Ornamental ironwork appears throughout historic Charleston…in balconies, gates, fences, stair railings, window grilles, decorative panels, boot scrapers, and hitching posts. By definition, wrought iron is iron that has been heated and worked by hand and hammer. Brought to Charleston by Europeans, it served as a practical and aesthetically appealing replacement for wooden fences, railings, and balconies—which quickly rotted in the tropical climate. The city’s earliest ironwork was destroyed by fire or requisitioned during wartime, but examples remain dating back as far as the 1760s. The notably fine craftsmanship of its wrought iron masterpieces ranks as one of Charleston’s most impressive architectural treasures.
The use of wrought iron transitioned from primarily decorative to almost purely functional following the infamous—and unsuccessful—slave uprising plot orchestrated by Denmark Vesey in 1822. After the perpetrator confessed his plan to murder Charleston families in their homes, many residents installed sharp iron spikes atop their fences and gates as seen in the photo below. These remain an effective theft-deterrent to this day.