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While in Charleston, one of my favorite activities was wandering the streets of the historic district. For this first visit to the Holy City, my primary goals included getting to know the history and stories of Charleston and exploring the neighborhoods South of Broad.
I accomplished those goals, with great intention and joy. For months before my trip, I explored the city in my imagination. It felt surreal to recognize the familiar streets and then get to know them in a deeper, richer way.
The Charleston Historic District is famous for many things, including ornate iron gates in front of the houses and the beautiful secret alleyways tucked between streets.
I made it my mission to capture photos of both as I explored. Here is a sampling of Charleston gates and hidden alleyways.
On my first full day in Charleston, I walked more than seven miles, exploring the neighborhoods South of Broad. As I left the shops and businesses on Broad Street behind, I encountered houses built in the 1700s and 1800s. I admired the architecture, the beautiful side gardens and the wrought iron gates unique to each property. The gates featured in this post stood guard in front of houses on Meeting Street, Tradd Street and Stoll’s Alley.
Meeting Street Gates
Meeting Street is one of the oldest streets in Charleston. It is shown on a 1704 map of the walled city. The name comes from the white brick Presbyterian Meeting House…or church…that once occupied the spot where the Circular Congregational Church now stands.
I stayed on this street, at the Meeting Street Inn, and used this avenue to orient myself while exploring the city. Meeting Street continues south and connects to South Battery Street at White Point Garden, at the tip of the peninsula.
Strolling slowly along Meeting Street, I snapped photos of houses and their fascinating gates. These are my favorites on this tree lined street.
Tradd Street Gate
Tradd Street is named for Robert Tradd, supposedly the first European child born in Charles Town. It’s famous for its gorgeous architecture, narrow street and the mystery book series written by Karen White. The movie The Patriot filmed scenes on this charming street.
And Tradd Street drew me to Charleston. Karen’s books so intrigued me that I desired to experience Charleston for myself. After walking Meeting Street to South Battery, I walked north until I crossed Tradd Street and then walked it back to Meeting Street.
This is my favorite gate on Tradd Street, gorgeous with flowers and greenery gracing the top.
Stoll’s Alley Gate
Named for Charleston blacksmith Justinus Stoll, this beautiful alleyway…also mentioned below in the hidden alleyways section…is lined with brick houses. Five of the houses in Stoll’s Alley feature gates by ironworker Philip Simmons.
Philip, an African American artisan and blacksmith, spent 78 years crafting decorative iron work. At the beginning of his long career, Philip focused on practical household objects such as horseshoes. By the time he retired, his craft was considered art.
Philip apprenticed with Peter Simmons…no relation…a former enslaved man. At age 26 Philip opened his own smithy. Charleston business man Jack Krawcheck commissioned a wrought iron gate from Philip, for the back of his store located on King Street. Due to the demand for iron during WWII, Philip created the commissioned gate from scrap iron. Although this was his first decorative iron piece, it was not his last. Krawcheck commissioned 30 additional iron pieces from Philip. Ultimately he created more than 500 pieces, including iron balconies, gates, window grilles and fences.
In 1976, Philip created a star and fish gate for the Smithsonian Institute. And in 1982 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship.
My favorite gate in Stoll’s Alley, a Philip Simmons masterpiece.
Charleston Hidden Alleyways
Before my trip, I made a list of the city’s hidden alleyways. I didn’t use GPS to locate them. Rather as I explored, I looked for them. Of the 11 on my list, I came across six of them, although I failed to photograph St. Michael’s Alley. That leaves five more to discover when I return!
These narrow lanes intrigued me. In my city, the alleyways are typically gravel roads lined with trash bins. There’s nothing charming or beautiful about my alleyway. However, the Charleston alleys delighted me.
The first alley I came across, Price’s Alley was once swampy marshland. The lane connects King and Meeting Streets and it is the earliest known landfill project in the city’s history. Once called Sommers Lane, the name changed after Hopkins Price purchased the land in 1749.
The alley housed a tannery and later became home to Irish immigrants and African American tradesmen.
Located between Tradd and Elliott Streets, this lane originated early in the city’s history, a place for chandleries, counting houses and mercantile shops. It’s name comes from merchant George Bedon, son of an English couple who arrived on the first ship to Charles Town in 1670.
The small brick buildings on the east side once served as outbuildings for the now famous Rainbow Row on Bay Street. Fires ravaged the alley in 1740 and again in 1778. Today the former shops are carefully restored and function as private homes.
This picturesque alley between East Bay and Church Streets was originally called Pilot’s Lane. Harbor pilots walked this path to reach their boats. Later the name changed to Stoll’s Alley, after Justinus Stoll, who built the house at number 7 in 1745.
The Church Street end of the alley is much wider than the East Bay end, where it narrows to five feet in width. As noted above, this alley features five Philip Simmons gates, some of his earliest commissions.
Four Post Alley
Also called Gadsden Alley, this narrow, twisting lane truly is hidden! It connects Broad Street to Elliott. Our historic tour guide Therese led us down this charming alley. I don’t think I would have found this one on my own.
Once a narrow alley, this passage way between East Bay and State Streets was widened in 1810. It housed merchants, tradesmen and artisans in the late 1700s. At number 2 stood Edward McCrady’s Tavern and Long Room where President George Washington was entertained in 1791.
The tavern changed hands multiple times until it was renovated into a restaurant in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the pandemic closed this historic building in April 2020.
Have you explored the Charleston gates and hidden alleyways? Which alleys did you find?
This beautiful, historic city is full of stories…and surprises. I’m excited to announce that I am returning to Charleston next spring. More about that adventure later. I can’t wait to see what else I discover.
Check out this Philip Simmons book from Amazon. Click photo for info.
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12 Replies to “Charleston Gates and Hidden Alleyways”
I love the history, and I love the Iron Gates and alleyways. I wouldn’t have thought to keep an eye out for these, but they’re beautiful.
Oh my goodness, what beautiful pictures you took! I live the old history of Charleston and you have shared some amazing landscapes!
What an adventure! It would be fun to get lost in Charleston!
Wow, talk about some beautiful alleyways. I love all the brick and wrought iron. Gorgeous!
These gates are beautiful! So cool that you sought out the gates and alleys in Charleston. Interesting history of each.
This is an amazing place to get lost in. Charleston is very rich in history. Thank you for sharing.
Wish we would have had more time to explore Charleston when we were there! These gates and alley ways are… well… right up my alley! LOL
Charleston is one of my favorite places to visit. I love the gorgeous architecture in the old homes.
I would love to wander through the gates and hidden alleyways of Charleston. Beautiful!
So great to explore this great area!
I love all the locations that you found. Finding special locations makes wonderful adventures.
Such an interesting post and your pictures,are so cool. The iron work is fantastic