Gateway to History: The Renovation and Repurposing of the Fireproof Building
The South Carolina Historical Society is headquartered in the Fireproof Building, a National Historic Landmark located in the heart of Charleston. In 2014, the SCHS collections were moved from the Fireproof Building to a state-of-the-art archival facility at the Addlestone Library on the campus of the College of Charleston. While the Fireproof Building continues to serve as SCHS headquarters, we intend to renovate and repurpose this architectural treasure so that we can open it to the public as an exciting portal to the history, genealogy, and culture of the Palmetto State. But before we can embark on this new phase, we need your help! Each dollar you donate will purchase one brick and go toward our goal of $947,500 (based on the fact that Robert Mills used 947,500 bricks to construct this incredible structure). The Fireproof Building is currently closed for renovations. Check our Facebook page for progress updates. Click here to see photos of the renovation.
Click here to view our recent Reaching New Heights publication featuring updates on the progress of the building.
A Nationally Significant Architectural Landmark
Designed by Robert Mills (1781–1855), a native South Carolinian and the first professionally trained architect born in America, the Fireproof Building was constructed by the state between 1822 and 1827. It was the first fireproof structure in the nation built specifically to protect documents and is now believed to be the oldest building of fireproof construction in the United States. Fireproofing elements used throughout the simple Greek Doric-style structure include thick masonry walls, flagstone floors, and steel shutters and window casings. Among its most notable features are a three-story oval stairhall with cantilevered brownstone stairs and cross-vaulted rooms on the main floor.
The Fireproof Building first housed state records and offices and then county offices before the South Carolina Historical Society began leasing the second and third floors in 1943. Since then, the SCHS has gained title to this iconic building and made a number of improvements, but more work needs to be done so that we can share it with the public once more.
Planned Improvements to the Fireproof Building
Visitor Amenities and Infrastructure
With the goal of wider accessibility, the SCHS will add a new courtyard entrance from Meeting Street with a lobby underneath the ground-floor portico. This will allow us to welcome visitors and orient them to the exhibition space on the main floor. Critical improvements to the building’s infrastructure include the addition of an ADA-compliant ramp and elevator, the replacement of our aging HVAC system, and the installation of ADA-compliant restrooms.
Member Services and Telling the Story
In an effort to increase use of the building by our members and the community, we will create a learning center and library on the third floor. On the main floor, exhibits from our vast collections will be featured in multimedia displays that explore the rich story of the people and places of South Carolina. We are confident that these two spaces, along with the courtyard and porticoes, will make the Fireproof Building a popular event venue.
The Fireproof Building is in need of exterior repairs. These include replacing the stucco in some places, sealing the roof, and painting the ironwork. Click here to see photos of the renovation so far.
The Place, The People, The Promise
For the first time in decades, the public will be allowed into the Fireproof Building to appreciate its outstanding architecture. At the same time, we will showcase materials from our extensive collections in order to tell the story of the entire state of South Carolina and its role in the history of the South and the nation.
The approximately 1,600-square-foot exhibition space will focus on exploring the diversity of South Carolina’s people, the places they call home, and their quest for freedom, equality, and democracy. By merging technology with the SCHS’s wealth of primary documents, we plan to create a unique experience for visitors, allowing them to connect with South Carolinians from different eras and gain an understanding of their struggles and experiences.