Charleston’s Fireproof Building by Robert Mills
Robert Mills was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1781 and graduated from the College of Charleston. People, especially architect people, argue about whether he is the first native born American architect or the second behind Charles Bulfinch, but I don’t care. The designer of the Washington Monument (Mills, won in competition) left his fingerprints all over the landscape of his hometown.
My favorite of his designs is the Fireproof Building, a muscular edifice at the corner of Meeting and Chalmers Streets. It was designed to live up to its name, meaning that it will not burn. Wood was not used in the structure of its design of its floors, beams or other spans. The walls, ceilings, stairs and floors all feel like they are hewn from one solid block of masonry, giving it a sense of solidity. Permanence. It was built as a repository for records, paper documents meant to be preserved for all time.
When I talk in there, it’s like the walls are recording my voice. Projecting it to the masses for all time. In the mid-90′s, I sang in the stairwell. When we visited as part of our War of 1812 Symposium pass, I could almost hear the echo of my own voice, barreling down through time.
It’s that kind of place. Almost never open to the public. Shrouded in mystery. Conjured by an American architectural icon.
Though the Fireproof Building is not technically open for public tours, anyone can make an appointment to visit the building. Contact the South Carolina Historical Society to schedule a self-guided tour by following this link.
This post is part of a series on Charleston, South Carolina, the place I consider my hometown. A local’s-eye-view. Take notes, potential visitors. The first post in the series is here, the second post is here, the third post is here and the fourth post is here.