16. Armory (1750), Watch House (1767), Guard House (1838-1886)
In April 1767, the Commons House of Assembly passed an act granting an appropriation for a new Guard House to replace the Watch House atop the Half Moon Battery. That significant location on the Cooper River waterfront was to be redeveloped as an Exchange and Custom House.
The Watch House [a term used interchangeably with Guard House] was a police station, with rooms for offices, meetings, and drills, and also a barracks for the guards. The Act of Appropriation stipulated that "A convenient, proper, and handsome Watch House is first to be built in Broad Street, between the Public Armory, State House, St. Michael's Church, and the Market. When that is completed, the old Watch House is to be pulled down and the Exchange and Custom House erected in its stead."
The site of the new Watch House, at the southwest corner of Broad and Meeting streets, was outside Charleston's early fortification wall, and is shown as vacant land on the 1739 Bishop Roberts map. The construction date of the Armory, which stood on Broad Street when the 1767 Act was written, has not been verified.
The Watch House was built by William Rigby Naylor and James Brown, and possibly designed by Naylor (whose architectural plan for the new Exchange was employed by the builders, John and Peter Horlbeck), and complete by 1769. How long the Armory or Arsenal remained on Meeting Street, south of the new building, has not been documented, but it seems to have been extant when Edmund Petrie made his survey for the 1788 Phoenix Fire Insurance Company map.
During more than half a century following construction of the Watch House, the arsenal and police station came to be considered one property, and the buildings were remodeled several times. By early 1838, City Council determined that to adequately house Charleston's 160-man military guard required an entirely new building.
Architect Charles F. Reichardt, whose monumental buildings (Charleston Hotel and New Theatre, both 1837; Circular Church steeple addition, 1838) were part of Meeting Street's transformation into a grand urban thoroughfare, was selected to design the new Guard House. In keeping with its corner site, Reichardt's plan for the two-story masonry building featured two prominent elevations, a six-columned portico facing Broad Street, and an eleven-column Greek Doric colonnade along Meeting Street opposite St. Michael's Church. Inside were large halls on both floors, roomy enough to use as a drill room, a court room and detention area, and quarters for the men.
The east colonnade was removed in 1856. Whether this was necessary to facilitate a widening of Meeting Street or to remove a structurally unsound element, or simply to update an unattractively "old-fashioned" appearance remains the subject of debate. Mayor William P. Miles touched on all three concerns when he authorized the demolition.
The front colonnade was wrecked by the earthquake of August 1886, when the upper façade crashed through the portico into Broad Street. The building was deemed unsalvageable, and its remnants were gradually cleared from the site. In its place rose the present United States Courthouse and Post Office, designed by John Henry Devereux and completed in 1897.
The only extant element of the Guard House is said never to have been installed there. A fine double-leaf gate crafted by ironworker Christopher Werner, and perhaps designed by Reichardt, was rejected as too expensive. In 1849, George A. Hopley acquired the wrought-iron gate and installed it at the garden entry to his new residence at 32 Legare Street. The grand Sword Gate, with its swords and spears, gave its name to the house.
Fick, Sarah. Sword Gate House. Connections. Charleston: Thomas S. Tisdale, 2002.