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Our Past Informs Our Future: A Brief History of the Upper Peninsula

Charleston is a city known for its rich history, iconic architecture and coastal landscapes. But for Charlestonians, the history of Charleston is more than Rainbow Row and Broad Street’s Four Corners of Law in the Lower Peninsula. North of downtown Charleston’s crosstown in the Upper Peninsula lies a neighborhood with a history of its own that has gone relatively unnoticed by historians and scholars. The now industrialized area was largely rural marshland until being drained and filled as space was needed and funding permitted during the late 1800s and early 1900s as a result of extended development during and following the Civil War. Since being filled, the Upper Peninsula has been home to a number of historically and culturally significant sites, events, and architecture.

Today you will find booming tech industry, creative entrepreneurs, craftsman, and trendy brewpubs sprinkled throughout the Upper Peninsula. Prominent building site 1600 Meeting, houses Enough Pie and a number of other local businesses. The structure was originally the site of the Standard Oil Company offices, today known as Exxon, that were constructed in 1926 for employees working at the terminal transfer site. After functioning as the Standard Oil Company headquarters the space was transformed into Nielson’s Computer College in 1971 and later the Nielson’s Electronic Institute in 1981. The technical institute instructed its students in operating what would become the world’s first Personal Computer, the Kenbak-1.

Long before such advanced technology seemed possible an antebellum neighborhood known as Cool Blow Village was also located within the Upper Peninsula. Cool Blow Village was bound by Meeting Street to the west, Romney Creek to the east, and New Market Creek to the south. Josiah Payne acquired the land that held Cool Blow Farm in 1857 as part of a marriage settlement between William Payne and Maria Margaret Touens in 1834. As the property changed hands through the years a number of development plans were proposed but never fulfilled to completion likely due to the nature of the marsh landscape. The northern portion of the farm and village lay on higher ground allowing houses to be built along what is now Cedar Street.

The northern portion of the Upper Peninsula boasts the majestic Magnolia Cemetery, on what was formerly the Magnolia Umbra Plantation. The idyllic and lushly gardened burial grounds were one of the first of its kind in the United States. The cemetery’s designs were inspired by the picturesque gardens of the English upper class. While serving the practical purpose of remedying overcrowding in the lower ward’s cemeteries when Charleston was facing high mortality rates due to lack of sanitization, Magnolia Cemetery also served a ‘moral’ purpose. The vistas and gardens provided a peaceful setting for mournful promenades and contemplation. In addition to the stunning landscape which includes multiple ponds, formal gardens, pathways, monuments, a chapel, and keeper’s house, visitors to the cemetery also find the tombstones of familiar names including Horace Hunley, funder of the construction of the Hunley submarine, and J. Waites Waring, federal judge that ruled against the segregationist doctrine responsible for “separate but equal” and mentored Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Another area of the Upper Peninsula modeled after architectural styles in England was the Enston Home Complex. Furniture business owner William Enston immigrated to Charleston from Canterbury, England and donated money to build and furnish twenty-four double cottages along upper King Street and Huger Street. The cottages were built on the Storen Plantation to serve as inexpensive homes for elderly residents facing the brunt of post-Civil War poverty. Enston’s cottages were constructed by architect W.B.W. Howe and featured sewage and plumbing systems installed by Rudolph Hering. The Romanesque Revival cottages are now owned by the Charleston Housing Authority. The Enston Complex is not the only source of notable architectural housing style in the Upper Peninsula. Such remarkable architectural styles as Colonial Revival, Queen Anne Revival, Folk Victorian, and Craftsman can be found lining residential streets.

History abounds in the Upper Peninsula, but has been given little recognition in the history books. Research into the patchwork development of the neighborhood makes for a constantly developing and surprising feat as the pieces of the puzzle are put back together. It is clear that once complete, this creative community of Charlestonians will reveal its profound impact on the city of Charleston as a whole.

Alex Danna is a graduate of the College of Charleston and an Arts + Events contributor for Enough Pie.

Bailey, Ralph, and John Beaty. A Historic Architectural Resources Survey of the Upper Peninsula Charleston, SC. Charleston: Brockington and Associates, Inc, 2004. Print.
Behre, Robert. “Charleston Housing Authority Works to Restore William Enston Home.” Post and Courier. (Charleston, SC) 9 Nov. 2013: All. Print.
Parket, Adam. “1600 Meeting Street: Can a Creatvie Cluster Help Transform the Local Economy?” Post and Courier. (Charleston, SC) 14 April 2013: All. Print.
Neilsen, Sr, Robert R. 20 June 2003. Print.

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