8/28/2013 1:53:00 PM 127 years ago: The Great Charleston Earthquake
Brenda Harrison Editor
Saturday marks the 127th anniversary of the Great Charleston Earthquake. David Hamilton, owner of Hamilton House Antiques & Interiors and a history buff, has been reading Richard N. Cote’s book “The Great Charleston Earthquake of 1886, City of Heroes.” He shared some information he discovered about the generosity of the people living here at that time. Roaring out of the night of Aug. 31, 1886, the earthquake was felt from Toronto to Cuba and from Omaha to Bermuda. There were 124 deaths and over 140 injuries attributed to this disaster. The damage from the quake left 40,000 of the 60,000 residents of Charleston homeless. The residents of the small village of Florence reached out to assist the homeless Charlestonians. In his book, Cote’ includes the following from a Sept. 10, 1886 article in the Charleston News & Courier: “Though the people of Florence, the county seat were terrified by the quake, which cracked walls and threw down chimneys there, they expressed their love for the people of Charleston by quickly offering free board and lodging for five hundred refugees.” Checking the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps of 1884 and 1888, I discovered the population listed for the City of Florence in 1884 was 2,000 residents.
The 1888 Sanborn Map listed the population at 2,900 city residents. Obviously taking in and feeding 500 refugees would have been quite an undertaking for this small community. I have not been able to confirm whether any refugees came here, but perhaps they did and perhaps they were one of the reasons for the population growth. Another interesting report concerning Florence County in Cote’s book offers a glimpse of what the quake was like for the people living here. “The huge seismic event quickly made its way into the South Carolina midlands. ‘Mom’ Agnes James, an 80-year-old ex-slave living in Claussen, Florence County, had no problem remembering “de quake” when interviewed in 1937. She had been on her way to a prayer meeting with her infant in her arms when the roaring and shaking hit. “Disoriented, she thought that her baby had been torn from her grasp. Screaming for help, she began to search the ditches frantically, trying to recover the child. Amid the confusion, her husband reached her side, hollering, ‘Agnes, what is the matter with you?.
“‘My baby is lost. Dear Lord, where is my baby?’ she cried. “Looking at her in bewilderment, her husband replied, ‘Agnes, you must be crazy. There’s the baby in your arms!’ It was a long time before Mom James recovered from being nearly scared to death.” Nearly 70 percent of Charleston’s brick structures were badly damaged or totally destroyed. No building in the city or in nearby Summerville, were spared. However, with no financial assistance from either the federal or state government, the leaders and citizens of Charleston and Summerville carried out the most humane, rapid and financially responsible recovery from a massive disaster in all of American history up to that time, commented author Cote’.