In Charleston, SC, a series of one-story cottages attest to the ingenuity of the city’s inhabitants. Many of these structures are less than 500 square feet in area and contain just two or three rooms. But they’re extraordinarily appealing, and most of them have been standing for more than a century.
Such a building is widely known as a “freedman’s cottage”; an alternate spelling is “freedmans cottage.” Some locals believe that they were constructed as slave quarters, but they weren’t. Many others think that freed slaves built them as soon as the Civil War ended ― hence the moniker ― but that theory is also incorrect.
In truth, developers from diverse backgrounds designed these homes; the dates built were between the 1860s and early 1900s. These cottages appeared during an era when Charleston needed affordable housing options for the industrial workers who were flooding into the region.
What’s more, from the start, people of varying races and ethnicities occupied freedman’s cottages. Some of those residents were indeed former slaves, but some came from Germany, Ireland and other nations in search of a new life in America.
At their peak, there were probably more than 1,000 such dwellings throughout the city. In more recent decades, however, most of them were torn down to make way for new real estate projects.
The freedman’s cottages that remain are full of charm. They boast side piazzas and roofs with gables, and many have hardwood floors. Side doors and false front doors are common features as well.
These houses can be surprisingly innovative. For example, many have a chimney that separates two rooms. That way, the building can have two fireplaces: one on each side of the chimney.
In 2012, the Preservation Society of Charleston introduced an initiative to restore the freedman’s cottages in need of work. As a result, ceilings have been fixed, walls have been painted and many other improvements have been completed. Plus, contractors expanded a number of these homes, in some cases adding bedrooms.
Many freedman’s cottages are now in top-notch condition, and they gleam as they haven’t in ages. In fact, Huntley Properties recently sold the cottage that’s located at 7 Woodall Court. Its owners now enjoy a delightful piece of Charleston’s long and proud history.