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The Powder Magazine, South Carolina’s Oldest Public Building
Photograph courtesy of the Powder Magazine Museum

A National Historic Landmark, The Powder Magazine (c.1713), is the oldest public building in South Carolina, and reflects the city's early, sometimes volatile, history. It is one of only a few remaining buildings from the era of the Lords Proprietors (the owners of the early colony), when Spain and France contested England's claims to the region. Charles Towne (today Charleston) was the southernmost English settlement in the late 1600s, and subject to attacks by the Spanish, French, Native Americans, enslaved peoples (insurrection), and pirates. Defense of the colony was a major priority. The Powder Magazine was built to provide a safe location to store gunpowder for the cannons that were once mounted upon Charleston's walled city.

The Powder Magazine's original roofing material is unknown, but by 1717 a slate roof was installed. Pan-tiling was replaced the slate years later. Its pyramidal roof is punctuated by gables on all sides. The arsenal's 32-inch thick brick walls and interior ceiling were constructed to both protect the gunpowder while also dampening a potential explosion. There is still sand in its attic today (2018).

The Powder Magazine Interior, now a museum open to the public
Photograph courtesy of the Powder Magazine Museum

After a new magazine was built in 1748, the structure likely did not house black powder until the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Gunpowder was briefly stored at this location one more time in the 1820s while new state arsenals were being constructed. Throughout most of the 19th century, The Powder Magazine was utilized for miscellaneous storage, a printing house, a wine cellar, and a livery stable.

Since 1902, The Powder Magazine has been owned by the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of South Carolina (NSCDA-SC), which operates the property as a museum focused on interpreting South Carolina's 18th-century military history.

The Powder Magazine is located at 79 Cumberland St. It is open to the public Monday-Saturday, 10:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday, 1:00pm to 4:00pm. Education programs are available upon request. Visit for more information.

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