A Short History of Museums
Chapter title – January 12, 1773 – First Public Museum Established in the American Colonies
Members of the Charleston Library Society established the Charleston Museum on January 12, 1773. The British Museum, established in 1753, served as an inspiration for its establishment.
Charleston Library Society
The Charleston Library Society began serving Charleston in 1748. It is the third oldest library in the United States. Only the Library Company of Philadelphia (1731) and the Redwood Library and Athenaeum of Newport, Rhode Island (1747) are older. At a meeting on June 13, 1748 seventeen Charleston male citizens each contributed ten pounds sterling to purchase land for a library. By December the project had advanced far enough for them to begin acquiring books. By 1773 the Library was ready to tackle another ambitious project.
The Society established the museum in 1773, partly because of the members’ inspiration with the formation of the British Museum in 1759. A fire in 1778 destroyed most of the museum’s original collection. By 1852 the Museum had rebuilt the collection to be declared one of the finest in America by scientist Louis Aggasiz. The Museum closed for a time during the disruptions of the Revolutionary War. By the 1790’s the museum had resumed operations and collections of artifacts. The museum again had to close during the American Civil War but again reopened after the conflict. It opened to the public in 1824. The Charlestown Museum operates three other sites:
Joseph Manigault House
Joseph Manigault House
Built in 1803, this antebellum mansion on Mission Street is a fine example of Federal period architecture. The home is open to the public.
A Georgian-style double house constructed in 1773, this home served as the home of Thomas Heyward, one of South Carolina’s four signers of the Declaration of Independence. President George Washington stayed in the house for a week in 1791 when he stayed in Charleston.
Owned by the Charleston Museum, the Sanctuary is on James Island. The only visitors permitted are participants in one of the Museums educational programs.
360 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC 29403
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