Established in 1773, Charleston Museum was the first museum in America and is located in the heart of downtown Charleston, South Carolina. It preserves and represents the cultural and natural history of Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry.The museum exhibits the objects from the cultural, and natural history collections of the city. It introduces the people and events from early settlement through the late 19th century.Collections include early tradeware, slave tags, artifacts from the eras of rice and cotton, southern furniture, and firearms and weapons.There is a separate gallery, Charleston Silver, featuring early silver collections and the christening cup of George Washington.The Early Days displays an Egyptian mummy, jarred biological specimens, and a plaster cast of the monumental statue of Pharaoh Rameses II, obtained from the British Museum in the 1890s.Special exhibitions and traveling exhibits are also organized by the museum.The Charleston Museum Institute offers innovative educational programs covering such Charleston topics as archeology, furniture, silver, architecture, Civil War history, and the Gullah culture.The museum also has two National Historic Landmark houses, the Joseph Manigault House and the Heyward-Washington House.
Monumental Battleships of Charleston
For history buffs and maritime aficionados, a Charleston vacation isn’t truly complete without a visit to Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. Home to legendary World War II battleships such as the USS Yorktown, the museum is one of only two museums in the country that has more than two battleships, making it one of the most popular attractions in the Holy City.
Located in the top-rated city of Mount Pleasant on the beautiful Charleston Harbor, the museum offers visitors a chance to see Charleston’s magnificent monumental battleships up close and learn about the heroes aboard them. As the fourth largest naval museum in the country, you won’t be short on things to do at Patriots Point.
The USS Yorktown (CV0-10)
Docked at Patriots Point is the USS Yorktown, the 10 th aircraft carrier to serve in the U.S. Navy and one of only 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II. Named after the Battle of Yorktown in the American Revolutionary War, the Yorktown has played a pivotal role in our country’s history.
A Brief History of the USS Yorktown
The USS Yorktown was built in just 16 ½ months—a short time for a battleship of its size. Commissioned on April 15, 1943, the “Fighting Lady,” as she was called, participated in the Pacific Offensive, which resulted in an Allied victory over Japan in 1945.
Her service in World War II earned the USS Yorktown the Presidential Unit Citation and 11 battle stars, but she wasn’t finished yet. In the 1950s, the Yorktown was used as an anti-submarine aircraft carrier and took part in the Vietnam War (1965-1968), for which she earned five battle stars.
In December 1968, the Yorktown would complete her final mission: recovering the Apollo 8 crew after a successful mission to the moon.
The USS Yorktown was decommissioned in 1970 and became a museum ship at Patriots Point five years later. Now a National Landmark, the USS Yorktown is nearly 75 years old and still attracts hundreds of thousands of people each year who wish to step aboard the legendary monumental battleship.
The USS Laffey (DD-724)
Docked next to the USS Yorktown is the USS Laffey, an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer built by Bath Iron Works in Maine. Also referred to as “The Ship That Would Not Die,” the USS Laffey is the only surviving Sumner-class destroyer in North America, after withstanding multiple attacks and bombings during World War II.
A Brief History of USS Laffey
On February 8, 1944, the USS Laffey was commissioned at Bath, Maine with Rear Admiral Frederick Becton in command. After initial training, the boat prepared for the invasion of Normandy, where the Sumner-class destroyer would support Allied forces in the fight against the Germans in June 1944.
In addition to surviving the tumultuous D-Day landings at Normandy, the USS Laffey also withstood multiple bombings from 22 Japanese Kamikaze planes and conventional bombers while operating off Okinawa in 1945. Fighting for 80 minutes, the ship managed to shoot down many incoming planes, but not without taking serious hits as well.
Seven suicide planes crashed into the USS Laffey, and two bombs hit the ship, killing 32 and wounding 71 of the 336-man crew. Still, the USS Laffey survived and earned her famous wartime name, “The Ship That Would Not Die.”
The ship’s service in World War II also resulted in the Presidential Unit Citation and five battle stars. After serving in the Korean War and braving mine-infested waters at Wonsan Harbor, the USS Laffey would earn two additional battle stars.
