Situated downtown on Chalmers Street is the Charleston Slave Museum. Housed inside the original building, it was constructed back in 1859, when slave auctions were regularly held inside.
The building was open on both sides, so it was referred to as a shed. The exterior was mighty and grand with its high arch, octagonal pillars, and a large iron gate at the entrance. Inside, stunning ceilings stretch 20-feet high.
Charleston served as the center of commercial activity for the Southern plantation economy during the antebellum period. Originally, slaves were sold on the north side of the Exchange Building, but in 1856, the city prohibited the practice of public sales, therefore many sales rooms were constructed. During auctions, the slaves would stand on tables so the slave owners could pass by and evaluate the slaves who up for sale.
Known as the Slave Mart, the Chalmers Street building was owned by former sheriff Thomas Ryan, and the mart contained three additional buildings. One was a holding place for the slaves before sales, plus there was a kitchen and a morgue. After the defeat of the South in the Civil War, the Slave Mart was renovated into a two-story tenement dwelling.
The property was purchased in 1938 and converted into a museum of African-American history. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for visitors to experience and learn about an important chapter in Charleston’s evocative history.