Active Project

Charleston Historic District

Charleston, South Carolina, United States
Did You Know?
Charleston was founded in 1670 by English colonists and relocated in 1680 to its present location, where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet the Atlantic Ocean.
A Closer Look

Charleston Historic District


Charleston was founded in 1670 by English colonists and relocated in 1680 to its present location, where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet the Atlantic Ocean. Residential, commercial, administrative, and ecclesiastical buildings in a grand array of styles from Georgian, to Regency, Federal, and Gothic Revival, neoclassical and Italianate styles dot the historic city. Charleston Historic District lies on a peninsula in Charleston harbor, which now accommodates cruise ships of a substantial size. The waves of increased visitors impact the city’s urban and social fabric, and the concerns in Charleston echo challenges faced in many historic port cities with cruise ship tourism. More tourists bring economic benefits, but they also create increased traffic that requires careful planning to ensure the continuing protection of the historic urban center, which has evolved over the centuries but retains the distinct character of a city formed in an earlier time. Balancing the preservation of heritage, quality of life needs, and new economic opportunities is a constant and complex dialogue. As witnessed in many places around the world, the rapid, unregulated growth in cruise ship arrivals compels the development of a sustainable plan that will encourage tourism and a thriving historic center. It is hoped that such a plan can serve as a model for many other historic port cities and towns worldwide that confront similar issues.

How We Helped

Charleston’s Historic District was included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch to highlight concerns over the effects of increased cruise tourism and how best to balance heritage management and cruise ship tourism. To explore these issues further, World Monuments Fund, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Preservation Society of Charleston hosted an international symposium on cruise tourism in historic port communities in February 2013, which took place in Charleston. The symposium addressed the challenges of developing policies that benefit local communities by ensuring an effective balance of economic, environmental, and social concerns with protection of heritage resources that provide distinction and attract visitors. By creating sustainable strategies for cruise industry development and management, historic port communities can encourage tourism and preserve local character. Participants from around the world attended the symposium to contribute ideas.

Why It Matters

Charleston’s importance as a port is reflected in the fine collection of buildings that epitomize American social and architectural history. Charleston pioneered urban preservation in the United States as the first city in the country to enact a local historic district ordinance in 1931. Its protection is of national importance, not only because of its diverse architectural heritage, but also because of its critical role in the development of historic preservation policy in the United States. The effects of cruise ship tourism evident in Charleston are felt in historic port cities around the world, and it is hoped that the symposium and publication will help inform these communities on how to better balance cruise tourism and heritage management.

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