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Charleston Library Society's Open House Week invites us in to experience history

Accession Book (copy)

The accession book from 1798, found in a closet after the Civil War, contains a listing of about 75 objects that were part of the Library Society's museum collection. That collection would grow exponentially over more than two centuries. Charleston Library Society/Provided

If anyone can shape the history of our country through sheaths of paper and a few curiosities, it might be the Charleston Library Society.

The organization has been safeguarding and sharing that story for a very long time, 275 years to be precise. Since its founding in 1748 it has been at the core of the intellectual development of the Lowcountry.

As the oldest cultural organization in the South and the second oldest continuous circulating library in the country, its documents and collections can construct the architecture of this country, from its founding ideals to its defining challenges.

On the occasion of such a milestone anniversary, the organization reasoned that it’s also a choice time to have some Charleston folks around for a little tea and history.

From March 27–31, Charleston Library Society will do so with Open House Week celebration of its anniversary. On Monday through Friday of that week, each day from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., visitors are welcome to stop by in the Main Reading Room of its building on 164 King St.

“It will be come one, come all,” said Laura Mina, head librarian of the Charleston Library Society.

For the open house, the library plans to enlist trained docents to guide guests through a newly created exhibit of key documents and other artifacts, serve refreshments to those who visit and present a free discussion.

To create the exhibit, Deborah Fenn, curator/historian of Charleston Library Society, has been diving deep into the library’s vast archives for illuminating centuries-old original documents, from those related to its founding to others that detail how its books found safe haven when war raged on the peninsula.

Fenn is particularly excited to share more of those early documents with the public. The timeline launches in 1748 with the establishment of what was then called The Charles Town Library by 19 young intellectuals who came on board as its original members.

Some items have been culled from the Charleston Museum, which has its origins in the Library Society. In 1773, the library announced in The South Carolina Gazette that it had established a Natural History Committee and had “fitted up a Museum for the reception and preservation of specimens…,” a foundational gift that in 1907 evolved to become the Charleston Museum.

Mina has been working with Jennifer McCormick, chief of collection at Charleston Museum, to select some of those treasures for the exhibition. Among them is the an accession book dating to 1798 that lists approximately 75 objects. The exhibition will also include some of those objects, such as tusk bracelets from a wild boar and silk lotus slippers from China.

They all come together to show the trajectory of a society that has managed to abide despite a catastrophic fire and challenging times of the manmade variety, too. Today, the organization buzzes with cultural events, new members, special collections and bookbinding departments and research services.

In addition to the exhibit, the program will host a free discussion by historian George McDaniel. “Lushington: Lost and Found” sheds light on Colonel Richard Lushington, the King Street denizen whose command during the Revolutionary War included heroic efforts at the victorious 1779 Battle of Port Royal Sound. It will take place at 10 a.m. on March 19.

For more information on Charleston Library Society, visit

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Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.

Maura Hogan is the arts critic at The Post and Courier. She has previously written about arts, culture and lifestyle for The New York Times, Gourmet, Garden & Gun, among other publications.

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