The Powder Magazine is South Carolina's oldest government building. It was constructed in 1713 to store ten thousand pounds of gunpowder. This may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that Charles Town (as Charleston was known) was isolated this far south. Spain was just a few days' sail away in Florida! There were also threats from Native Americans, the French, pirates, and slave insurrection. Charles Town needed protection, and this powder magazine was part of the system to do just that. But how did the building itself accomplish this goal?
The Powder Magazine's walls are approximately three feet thick and are made of solid brick. Inside are nine columns - eight on the outside and one in the center. These columns meet at the ceiling to form Roman groin vault arches. The peaks of the arches are only two bricks thick! In the pocket area created by these arches, there is several thousand pounds of sand. Though no blueprints exist, we believe the purpose of this construction was twofold: a projectile would hopefully lodge in the sand, and if there was an interior explosion, the sand would bust through the thin ceiling and help dampen the fires.
Luckily, this idea was never tested. By the time of the American Revolution, the locals were largely uncomfortable with so much gunpowder being stored in their neighborhood, and a British cannonball landing nearby was the writing on the walls for The Powder Magazine. The powder was moved away during the Revolution and not returned. Because of this, the beautiful architecture remains sturdy, and the sand is still safely stored in the attic area!