Tradd Street, which cuts across Charleston from the Ashley River to the Cooper River, frequently appears on lists of historic streets to view in modern Charleston. Paved with cobblestone and naturally-rounded Belgian block, the homes are illuminated with copper carriage lanterns, a feature that remains constant even as old homes are continuously renovated to meet the needs of modern buyers intrigued with historic homes.
Named after Robert Tradd, the first white child to be born in Charles Town, the street is famed for its architecture. The setting for a five-book mystery series by Karen White called The House on Tradd Street, it was the filming location for some scenes in the movie The Patriot. Signs of modernity such as gutters, doorbells were digitally removed for the 2000 film, and some homes on the south side of the street were levelled to make the property at 46 Tradd appear to be a waterfront location.
Single House Style Architecture Dominates Tradd Street
As in much of Charleston, many Tradd Street homes are built in the “single house style,” which was one room wide with piazzas or porches on each side. There was no limit on the length or on the number of stories, but the narrowest part of the house, which usually ranged from 10′ to 25′ and was topped with a gable, always faced the street. Often incorrectly assumed to be a way to reduce the tax bill, as taxation was based on street frontage, the placement and style considered Charleston’s hot, humid climate and the need for narrow lots in the city that was walled for protection from French, Spanish, and Native Americans from the 1690s to the 1730s.
Despite the single house layout that characterized many Tradd Street properties, individual homes may show Georgian, Federal, Victorian, or Greek Revival styling while keeping the interior layout similar. The long layout provided for great airflow through the house and piazzas, and the window placement at each end facilitated the air flow. Homes were built east-west or north-south, with the piazzas on the west or south to block the home from the hot afternoon sun. The earliest single homes lacked the piazzas. When a home required outbuildings to house guests or servants or house specific functions, such as the kitchen or laundry, the buildings were set behind the house.
The house featured large windows that opened to a single side yard, while the other side that faced the neighbor’s side yard had smaller windows that were fewer in number to ensure a more private outdoor space for all. Ultimately, side yards were used for parking or as a courtyard.
The doors on the homes opened to the ground level piazza rather than opening into the living space and were located halfway along the side perpendicular to the street; what appears to be a front door on some homes are really entrances to the porch or patio. Each floor has a large room on each side of the hall. Because the homes had stairways on the piazza leading to upper floors, they were later subdivided into individual flats or two apartments per floor.
The homes were often roofed with black Carolina tile that appeared to be blue or purple in sunlight.
Changing Residents Of Tradd Street
While Tradd Street often housed the prominent, Tradd and East Bay Streets were main commercial thoroughfares. Many early residents included both prominent merchants, military personnel, and civic leaders along with shopkeepers and tradesmen, both black and white, who lived on the second floor while conducting business on the street level. The neighborhood also attracted artists such as Alfred Hutty, a landscape artist who is also famous for his detailed drawings and prints of life in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Prior to 1890, the peninsula of Charleston had over 4,000 of these single plan homes. At least 78 were from pre-Revolutionary times. Prior to restoration efforts in the early 20th century, many were torn down, which leaves about 2,700 intact now. Largely due to the efforts of Susan Pringle Frost , the “Angel of Tradd,” and her sisters who first bought two Tradd Street properties in 1901, preservation of old single houses became a priority in Charleston. Her work lead to the zoning ordinance of 1931, which created the first historic district in the US and made the city a prime tourist destination.
At least 10 homes on Tradd Street have historic designation. Making early single homes appealing to modern residents requires adding air conditioning, and modern appliances, updating mechanical systems, and even enlarging some rooms while not compromising the original design of the home. Real estate prices often soar into the millions.
Debate On Modern Tradd Street
The high real estate prices has given rise to absentee owners who only occupy the home for part of the year. To combat “drive by neighbors” in search of trophy homes, former long-term mayor Joseph P. Riley proposed “primary residence easements” that would require future owners to occupy the property. Owners could donate an easement, the legal rights to the property, to the Historic Charleston Foundation which would prevent owners from using the property as a vacation home. This proposal has been poorly received by many owners of second homes who feel that they have made valuable contribution to the neighborhood by upgrading old home.
Foundation president Lawrence Walker embraces the idea, even thought having an easment reduced his property value by 20%, which was partially offset by federal and state tax deductions and lower property taxes.
When “a high percentage of the most historic houses in Charleston are now closed up 10 months a year or more,” he says, the resulting situation is “unhealthy,” he said. Part time residents are not invovle3d in the community, while forcing families out of the city.
Remember Tradd Street With Outdoor Copper Lighting
The rich history of Tradd Street is captured in outdoor copper lighting by Lantern & Scroll. With a distinct detailed curved cap and weighty body, the lanterns found in historic Charleston since the early 1800s are perfect for lighting up both historic and more contemporary homes. Available with or without yokes in wall mounted, column mount, or handing styles, styles from the Tradd Street Collection come in gas or electric models.