Steeped in history, the Charleston Music Hall is one of the oldest buildings on the block. Known historically as The Tower Depot, the Charleston Music Hall was built 1849-50 as a passenger station of the South Carolina Railroad and was designed by Charleston architect Edward C. Jones. The Gothic Revival Style building originally had a three story tower which projected into John Street and a main entrance large enough to admit a train. The Tower Depot was one of several buildings – passenger and freight depots, warehouses, locomotive and car manufacturing repair shops, and other facilities – constructed in the mid-nineteenth century by the South Carolina Railroad along its right of way, from Line St. to Hutson St. and between King St. and Meeting St.
The Music Hall was part of a larger complex which was called the Camden Depot in honor of the company’s link to that town. The architect, Edward C. Jones, crafted the building to make a train’s arrival at the station a dramatic experience. The depot complex was under construction in November, 1849, when it was reviewed by Edwin Heriot, writer for Debow’s Review (Nov. 1849). Heriot describes the building as a combination of “utility and chasteness…of the substantial and the ornamental.” The Tower Depot was designed to resemble a Medieval castle, but with an emphasis on symmetry and balance which was more characteristic of the Renaissance style. Jones decorated the building with projecting turrets, traceried lancet windows, pointed arch niches, sunken panels, and heavy doors. To complete this romantic allusion, there were even simulated arrow slots, as if yeoman were quartered in the tower to defend the building from assault.
The Music Hall had a short tenure as a passenger depot and was closed down in 1853. Following the Civil War, the Charleston Bagging Manufacturing Company, which made woven fiber bags for cotton, began building complex mills around the vicinity and bought the Music Hall on February 6, 1878, to include in their factory. The space was converted into offices and shops on the first floor and storage on the second floor with a spinning room and card room in the back. However, the Charleston earthquake of August 31, 1886 destroyed the three story tower and most of the building was torn down with the rest being used for storage. The Bagging Company closed during the Great Depression in the 1930s, and the building passed into the hand of the Chicco family.
The building sat vacant and derelict for sixty years until finally, in 1995, the Bennett-Hofford Company facilitated the Hall’s amazing transformation into an arts venue. They created a first class performance space that retained its original historical Charleston style aesthetic. Since opening its doors, the Music Hall has hosted a myriad of acts including top performers such as, David Byrne and Joan Baez. Renown bluegrass musician, Ricky Skaggs, won a Grammy for a live album he recorded in the Music Hall titled Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder: Live at The Charleston Music Hall back in 2003. The Music Hall’s goal is to create extraordinary musical, artistic, and theatrical experiences and promote the finest local, regional, and national acts while also encouraging local and communal participation.
Heriot, Edwin. “Public Improvements of Charleston.” Debow’s Review, 7 (November 1849), 400.
Stockton, Robert P. The Tower Depot. April, 1997.