The USS Laffey was decommissioned in 1975 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. Now docked at Patriot’s Point, she is a must-see for history lovers.
The USS Clamagore (SS-343)
The USS Clamagore is an iconic Cold War Battleship that served for 30 years during the Cold War. She is the only GUPPY III submarine preserved in the United States.
The USS Clamagore was commissioned in June 1945 at the end of World War II. Built as a Baleo-class submarine by Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation, the Clamagore first operated off Key West, Florida under Commander S.C. Loomis, Jr.
After assuming numerous operations and tours, the USS Clamagore returned to Charleston in 1960. In 1948, she became one of only nine submarines to undergo GUPPY III conversion, an initiative by the U.S. Navy to improve her underwater performance. To clarify for those outside of the military, GUPPY is an acronym for the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program, with the “y” added for pronounceability.
During the conversion, the battleship was cut in half, and a new hull section was added. She received an impressive upgrade for a World War II-era submarine, with the latest fire control system and electronics installed.
The USS Clamagore was decommissioned in 1975 and was added to the Patriots Point Fleet in 1981. She was made a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
Unfortunately, the USS Clamagore suffers from serious structural fatigue, costing an estimated $6 million to repair. In January 2017, the museum signed a deal with Artificial Reefs International-Clamagore to sink the USS Clamagore in the ocean near Florida, making it an artificial reef.
Possibly the only known building used as a slave auction site in South Carolina still in existence, the Old Slave Mart was once a part of a larger complex of buildings which consisted of a yard enclosed by a high brick wall, a four-story brick building known as a barracoon, a slave jail, a kitchen and a dead house.
Auctions of the enslaved ended in November 1863. The property changed hands many times and between 1878 and 1937 the building was used as a Negro tenement and as an auto repair shop.
Charleston’s Museums & Historic Plantations
Downtown Charleston houses 15 museums and historic sites along a one mile block of the French Quarter neighborhood. Dubbed “Museum Mile”, this area offers an impressive amount of culture and history in just one tiny section of the city. Popular sites include:
- is an 18th century home where many slaves lived. is one of the oldest museums in the United States. is full of hands-on exhibits for children under 10. is an 18th century home of a wealthy rice-planting family. is one of the nation’s oldest militia units. is a Greek revival landmark offering Civil War history and tours. is South Carolina’s oldest government building and is home to a gunpowder magazine and museum. was built in 1905. It houses both historic and contemporary Lowcountry artwork. is the only known extant building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina. is a private library that houses historical state photos and documents.
- The Postal Museum focuses on the history of the postal service in South Carolina, where you will find old stamps, newspaper clippings, and more. 77 Meeting Street. is a 17th century double-house that was home to one of four South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Heyward Jr. was built in 1808 and is recognized as one of America’s most important Neoclassical houses. served many civic functions, including as a prisoner of war facility operated by British forces during the American Revolutionary War.
- Edmondston-Alston House is an 18th century historic home that was one of the first to be built along Charleston’s sea wall. Today, it operates as a fascinating museum full of much of its original furnishings!
Historic Places of Worship
The Holy City is thought to have earned its nickname from the religious freedom that took place here several hundred years ago. Many of the city’s churches and places of worship were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Explore brilliant architecture, stained glass, rich history, and more with a tour to these historic places of worship.
- 2nd Presbyterian Church
- Citadel Square Baptist Church
- Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
- Trinity United Methodist Church
- First Baptist Church
- First Presbyterian Church
- St. Michael’s Episcopal Church
- French Huguenot Church
- St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
- Circular Congregational Church
- St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church
- Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim
- View our map of Charleston’s Historic Museum Mile to help you navigate the city during your trip!
Charleston’s plantations are impeccably preserved and the perfect way to delve into the city’s pre- and post-Civil War era. Wander the gardens and immerse yourself in history with a trip to these ancient Charleston plantations.
- Explore Gullah culture and take a house tour or a plantation coach tour at this 17th century Lowcountry plantation. Founded in the late 16th century, Magnolia is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry and the oldest public garden in America. Take a trip back in time at the House Museum, explore the lives of the enslaved and freedmen, and meet different heritage animal breeds at Middleton Place. : Drayton is home to the oldest preserved plantation house in America that is still open to the public. Explore the history of the Drayton family and the slaves and freedmen who shaped the plantation. : Discover the remote, final remnants of a colonial-era rice plantation.
