of the speaker shall be in the centre of the hall, on the south side, opposite to the front entrance, and the chairs of the members be arranged on the right hand and on the left, facing the chair does bringing the members face to face, and insuring the chance of being distinctly heard.” 39 So the convention remained. “The delegates,” said the wife of one of them, “were occupying the gilt, velvet-covered chairs sacred to the chaperons of the St. Cecilia; and the president, Mr. Jamison of Barnwell, stood on the dais below the beautiful picture of the young Victoria, in her coronation robes…..” 40 On December 20th they passed the ordinance of secession, but this did not finish their work. They continued to meet until January 5, 1861. They resumed their deliberations here on March 26th and were in session until April 10, 1861. For the third session they returned to Colombia. But had they come again to Charleston they must have found another place of meeting, or on December 11, 1861, the St. Andrew’s Hall was destroyed by a great fire which consumed a large part of the city. The paintings, the snuff mulls, a table and some chairs which had been used by the secession convention, and a part of the records were all that was saved. 41

 

 

NOTES TO THE TEXT 

V. AN HISTORIC HALL

  1. 1.     Treasurer’s report, Filing Box No. 1
  2. 2.     Ibid
  3. 3.     King, M., Sketch of the History of the St. Andrew’s Society (1892), p. 128; Minute Book No. 3, p. 28. 
  4. 4.     Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 5, 1860.  This drawing along with others of Charleston buildings appeared in an article dealing with the Democratic National Convention. 
  5. 5.     Filing Box No. 2
  6. 6.     The Daily Courier(Charleston, S. C.) Nov. 28, 1815. 
  7. 7.     King, M., op. cit., p. 128. 
  8. 8.     Ravenel, Mrs. St. Julien, Charleston, the Place and the People (1927), pp. 425-426). 
  9. 9.     Filing Box No. 6
  10. 10.  The Daily Courier, April 27, 1819.  For the use of the hall by La-Fayette see King, M., op. cit., p.128. 
  11. 11.  King, M., op. cit., p. 128. 
  12. 12.  Minute Book No. 3, pp. 123, 189, 210-211. 
  13. 13.  Way, Wm., History of the New England Society (1920), pp. 188-189; Minute Book No. 3, p. 121. 
  14. 14.  Minute Book No. 3, pp. 73-74. 
  15. 15.  Ibid ., p. 192. 
  16. 16.  Ibid ., p. 340; King, M., op cit., p. 129. 
  17. 17.  Minute Book No. 3
  18. 18.  Filing Box No. 2
  19. 19.  Minute Book No. 3, pp. 103-104, 140-142, 154-155. 
  20. 20.  A few are extant; Filing Box No. 6
  21. 21.  Inscription on the mull. 
  22. 22.  Minute Book No. 3, p. 214. 
  23. 23.  King, M., op. cit., pp. 132-133. 
  24. 24.  City Gazette (Charleston, S. C.), December 2, 1826. 
  25. 25.  King, M., op. cit., p. 133. 
  26. 26.  For example see Minute Book No. 3, p. 130. 
  27. 27.  Mr. Morse’s bill for Dr. Baron’s portrait is in Filing Box No. 2. Concerning the Tunno and Moultrie portraits see King, M., op. cit., p. 133. Concerning the Robertson portrait see Minute Book No. 3, p. 137; the King portrait, Ibid., pp. 240-242. 
  28. 28.  Minute Book No. 3, pp. 10-14. See ch. VII, note 26. 
  29. 29.  Biddle, Ed. And Fielding, M., The Life and Works of Thomas Sully (1921), ch. VIII.  This has a reproduction of the St. George Society’s portrait. 
  30. 30.  Minute Book No. 3, pp. 61-62, 72, 84. 
  31. 31.  Ibid ., pp. 84-85, 87. 
  32. 32.  Mr. W. G. Mazyck has found a statement in the Columbia Phoenix to the effect that Bryce’s warehouse was burned in 1865, Minute Book No. 6, p. 247.  He is of the opinion that the portrait was destroyed at that time.  Other members of the Society, however, think that it may still be in existence, Ibid., pp. 191-192. 
  33. 33.  Constable’s bill, Filing Box No. 2
  34. 34.  Minute Book. No 3, pp. 78, 80, 81, 83, 103. 
  35. 35.  Ibid ., pp. 78-79, 81-82, 83. 
  36. 36.  Mrs. A. R. Childs, of Columbia, tells me that there was only one reported case of smallpox in the city at the time. 
  37. 37.  Journal of the Convention of the People of South Carolina Held in 1860, 1861, and 1862, p. 21, 160; The Charleston Daily Courier, December 19, 1860. 
  38. 38.  The Charleston Daily Courier, December 20, 1860. 
  39. 39.  Journal of the Convention, etc., p. 48. 
  40. 40.  Chesnut, Mary Boykin, Diary from Dixie
  41. 41.  Minute Book No. 3, p. 369; see also ch. VII, note 5. 

Officers 2010

2011 Tentative Meeting Dates

Jan 31 - Mon

Feb 28 - Mon

Mar 31 - Thurs

Apr 28 - Thurs

May 31 - Thrus

Jun 30 Thurs

Sep 29 - Thurs

Oct 27 - Thurs

Ladies Night

Nov 29 - Tues

(Pending Chas Place Contract)

Dec 29 - Thurs

2012 Tentative Meeting Dates

Jan 31 - Tues

Feb 28 - Tues

Mar 29 - Thurs

Apr 30 - Mon

May 31 - Thurs

Jun 28 - Thurs

Steak Cookout CYC?

Sep 29 - Thurs

Oct 30 - Tues

Nov 29 - Thurs

Noon business meeting and evening banquet pending Chas Place availability.

Dec 29 - Thurs