The So Called “Dead House”
I hope everyone had a great weekend! I wanted to post a previously unposted blog from my predecessor Mr. Hugh in honor of him as he begins his journey to South Africa. He gets the credit for the Dead House info. Very cool stuff. Good luck Mr Hugh!
As you walk around the old Navy Base, there is one small building that stands out from the rest. It is not imposing by an architectural standard like the old Power House, but it is possibly the oldest building in North Charleston. Dead House evokes thoughts of a mausoleum of some sort. Some cemeteries have buildings where incoming coffins are temporarily stored, but there is no cemetery on the Base. Have you heard a plausible story that explains the Dead House name?
Looking at the reinforced style of the building and its materials, English bond brown bricks and old mortar, suggests that it was a powder magazine. Its location is on historically high land near the Cooper River. Marsh land between the Dead House and the Cooper River is filled land.
Nadine Parks of the Post & Courier wrote of the Dead House in an August 2004 article. She was eager for more information about an apparent magazine because so little was known about its origin, ownership, or use.
Historical surveys speculate that the building dates from the earliest colonial times. The bronze shield over the door of the Lord Proprietors seal fits with this idea, but there is no evidence of when the shield was put on the building. The shield itself has no markings on it anywhere that tell its age or maker.
The Navy called it the Dead House, and that name “Dead House” appears on an 1895 survey of the area done prior to the design of the Chicora Park on the site by Olmsted Brothers. So the building pre-dates the Navy and Chicora Park. Before that the land was a plantation. Navy Architect Randy Guy’s research identified 15 different landowners from the first land grant in 1672 through 1895. There are many periods of local history when storing powder around the fringe of Charleston would have been called for, but no specific information has yet been found. Of the land owners, one stands out. His name was Sir Edgerton Leigh. He owned the property from 1767-1771. He was the first customs officer and the first postmaster for Charleston. In his customs capacity, it is thought that he assessed a tax on gunpowder carried by arriving ships. How this possible gunpowder connection may tie into the building on the Base is unclear thus far. Graduate student Chris Ohm from the College of Charleston has been researching a number of leads about the building and time will hopefully tell us more of the story.
Mr Hugh’s own theory on the Dead House name is that it stems from the use of the old powder magazine as a temporary place to put bodies until burial was arranged. On the old plantation grounds, this building would have been the coolest place.