A studious architectural guide book to the city we love
Charleston: The Antebellum Neighborhoods and Buildings
By David Rogers
Hardback 604 pp.
(The Joggling Board Press, Summerville, 2020)
By Charles W. Waring III
It is easy to say you love Charleston but far more challenging to assert that you know it, especially in the way David Rogers does. Through decades of photography and study, Rogers documents the city he fell in love with upon his first visit in 1983. This substantial limited edition of 1,000 claims it is like “no other publication ever produced,” which is indeed the case.
The author gives you street shots from many eras, most in the last 30 years, and shows houses in various states of repair, providing a great deal of memory fodder for those familiar with the city in its unfastidious and less crowded days. The reader will clearly see how far the city has changed in terms of how owners keep up their exteriors.
Going even further back for perspective on how we treated our buildings, Rogers provides valuable introductory material on Charleston’s preservation history. He also speaks to the European influences on the city’s architectural styles.
The Robert Pringle House of 70 Tradd St, built in 1774 (left) and the Dr. Vincent Le Signeur House of 38 Church St., built in 1819 (right). Images by David Rogers.
Planned to be released during the city’s 350th anniversary, the volume contains more than 1,000 photos and is organized into neighborhoods with color-coded pages that are most helpful. He also places neighborhood maps at the start of each neighborhood section. Rogers does a favor for those unfamiliar with a jerkinhead roof and dozens of other architectural terms: He provides a handy seven-page illustrated glossary. Those who know the city well might yearn for more details on many houses, but Rogers chooses to offer instead a strong overview of antebellum survivors instead of many individual house histories.
The author has collected a few photos from decades ago; each gives a burning nostalgia and curiosity for the flavor of the Lowcountry of those days. He is also careful to include images of buildings that are no longer there, reminding us of what might have happened without the Preservation Society of Charleston of 1920 or the Historic Charleston Foundation, founded in 1947.
Rogers is a detail man, and he reminds us that better than “800 buildings built before 1840 survive.” Moreover, he gives one of the more comprehensive statements about what all these buildings have endured:
That Charleston has survived so many devastating disruptions during its 350-year history — wars from land and sea, two enemy occupations, tornadoes, hurricane, great fires (1740, 1778, 1796, 1838 and 1861), plagues, malaria and boll weevil infestations, an earthquake and poverty — is a testament to the fortitude of the people who built Charleston and made it their home.
The volume’s prose is clear and highly readable, and the author avoids cultural rabbit trails of controversy that other sources cover more than adequately. He sticks with the story he wishes to tell and excels in so doing. Indeed, the book is a necessity for everyone who wants to know the details of the real city; one would imagine this volume will be an obligatory tool for all trading in our precious real estate. By providing a go-to reference book for architectural and history students, real estate professionals, tour guides and the eternally curious, Rogers has done a great service to the Holy City he loves and has adopted.