Neighborhood History

The gateway to the rich history of Charleston is the Cannonborough-Elliottborough Neighborhood,

home to ‘The Inns, Charleston.’

Here in our neighborhood lies a story of progress, and of strong people weathering the ups and downs of change. Cannonborough-Elliottborough has been slammed by an earthquake, quite a few hurricanes, and the politics of freedom. Throughout it all, the backbone has been the resilient people. Tough working citizens, aware of the importance of their land and independence, rebuilt over and again, leaving behind them the rich, charming neighborhood of today.

In the middle of the 1800’s local commerce experienced a growth spurt, stemming from the workforce and industry sprouting around Cannonborough-Elliottborough. As the lowcountry transitioned from an agricultural based economy to a more diverse mix, small industry sprang up. Shipping and rail facilities, mills, foundries and tanneries were tended by a diverse mix of wage earning citizens. Small business entrepreneurs such as barbers, butchers, tailors and shoemakers found success in serving the community as well. The neighborhood’s early residents were a mix of working class natives, freemen, Jewish, Irish and German immigrants; all competing for wages in the scrappy neighborhood where land was cheap and housing affordable.

Originally the land was named for owners Daniel Cannon and Colonel Bernard Elliott. Late in the 18th century, they each acquired neighboring large, lowcountry typical, marshy tracts crossed by small creeks. As was often the case in the early years of downtown development, much of the land was filled in, changing the boundaries. Cannon was a carpenter and mechanic who operated several mills in the area. Elliott was a Revolutionary Era planter, whose borough was surveyed into streets then partitioned among his family.

Shortly thereafter, the South Carolina legislature led the secession from the Union. The first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861 by Citadel cadets, as the ship ‘Star of the West’ entered Charleston harbor attempting to get provisions to Union soldiers at Fort Sumter. The war eventually crushed the prosperity that Charleston had enjoyed for almost two centuries. The end to the Civil War arrived in 1865, after the bloodiest four years on American soil. In December of that year, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, thereby destroying slavery within our nation. 

For freed people, Charleston was briefly a place of celebration, but they quickly buckled down to the business of Reconstruction. While the war was officially over, the tumultuous times for Charleston were not. Reconstruction meant battles of economic and social turmoil. Tensions rose and violence erupted throughout the state. When federal troops withdrew in 1877, it merely marked the official end of Reconstruction. The battle to rebuild lives and community continued, especially in this neighborhood full of freemen. Commerce, with it’s heart beat in the hard working people of Charleston, slowly helped bring the city back to a renewed vitality.

Cannonborough-Elliottborough had become a hotbed of development in the new south. It was also a boiling pot of politically and emotionally charged relations at all levels. What was happening was nothing short of a reinvention of lives. Former slaves rebuilt their scattered families and legalized these relationships in order to protect them. Family and community ties were of the utmost importance to these newly found relatives. Freepeople performed impressive feats of thrift and ingenuity to forge new lives based on community involvement, education, worship, property ownership, and money management. Setting up bank accounts for their offspring, even when they were only a few months old became common practice. The freedmen were trained in politics by active participation. They found success in forming labor unions and strikes. Freedom brought extraordinary opportunities for many members of the community to transform their lives.

Despite these accomplishments, the battle for freedom was not over. Emancipation was tempered by segregating customs and laws that created strife for many years to come. Prohibition kept things interesting, as the neighborhood played host to various illegal operations. Even while hidden; the speakeasies, brothels, and gambling establishments found their customers; making the many reports of crime and vice on our corner of Spring Street and Smalls Alley no surprise. The long overdue mprovements in Civil Rights preceded an increase in the health and wealth of the neighborhood.

In more recent decades, our neighborhood has undergone a revitalization. While still home to working citizens, local commerce, families and churches; the area has become one frequented by bicycling college students and wandering tourists. What was formerly off the beaten path of the typical tourist, is now the epicenter of the food scene in Charleston. Check out our list of the world class dining within a half mile of The Inns! While you roam, don’t miss the lovely local architecture, built over many years for many different purposes, by the skilled hands of our strong community. Much history is hidden here. Have fun exploring. Welcome to Cannonborough-Elliottborough!

Damage from the 1886 Earthquake.

After Hurricane Hugo, 1989.

Old waterways superimposed super-imposed on the streets of 'Canon Borough' and 'Elliotts Borough' in "The Neck" of Charleston.

Fort Sumter under fire.

Opening shots of Civil War fired, 1861.

Free communities celebrate Emancipation!

Civil War damage to Charleston, by photographer George N. Barnard.

Youth sit-in lunch counter on King, 1960.