In June, for the first time in 271 years, the Charleston Library Society closed its doors for major renovations. It reopens on September 9, boasting better lighting and accessibility, fresh plaster and paint, scrubbed marble, updated technology, and a new museum space—improvements that’ll serve the institution well amidst booming membership and circulation rates, plus a bustling event lineup. Here, get a glimpse into the place’s past, as well as its present
- The Charleston Library Society is the third-oldest institutional library in the United States. It was established on December 28, 1748, as a private subscription library.
- In 1773, the society donated its collection of natural history artifacts for the creation of the Charleston Museum, which is considered the oldest museum in the country.
- Funds from the Society contributed to the founding of the College of Charleston in 1770.
- From 1765 to 1778, the collections lived above Gabriel Manigault’s liquor warehouse. By 1778, the library counted 5,000 books and periodicals in its collection, but the Charleston Fire of 1778 destroyed all but a handful of those volumes.
- Hurricane Matthew flooded the main reading room in 2016, exposing many of the building’s deficiencies.
- The library launched the first fundraising campaign in its history for the renovations, which are estimated to cost $5 million.
- In 1914 , the Society relocated to its current location, 164 King Street, the first building specifically designed and built to house the Library’s collection.
- Approximately 4,100 members—an 811 percent increase from 450 in 2009—have access to more than 110,000 volumes, including 14,500 rare books, 5,000 pamphlets, and 470 maps and plats, as well as special collections which include the original handwritten manuscript of Dubose Heyward’s Porgy.