Charleston, South Carolina, the seat of Charleston County and one of the most historic cities in the United States. It lies on the Atlantic coast, at the point where the Ashley and Cooper rivers enter Charleston Harbor. Charleston's port plays an important role in the economy of the city and its surrounding area, as do manufacturing, services, and tourism. The city is served by rail; a network of highways, including Interstate 26; the Intracoastal Waterway; and a commercial airport.
The old section of Charleston retains a pre-Civil War charm, recalling the period when Charleston was a city of aristocratic planters and wealthy merchants. Found here are a number of stately public buildings and restored 18th- and 19th-century homes with gardens and wrought-iron gateways. Several of these homes are now museums, notably the Joseph Manigault House (1803), the Nathaniel Russell House (1808), and the Edmondston-Alston House (1828). Other museums include the Gibbes Museum of Art and the Charleston Museum (1733), the oldest museum in the nation. Other attractions include the South Carolina Aquarium, the Dock Street Theatre (1736), St. Michael's Episcopal Church (1761), St. Philip's Episcopal Church (1838), the Huguenot Church (1845), and the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (1771).
Two historic forts in Charleston Harbor—Sumter and Moultrie—form a national monument. Nearby, docked in the harbor, is the USS Yorktown, a World War II aircraft carrier, which can be toured. Among places of interest near Charleston are Patriots Point, site of a naval museum; and Boone Hall Plantation, Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, and Middleton Place Gardens. Also in the vicinity of Charleston is Cypress Gardens.
Educational institutions include The Citadel, the College of Charleston, Charleston Southern University, and the Medical University of South Carolina. The Spoleto Festival, USA, an arts festival, is held every spring in downtown Charleston.
Charleston, originally Charles Towne, was settled by the English in 1670 and named for King Charles II. In 1680 the settlement was moved a short distance to a new site and became the colonial capital. Despite attacks by the Spanish and raids by pirates and Indians, Charleston soon prospered and by 1770, it was the richest and most influential city south of Philadelphia.
During the Revolutionary War Charleston repulsed a British fleet in 1776 but fell to a land-and-sea assault in 1780.
South Carolina's capital was officially moved to Columbia in 1786 but Charleston remained an important political center. Its citizens played a leading role in events that led to the Civil War. The first engagement of the war—the Confederate attack on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter—occurred here in April, 1861. The port was soon blockaded by Union naval forces but the city did not fall to the Union until 1865.
The Civil War was followed by a long period of economic decline. A severe earthquake in 1886 added to the city's plight. Charleston had partially recovered about the time of World War I, but it did not experience major economic growth until the period during and after World War II. A major hurricane struck the city in 1989.