History of the Building
Before it was conveyed to the City Council in 1851, 8 Chalmers was the was the site of the engine house of the Deutsche Feuer Companie (German Fire Company) organized after the great fire of 1838. Built in 1852, the present fire house, with an enrollment of seventy men, represented the city’s German population of 4,000 in 1870. In 1871, the name was changed to the German Steam Fire Engine Company. In 1881, the city started a paid firefighting staff, and 8 Chalmers became Engine House Number One. The German Fire Company was reorganized as the German Fire Company Friendly Society in 1882. In 1888, the 116 Meeting Street Fire House was completed, and 8 Chalmers was inactivated.
In 1891, 8 Chalmers was sold to the Carolina Light Infantry, serving as its armory until 1907, at which time it was sold to a group of black fraternal lodges, serving as a Good Samaritan Hall for 27 years. From 1922 to 1937, it housed the Embry Mission, a black Methodist or African Methodist Episcopal Congregation.
In 1934, the property was sold to Ruth Brown, whose estate it remains today. Once vacated by the Lodge, a series of tenants occupied it until its renovation in 1983. These tenants included residential units, the Forbes School of Dancing (1955), the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah Witnesses (1958), Cobble Stone Shops Antiques (1961), and the Diana Lee Doll Shop and Museum (1970-79).
The building at 8 Chalmers has led an interesting and varied life. Its Romanesque Revival styling with Gothic Revival detailing presents an interesting and unique façade to Chalmers Street. The variety of tenants, while constantly dividing and portioning the interiors, have respected the exteriors, save for a few minor alterations. This is Charleston, an architectural survey of the city, rated 8 Chalmers as notable in 1944. In 1972, it was included in Group 2 (excellent) by the Feiss-Wright Historic Architecture Inventory. Group 2 indicates that the building is “well designed and proportioned—good detail—spirited, dignified, frequently innovated, rare and always attractive and interesting of irreplaceable importance, to be preserved, in situ at all costs.”
Physical Appearance of the Building
The façade is stucco over brick with six arched opening. The oversized opening centered on the façade, flanked by smaller doors giving access to the other side areas, was originally the engine entrance. A pair of smaller doors with sidelights and a shallow fanlight have replaced the original heavy plank engine doors.
The west and north walls are of unstuccoed Charleston grey brick in an American common band. The east wall is a common wall with the old slave market building, built in 1859, which presently houses the “Old Slave Mart Museum.” Documented repairs occurred in 1877 and after the 1886 earthquake. The façade was altered after the 1940 This is Charleston book, with the partial removal of the crenelated towers.
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