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How Charleston’s Past was Secured for the Future

by Karen Brickman Emmons, Historic Charleston Foundation on

2015 marks AASLH’s 75th Anniversary Year. For the occasion, AASLH has created a blog series for members to share their unique history and memories. Contributions were based around AASLH’s founding year, 1940, but members also shared other wonderful moments in local history. The celebration is not just about AASLH’s history, but about the collective history of AASLH members, both individual and institutional, and the work we do for the field of state and local history.

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In the 1930s and 1940s, members of the Carolina Art Association, an organization formed primarily to support the fine arts, began to concentrate on the preservation of Charleston’s architectural assets and on city planning. A small committee grew out of that interest known initially as the Regional Planning and Advisory Committee, and later, the Civic Services Committee, the predecessor body to Historic Charleston Foundation.

The Committee’s first step was to retain landscape architect and planner Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., to provide both an assessment of the pressures of modern growth on Charleston and recommendations for implementing effective city planning. In 1940, Olmsted presented his report to the Committee, which contained several considerations and recommendations that would guide the Committee as it moved forward.

Following Olmsted’s recommendations, over the next few years the Committee undertook a comprehensive survey of architectural resources in Charleston and tackled other issues such as parking and traffic. Eventually, the Committee addressed Olmsted’s recommendation for the creation of a “permanent agency [to] provide a very valuable service for people of good-will owning properties such as are listed in the inventory”[1] and in 1947, Historic Charleston Foundation was established “to preserve and protect buildings of historical or architectural interest and their surroundings, in and about the City of Charleston.”[2]

The document featured with this entry consists of pages from the 1940 “Olmsted Report.” The report in its entirety, along with the Civic Services Committee Papers, can be found at the Margaretta Childs Archives at Historic Charleston Foundation, and also on the Lowcountry Digital Library.

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[1] Olmsted Report, “Certain Financial Factors Bearing on Loss and Protection of the Values in Question,” 3.

[2] Historic Charleston Foundation Certificate of Incorporation, April 25, 1947.

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