Strolling historic King Street near the corner of Calhoun Street, you’ll come upon a majestic green space known as Marion Square. This park is frequented by local College of Charleston students studying or just looking to catch some rays. Professionals and families picnic around the park and dog owners find a wonderful space to walk their canine friends. Towering over the scene you’ll spy a distinctive castle-like building that piques the interest of nearly every passerby. Today it is the Embassy Suites hotel, but this enchanting structure holds a much more historic and significant past. This building is the original home of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.
Today, The Citadel sits much further north on the peninsula adjacent to the Ashley River, but its buildings and grounds still echo the architectural influence of its former home. The original building was built in the 1820s as a result of the unsuccessful Denmark Vesey slave uprising. Vesey was a former slave who had purchased his freedom. He and his followers planned to kill slaveholders in Charleston, liberate the slaves, and sail to Haiti for refuge. Word of the plan was leaked, and city officials had a militia arrest the plot’s leaders and many suspected followers in June before the rising could begin. Not one white person was killed or injured. Vesey and five slaves were among the first group of men rapidly judged guilty by the secret proceedings of a city-appointed Court and condemned to death; they were executed by hanging on July 2, 1822.
After the Vesey insurrection, the SC Legislature decided to build a “fortified arsenal” and staff it with 150 men “to act as a Municipal Guard for the Protection of the City of Charleston and its Vicinity” – thus the Citadel was born but known then as The Arsenal. The Arsenal was formally converted into the South Carolina Military Academy in 1842. Many Citadel alumni fought in the Civil War. Cadets remained at the school throughout the war but were often ordered by the governor to support the Confederacy in the drilling of recruits, manufacturing of ammunition, and guarding Union prisoners.
Union Troops occupied The Citadel between 1865 and 1882. It reopened its doors as a military college in 1882 and remained there until they moved to their current location in 1922. The Citadel turned the building over to Charleston County who in turn used it for County offices for many years before selling it to developers. The Embassy Suites opened its doors to guests in the early 1990s and quickly became a favorite among Charleston visitors.
You can take a stroll through this historic building yourself and walk in the footsteps of the original Citadel Cadets on the preserved hard wood floors and archways. Artifacts such as bullets, buttons, books and more items found during the renovation are on display in the lobby. Charleston is known for her historic homes and streets and the Old Citadel is another gem in her crown that is preservation.