More Significant Historic Landmarks
There is a story behind every corner and every building of the Holy City. Other historic and significant landmarks that you shouldn’t miss include:
- , where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
- The City Marketwas built in the 18th century. This historic market complex in downtown Charleston still operates to this day! It is the perfect place to find Lowcountry artwork, gifts, and more. is a late 18th century Victorian-style plantation house in the heart of the historic district. is a research center that collects and documents the history, traditions, legacies, and influences of African Americans.
- Fort Moultriewas originally built from Palmetto logs and sand (hence the Palmetto tree on South Carolina’s state flag). It was the first fort built, although incomplete, on Sullivan’s Island to protect the city of Charleston from Great Britain. is a 17th century lighthouse that was built to guide ships approaching the Charleston harbor. Today, the historic lighthouse is stranded off the coast of Charleston. Boat tours are a great way to explore! opened in the early 17th century and was the first building in America built exclusively for theatrical performances.
Now that you’ve found Charleston’s greatest museums, plantations, and historic sites, remember to download your free vacation guide to discover the Holy City’s greatest art galleries, theaters, and tours.
The end of the Civil War in 1865 marked the ‘official’ end to slavery (though emancipation wouldn’t officially come until a few months later). It was in this year that the 13 th Amendment to the Constitution was written, outlawing slavery. Though slavery was abolished at this time, the U.S. still feels the ramifications of slavery today.
The South fell into a recession after the end of slavery. Many of the buildings in Charleston that hadn’t been destroyed in the war were leveled by an earthquake in 1886.
The West Virginia State Museum at The Culture Center
The West Virginia State Museum is dedicated to inspiring, educating and enriching the lives of the public by instilling a deeper understanding and sense of pride through the collection, preservation and exhibition of diverse cultural and historic traditions, focusing on every aspect of West Virginia history, culture, art, paleontology, archaeology and geology from all geographic regions - representing the people, land and industries.
A History of The West Virginia State Museum
The collection of the West Virginia State Museum finds its beginnings with the West Virginia Historical and Antiquarian Society which was organized in the Senate Chamber of the State House in Charleston on January 30, 1890. At this time it was an organization with limited state support but now with a home on the first floor of the capitol to showcase its collection.
On April 3, 1894, Governor William A. MacCorkle held a reception to announce the opening of the West Virginia State Museum in the 1885 West Virginia State Capitol building located at the head of Capitol Street in downtown Charleston. The museum contained the artifacts on exhibit at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, as well as exhibiting the valuable collection of the Historical Society already on exhibit. An article the next day in the newspaper applauded a large turnout for the event and the efforts of Governor MacCorkle, Colonel Bob Carr, Colonel A.D. MacCorkle and Captain John Baker White. These collections continued to be exhibited together when on February 18, 1905, by an act of the legislature, those artifacts from the Historical Society legally became part of the West Virginia State Museum.
When the legislation was passed to combine the two collections, additional funding and a new residence for the state museum was found. The museum moved to the Capitol Annex which had been completed in 1903. It turned out to be a great move for the early museum collection and saved it from the capitol fire of 1921.
When the 1932 West Virginia State Capitol building designed by Cass Gilbert was completed, the collection of the state museum was placed on exhibit in the basement. By the early 1970s it was determined that the State Museum had outgrown its space in the Capitol building and needed its own facility to preserve and showcase the wonderful treasures. On July 11, 1976, the West Virginia Science and Culture Center opened with beautiful state of the art exhibitions of history and culture. After 30 some years the collection is still housed in this modern facility that is environmentally controlled. In June of 2009, the newly renovated West Virginia State Museum opens with exhibitions and art that have been updated with modern conservation mounts, scenic beauty and architectural design elements that will help to preserve the collection for generations to come.
Charleston’s Museums Help Students of all Ages Learn the Stories Behind the History
The best Charleston museum is the city itself. You can see where signers of the Declaration of Independence lived, the site where politicians decided South Carolina should withdraw from the United States and where Dubose Heyward lived. You can do all of this while soaking up the ambience of the city that would be captured in the classic American opera "Porgy and Bess."
