A street by any other name…

Today’s Romney Street has nothing to do with former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

Rather, the story of the street’s name starts before the Revolutionary War. Back then, an enterprising colonist decided to build a distillery named after the Rumney neighborhood in London, said Charleston County Public Library historian Nic Butler. “It was going to be a huge operation and then it went bankrupt. A lot of speculative development went on. … Romney Street is all that is left of a failed urban development called ‘Rumney.’ ”

Lots of streets, in fact, are no longer spelled as originally intended.

“Dozens of funky streets have disappeared over the past 300 years and dozens of streets have been renamed and misspelled over the years,” Butler said, pointing to several examples:

Woolfe Street is supposed to be Wolfe Street.
Bogard Street has changed from “Boigard” or “Boijard.”
Linguard Street should really be “Lingard.”
Rafer’s Alley that intersects the downtown Market originally was known as “Raper’s Alley.”
Weim Court was Whim or Whim’s Court.

“A few streets that have disappeared include Ellery Street, Hard Alley, Parsonage Lane, Fort Street, So Be It Lane and Pritchard Street,” Butler said. 

Lots of old streets got new names, too

It’s not uncommon for street names to have changed, for one reason or another.

Prior to 1812, State Street was known as Union Street to commemorate the union of England and Scotland in 1707, according to the city’s 2011 training manual for tour guides.

Part of Chalmers Street was called Union Alley in the mid-1700s, but became Chalmers Alley after the purchase of some property on the street by Dr. Lionel Chalmers, a leading colonial physician. Forty years after the American Revolution, Chalmers Alley was merged with Beresford Alley, named after a Wando River planter, to become Chalmers Street. Interestingly, the planter, Richard Beresford, left his estate in 1715 for use as a free school and a fund today continues to provide scholarships, the manual said.

Cumberland Street originally was one block long from Church Street to Meeting Street. Likely named for the Duke of Cumberland in the mid-1700s, it was widened in the early 1800s and absorbed Amen Street between Church and East Bay streets. Interestingly, Amen Street — said to have gotten its name because of the “amens” that could be heard from nearby churches — changed from a one-block-long street into one of two blocks when it absorbed Wragg’s Lane.

Boundary Street was the original name of the east end of what is today known as Calhoun Street. The original name reflected the northern limit of the city after the Revolutionary War. West of King Street (heading towards today’s James Island connector), Calhoun was known as Manigault Street. When the city extended its limits north around 1850, the whole street was renamed to honor the nation’s seventh vice president, South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun, whose statue was removed from Marion Square in 2020.

A dock becomes a queen

Queen Street began as Dock Street after “a boat dock that was dug in the swamp that then existed at the present intersection of the street with East Bay,” the training manual said. Butler added that getting to the bottom of the street’s history is kind of murky. 

Photo by Ruta Smith

“Dock Street existed more as an idea than as a thoroughfare for a lot longer than people realized,” he said. “It was an inlet from the Cooper River. It wasn’t paved and wasn’t even passable for most of the first half of the 18th century.” But while the Dock Street Theatre opened in 1736 at what is now the intersection of Queen and Church streets, most of the area didn’t have homeowners until the 1740s, Butler said. Dock Street later was renamed Queen Street in honor of Caroline of Anspach, consort of King George II, who ruled Great Britain from 1727 to 1760.

Streets originally named for ships

Charleston’s first suburb was Ansonborough, a 64-acre tract of land that Capt. George Anson may have won in a card game in 1726. Through the years the land, known as Bowling Green Plantation, was developed with three streets named for his ships, the Squirrel, Centurion and Scarborough. Over time, Squirrel Street was absorbed into an extension of Meeting Street. Centurion Street became Society Street and Scarborough Street merged with Charles and Quince streets to become Anson Street to honor the captain, who was named a baron after a 1747 naval victory. A cross street, George Street, is also named for the captain.

Sibling rivalry

Just as developers today generally name streets in new subdivisions, so did those in colonial times. Just north of Calhoun Street is Wraggsborough which the Wragg family split into lots and streets in 1801. Streets in the new section of town were named after the seven children of Joseph Wragg, who died in 1758, according to the training manual. Today, the Wragg children are memorialized as John, Judith, Mary, Ann, Charlotte, Elizabeth and Henrietta streets. Nearby Chapel Street (an extension of John Street) was named for a chapel that was supposed to be built, but never was. 

