The Charleston Museum was founded as America’s First Museum in 1773 and preserves, interprets, and celebrates the history of Charleston and the South Carolina Low Country. The Charleston Museum is known as America’s First Museum having been established on the eve of the American Revolution in Charleston in 1773 by the Charleston Library Society. The museum was not opened to the public until 1824, but it’s collection was declared to be one of the finest in America by leaders in field.
Since the late 18th century, the museum has been able to aggressively expand its collection and now holds the most comprehensive materials on South Carolina in United States.
The artifacts in holding at The Charleston Museum are a part of 14 different collections. These collections are comprised of thousands of items that span hundreds of years of Charleston History and pre-history. Much of the collections is catalogued on the online database and exhibits at the museum are curated from select pieces in the collections.
Archaeology- Artifacts in the archaeology collection date to the prehistoric period and modern historic period which is from 1492 to present day. There are materials sourced from around the world in this collection with an emphasis on artifacts that were excavated in Charleston and the Lowcountry.
Fine Art- 18th-early 20th century paintings and sculptures, etchings, sketches, and drawings are represented with various subject matter.
Furniture- Furniture pieces from the 18th- early 20th century that were locally made including large pieces such as sofas, tables, and chairs are included in this collection.
Geology- Explore over 5,000 stones collected from all over the planet. This collection includes precious stones, minerals, rocks, amber with preserved insects, gemstones, and meteorites, as well as soil samples from the region.
Herbarium- This collection of more than 5,000 preserved plants as an emphasis on the low country of South Carolina but includes specimens from around the world. There are seeds that date back more than 300 years, pressed flowers, and an herbarium that is used for scientific study.
Needlework- This collection focuses on embroidery, needlepoint, and samplers with pieces created as early as colonial times.
Photography- More than 35,000 photographs comprise this collection that were all taken by Charleston photographers such as Louis Schwartz and Robert Achurch. The photos range from the civil war era through the Hurricane of 1989.
Pottery- This collection features pieces from the Edgefield District of South Carolina spanning from the 18th century and into the early 20th century.
Quilts- This collection is categorized into household accessory quilts and bedding and is one of the largest collections of quilts in the region.
Slave Badges- The Charleston Museum holds the largest public collection of Slave Badges. These copper badges were worn to identify slaves who worked outside of their owner’s property until 1863.
Uniforms- Uniforms from the military, schools, militia, and many other civic services are included in this collection.
Vertebrate Paleontology- one of the largest collections in the museum’s holdings, the vertebrate paleontology collection consists of more than 10,000 specimens dating back to the Cenozoic Era. The Charleston Museum is also home to largest Oligocene Whale collection in the world.
Weaponry- 17th century swords, firearms and accoutrements are included in this collection that spans the early 20th century and features projectiles and explosives.
Wedding- The Charleston wedding scene from 1768 through the 1980’s can be seen through this collection that features gowns, shoes, veils, gloves, garters, and men’s attire. Much of the clothing was worn by prominent South Carolinians such as the Pinckney’s, Heyward’s, and Hollings’s.
There are nine exhibits that are permanent fixtures in the Charleston Museum.
Charleston Silver- Silver crafted from Colonial times through the Victorian age is featured in the Loeblein Gallery of Charleston Silver. One of the highlights of this exhibit is the cup used to Christen George Washington.
Historic Textiles- This gallery features rotating artifacts from the textile medium and clothing collections. This collection is one of the best in the Southeast. Current exhibit details can be found on the Charleston Museum website.
Kidstory- This exhibit is designed specifically for kids, to be hands on and interactive. Visitors can discover and explore the history of Charleston and the Lowcountry region. Pirate ships, historic mansions, and science laboratories can be discovered in this exhibit where history comes alive.
Early Days- Artifacts from all over the world are presented in this exhibit that is strong in 19th century history. A favorite piece for visitors to see is the Egyptian Mummy and the Greek and Roman artifacts. Other prehistoric specimens such as fossils, dinosaur’s tracks, and a two-headed snake can be found here.
Natural History Gallery- An impressive look back in time to the prehistoric animals that once roamed the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Charleston. Birds, whales, crocodiles, and a 28-million-year-old dinosaur as well as extinct species of parakeets are found in the Natural History Galleries.
City Under Siege- The Ordinance of Secession that sparked the Civil War is the focus of this exhibit that highlights weaponry, uniforms, and the history of Charleston during this conflict.
Becoming Americans- Visitors to this exhibit are educated on the history of the American Revolution and the role that Charleston played in the road to independence.
The Armory- Weaponry dating back to 1750 through the 1900’s are collected in The Armory which features military and personal use weapons. Swords from major conflicts in American history, artillery, muskets and riffles Revolutionary War through World War II.
Lowcountry History Hall- Native Americans who were the first people to call the Lowcountry home and their history is explored in this exhibit that also goes through the cultural history of the colonists, African slaves, and economic transformation of South Carolina.
The Charleston Museum owns and manages two historic homes in South Carolina.
Joseph Manigault House- This Plantation home is a perfect example of the antebellum south built in 1803 for Joseph Manigault. This home reflects upon plantation life and the binary differences between the wealthy white family and the rice growing slaves that worked the land.
Heyward-Washing House- One of the few Colonial homes still standing, this Georgian-style double house was built in 1772 for Thomas Heyward Jr. who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. This property is unique in that it features the only kitchen open to the public from 1740 in the region as well as a formal garden that still maintains 18th century South Carolina Lowcountry perennials.
The Charleston Museum offers dozens of opportunities for children, adults and families to learn more about Natural History and participate in classes, workshops, and explorations at the museum. Details on specific programs fees and registration information can be found online. All classes are designed for specific age groups with program offerings changing monthly.
Explorations- Scavenger hunts are available for grades 2-12 and pre-k through grade 3 for students or groups that are visiting the museum and partaking in self-guided tours.
Classes- There are many different classes offered throughout the month that educate children on many natural history topics from the oceans to animals, prehistoric animals, tribal lives and customs, Ancient Egypt, the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Gullah Traditions and many others. These classes allow participants to gain more knowledge on permanent exhibits in the museum through interactive lessons and hands-on learning.
To-GO- Get the Museum to Go and have the educational programs of Charleston Museum brought to a school or community group. There are minimum group sizes that must be accommodated for this program. The Charleston Museum also offers programs that are designed for After-school care that are one hour long and come in series of extended learning opportunities. There are five topics that educators can choose from for program.
Toddler Days- These special days for children 18 months to 3 years old are for parents and toddlers to partake in together and include craft making and age appropriate play at the museum. This program has a schedule that can be found online.
Camp Programs- There are three camps offered at Charleston Museum that occur during traditional school breaks. Spring Break camp, Nature Trailers Summer Camp at Dill Sanctuary on James Island, and day-camp at the Museum are offered annually. Advanced registration is required.
Birthday parties are the most common special event hosted at The Charleston Museum. Parties can be arranged for groups of 10-20 children and themed for Egyptian, Oceans, Pottery, Dolls, Safaris, pirates, or bugs. Charleston Museum provides many birthday activities, cake, and other goodies!
Tea Parties, and other private events are also welcomed to be hosted at the museum. There may often be other events as tours, field trips, lectures, and toddler days going on during events.
The Charleston Museum Store can be shopped in person or online. The gift shop sells a large collection of educational gifts for children and adults, museum souvenirs, books on Charleston history, and pieces inspired by the collection. Shoppers will also find handmade and artisanal crafts and products from the Lowcountry.
360 Meeting street, Charleston, South Carolina, 29403, Phone: 843-722-2996