Leize Gaillard, Charleston native and residential real estate agent, guest blogs on the Zero George Black Book about the architectural and historical features of Ansonborough, the historic Charleston neighborhood that Zero George calls home. Leize is an agent at William Means Real Estate, one of Charleston’s oldest residential real estate firms and the city’s exclusive Christie’s International affiliate. To learn more about Leize and her real estate service, visit www.leizegaillard.com.
Mention “historic Charleston” and images of the Battery, Rainbow Row just South of Broad, and the cobblestone streets of the French Quarter come to mind. However, just a little further up the peninsula, the streets of Ansonborough hold their own history and charm.
Off the beaten path of the typical tour bus, the streets of this historic Charleston neighborhood offers a glimpse both into Charleston’s history and into its contemporary culture unlike any other section of town. For those wanting to explore the largely residential neighborhood just outside the walls of Zero George, here are a few tips to get you started.
Charleston’s “First Suburb”
Consult modern sources on Charleston history and architecture, and you’ll often find Ansonborough described as Charles Towne’s “first suburb.” Platted for development in 1746, Ansonborough became home prosperous merchants and tradespeople and a few planters who lived just north of the oldest developed parts of the burgeoning city that would become Charleston. While the moniker of “first suburb” may be accurate, we now use the descriptor with tongue-in-cheek, as any visitor to Ansonborugh can see that the neighborhood is hardly on the outskirts of modern Charleston.
A stone’s throw from the bustling City Market and the King Street shopping district, the residential enclave of Ansonborough is about as close to the action as you can get, with most of what downtown has to offer within a ten to fifteen minute walk away. The juxtaposition of quiet residential life with close proximity to bustling activity is a large part of what makes Ansonborough one of Charleston’s most coveted residential neighborhoods today.
Fire of 1838 and Rebuilding of a Borough
While Ansonborough saw residential and commercial development as early as the mid-eighteenth century, the neighborhood had a dramatic change of face after April 1838 when a massive fire ravaged the neighborhood. The fire broke out in the vicinity of what is now King and Fulton Streets and rapidly spread northeast. It is estimated that over 1,000 structures were destroyed, the southern part of modern-day Ansonborough baring the brunt of the disaster.
In the decades that followed, homes were rebuilt using loans from the Bank of the State of South Carolina with the condition that they were constructed using fire retardant materials. As a result, the vast majority of homes in Ansonborough are masonry—largely brick and stucco—compared to other parts of Charleston where historic wood-frame homes are more typical.
Twentieth Century Rehabilitation
Given the architectural beauty in Ansonborough today, it is hard to imagine that by the 1950’s, the neighborhood had fallen into disrepair. In 1958, the Historic Charleston Foundation launched a large-scale preservation initiative known as the Ansonborough Rehabilitation Project. Through the 1960’s, the Foundation utilized a revolving fund to finance the rehabilitation of 60+ homes in the neighborhood, re-establishing Ansonborough as the desirable residential neighborhood it is today. Ansonborough homes that were preserved though this project are marked with special plaques.
Today, Ansonborough is one of historic Charleston’s most desirable residential neighborhood. Unlike the more well-known French Quarter and South of Broad districts where walking and carriage tours, strolling tourists, and house tours abound, Ansonborough tends to see less traffic, despite being surrounded by bustling commercial districts on four sides. This mix of quiet and access to activity is a hallmark of a neighborhood that attracts residents who want to be able to walk to dinner, cultural event, or even a college basketball game… but come home to a quiet and peaceful residential space rich with history and architectural beauty.