The city also boasts "America's First Museum" as well as a Museum Mile that includes former homes of political leaders over the city's nearly 350-year history, art and artifacts, a place for children to learn history and about the world around them, and one museum dedicated to telling the story of one of Charleston's darkest times as a center of the slave trade.
If you have a few hours to kill in the Holy City, check out Explore Charleston or Historic Walking Tour for walking tours you can print out or follow along on your phone.
To visit the "real" museums of Charleston, go to the Museum Mile, which has six museums, five nationally important historic houses, four scenic parks and a Revolutionary War powder magazine, as well as numerous historic houses of worship and public buildings, including the Market and City Hall.
The starting point is the Charleston Museum founded in 1773. Known as "America's First Museum," this museum chronicles Charleston's history from tribal pottery of native Indians through the Colonial era, the American Revolution and Civil War. Two historic houses, Heyward-Washington House and the Joseph Manigault House are part of the museum's offerings.
Next is the Gibbes Museum of Art, which opened to the public in 1905 and has a collection of paintings, sculptures and other art from several eras. A portrait room shows the people who built Charleston over the generations contemporary and local artists are also featured.
The Old Slave Mart tells the story of a slave auction mart from the early 18th century. The complex once included an enclosed yard, a jail, a kitchen and a morgue. The property was saved nearly 100 years after the last slave auction there by sisters Judith Wragg Chase and Louise Wragg Graves, who took over the Old Slave Mart in 1964. It was put on the National Register of Historic Places, and the museum that exists today was opened.
For more recent history, check out Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, which includes the carrier Yorktown and a newer exhibit on the Vietnam War. And the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry next to the Visitors Center caters to children 10 and younger with hands-on exhibits, including a pirate ship and fire truck. Nearby is the Best Friend of Charleston Museum, which is a free museum celebrating the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Co.'s original engine that brought train travel - and commerce - to Charleston.
Charleston also has several unique museums, such as the Karpeles Manuscript Museum, which is home to the largest private collection of historic manuscripts, including documents that detail the run-up to the War of 1812 on display through the end of 2015. The building itself, a Greek Revival dating back to the 19th century, is also an historic treasure that originally served as a Methodist church. The museum is one of about a dozen around the country supported by philanthropist David Karpeles and dedicated to telling the history of the U.S. through documents.
The North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Education Center has the largest collection of restored American LaFrance firefighting equipment in the country. There are more than 20 vehicles dating back to the 1780s. In addition to history, the museum lets visitors learn a little bit about the work of firefighting (yes, there is a fire pole), as well as fire prevention and safety.
Speaking of fire hazards, don't miss the Powder Magazine, the state's oldest public building dating back to the early 1700s and one-time home to the walled city of Charleston's original arsenal the Postal Museum inside the Post Office building at Meeting and Broad streets and the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, which was completed just before the Revolutionary War and was used, among other roles, as a Patriot prison during the British occupation of the city and a dungeon for pirates.
House Tours and Tickets
Each of these homes has its own ticketing process, but you can also purchase combination tickets. For example, the Heyward-Washington and Joseph Manigault houses have combined tickets with the Charleston Museum.
You can also get entry during promotions for Charleston’s Museum Mile like Mile Month. The TourPass Charleston also provides entry into many of these homes at one price. And tours like Charleston’s Alleys and Hidden Passages give a glimpse into the streets behind the famous mansions.
This museum, across the Cooper River from Charleston at Patriots Point, Mount Pleasant, is one of the highlights of the Charleston area&rsquos attractions. Allow at least a few hours for your visit.
The museum is located on board and inside of the USS Yorktown, a 1943 aircraft carrier that saw action in the Pacific theater of the Second World War the USS Clamagore, a 1948 submarine used in the Cold War and the USS Laffey, a 1944 destroyer. Besides the many historic aircraft displayed on the Yorktown, there are also interior exhibits exploring the history of the ship, life on board, and other aspects of naval history.
40 Patriots Point Road, Mount Pleasant, SC