Photo of south side of Broad Street.

Students from the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation earned third place in a national competition for their study of the history and impact of Charleston’s Broad Street. Image Credit: Rachel Wilson

A group of students from the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation has earned third place in a National Park Service competition.

The annual Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) Challenge marked its 10th year with the theme of “Historic Streetscapes,” inviting students and others to document the nation’s historically significant streets.

The six-member team from the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation meticulously detailed the features of Charleston’s Broad Street, a corridor that has long been a cultural and commercial center of Charleston.

It is a street where President George Washington enjoyed a parade in his honor in 1791 and where, 21 years earlier, the first statue in colonial America of a public official – British prime minister William Pitt – was dedicated, according to the students’ research.

“There are few streets in America that can match Broad Street’s rich history and that made the street a good choice for students to document for the future,” said Carter L. Hudgins, director emeritus of the Historic Preservation program.

Working with Hudgins, Historic Preservation students earned acolades in past HALS Challenges as well — with Honorable Mentions in 2014 and 2017.

The research of this year’s students will be included in the HALS archive of historic U.S. landscapes at The Library of Congress. The student group — John Bennett, Kayleigh Defenbaugh, Monica Hendricks, Tanesha High, Elliott Simon and Rachel Wilson – also was awarded a modest cash prize.

“We are incredibly proud of these students,” said Jon Marcoux, current director of the Charleston-based Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, a shared initiative of Clemson University and the College of Charleston.

“This award recognized the hands-on character of our curriculum and the work ethic that defines the identity of our program,” he said.

Historic corridor

At first, the second-year students weighed many possibilities, including options in Georgetown and Aiken. In the end, they selected Broad Street because historical resources would be close at hand in Charleston. The proximity also made it more efficient for the students to gather photographs.

Photo of St. Michael's Church and the U.S. Post Office in Charleston's "Four Corners of Law."

Two Broad Street landmarks: the U.S. Post Office (1897) faces St. Michael’s Church (1763). Image Credit: Tanesha J. High

Charleston has had many “Main Streets,” Hudgins said, but none has played as significant a role for as long as Broad Street, dating back to 1680 and now populated with a range of 18th-to-20th-century buildings.

“For more than three centuries, Broad Street has served as Charleston’s civic, political, and cultural center, and more than any street in Charleston links the city’s past with its present and future,” Hudgins said. “The performances and speeches that open the Spoleto Festival USA each spring occupy the same spaces filled by crowds that cheered the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1763 and President George Washington’s visit 30 years later.”

The students were challenged to document the history of the street while also closely observing the current landscape features, ranging from benches to bus stops, lampposts, monuments, plazas, public art and traffic lights.

“Much of the fun of this research project was figuring out how the plan of the street reflected the city’s early civic goals and whether or not the functions and character of the street have remained constant or fluctuated across three centuries,” Hudgins said.

A close and broad view

Students detailed both the minute particulars and monumental features of Broad Street. They looked closely, for instance, at how building materials have changed throughout the centuries. They also wrote about the history of Charleston’s famed “Four Corners of Law,” the intersection of Broad and Meeting streets where some of the city’s oldest and most prominent buildings are located, including St. Michael’s Church (1763), the Charleston County Courthouse (1766), the U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse (1897), and Charleston’s City Hall (1804).

In their research, the students found that Broad Street has reflected the changing nature of Charleston as a whole. Combing through old city directories, the students discovered that Broad Street had been a commercial corridor from its earliest beginnings, with unspecified “merchants” dotting the street in the late 18th century. By the mid-19th century, directories identified more specific categories, such as “druggists,” “accountants” and “auctioneers.”

The number of lawyers along Broad Street grew from six to 96 between 1782 and 1930, according to the students’ research. Today, Broad Street remains a banking and legal corridor. In addition, art galleries, restaurants and real estate businesses have assumed a larger presence on Broad Street, underscoring the city’s growing tourism industry.

Broad Street is located within the Charleston Historic District, a portion of the city declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Cultural preservation

The HALS awards were announced at the Annual Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego on Nov. 16. The challenge resulted in 15 short-format historical reports for the Historic American Landscapes collection at The Library of Congress.

“The annual HALS Challenge Competition is a great way to promote cultural landscape preservation and encourage heritage documentation, especially by college students,” said Chris Stevens, acting chief of the HALS program.

Another South Carolinian, Rebekah Lawrence, earned an Honorable Mention in the HALS Challenge. Lawrence is an independent landscape designer in Greenville.