Bad reputation

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Charleston had a “red light” district that included Archdale Street, West Street and what then was called Beresford Street. 

That Archdale became a fallen area was ironic in that it was named for John Archdale, a Quaker governor of the Province of Carolina from 1695-96 known as a man of “character and ability.”

Photo by Ruta Smith

West Street, only one block long, is named for a three-time 17th century governor of the colony, Joseph West. Another story is that it got its name to reflect the western edge of a plat of land owned by a large property owner. 

The city closed bordellos during World War II and, in what seemed to be a public relations move, renamed Beresford as Fulton Street after steamboat inventor Robert Fulton. Butler said the decision was apparently arbitrary as Fulton’s bust was displayed at the time in City Hall. 

Lots of streets, stubs renamed

As the city expanded after the Revolutionary War, developers might name a street in a new village with the same name as a street in the old part of town. There might be, for example, a Pinckney Street below Boundary and another above it. By 1850, when the city expanded its boundaries and Boundary Street became Calhoun Street, there was some wholesale renaming to make things less confusing.

“They had to go in and change a bunch of names,” Butler said. 

Wasbee was Bee before the Bees were un-Bee-d | Photo by Andy Brack

As an example: once were two Bee Streets — one off Meeting and another further north near today’s Crosstown. Solution: The stub of a one-block long street got a new name. Today it’s called Wasbee Range. “The city said we’re closing off these stubs that we don’t need any more.” 

Interesting intersections

“I’m fond of the corner where Columbus comes into America,” writer Josephine Humphries wryly commented on Facebook recently.

Butler said the original 1769 plan for the Hampstead village in Charleston’s East Side included a four-acre greenspace. Then around the turn of the 20th century, the city ran a trolley track through the middle of the park on what is now Columbus Street. Then in 1956, it cut another street — America Street — through the old greenspace to make four one-acre plats. 

“Only since 1956 has Columbus been coming into America,” joked Butler.

Another interesting intersection — where Pitt Street meets Bull Street, is a delight for some dog lovers.

Quick street histories

Broad Street: The widest street in old Charles Town — 61 feet wide at East Bay Street and 100 feet wide near City Hall.

Church Street: Yep, named for a church, St. Philip’s.

Clifford Street: Once known as Dutch Church Alley for St. John’s Lutheran Church. Later named for a man who owned property on the street.

Cool Blow Street: What’s left of Cool Blow Farm, later named Cool Blow Village when being developed in the mid-1800s. 

Franklin Street: Originally called Back Street because it was
in the “back part of town.”

Hasell Street (pronounced HAY-zul): Named for James Hazell Jr., father-in-law of Parker Quince who developed the Rhettsbury area in 1773.

Huger Street (YOU-gee): Named for Revolutionary War Brigadier General Isaac Huger. There’s also a Huger Street
in Columbia.

Legare Street (la-GREE): Originally named Johnson’s Street for a provincial governor. Part of it then was renamed Friend Street and another Allen Street. Around 1900, the whole
street was renamed to honor French Huguenot silversmith Solomon Legare.

Line Street: “The Lines” were fortifications across the peninsula in the War of 1812. The name for a street in the same location stuck.

Magazine Street: Named for a series of powder magazines, first built in 1737. 

Montagu Street: An original street in Harleston Village,
1770, that was named for Sir Charles Greville Montagu,
a royal governor.

Morris Street: Reflects the name of Morris Brown Street A.M.E. Church, organized in 1867. Brown was pastor of the first A.M.E. congregation in Charleston in 1818.

Photo by Andy Brack

Philadelphia Alley: A passage created in 1766 that originally was known as Kinloch’s Court, an area that became derelict. After a fire in 1810, the City of Philadelphia sent money to rebuild and it was reopened and renamed in 1811, according to historian Nic Butler. 

Race Street: Likely got its name from the proximity to two race courses, Newmarket Course and Washington Race Course.

Society Street: Originally named Centurion Street, renamed for the South Carolina Society in 1759.

Vanderhorst Street: Named around 1793 for Arnoldus Vanderhorst, Charleston’s second intendant, or mayor (1785), and later governor (1794-96). Some people pronounce the street with two syllables — van-DROSS — while others say three — VAN-der-horst.

Zig Zag Alley: Once called Lightwood Alley, this passage below Broad Street regained its name in the 1970s for the way it zigs (and zags).

Sources: City of Charleston Tour Guide Training Manual (2011); Charleston Time Machine.

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