James Louis Petigru Law Office
8 St. Michael’s Alley • 1848-1849.
James Louis Petigru, a lawyer who lived on Broad Street, hired Edward Brickell White to design an office large enough for a partner, clerks, and law library (which is now in the Library of Congress).
This building replaced an existing law office that had been on the site.
White, one of Charleston’s leading architects (who also designed the much-photographed columnar facade at the College of Charleston), designed a building similar in size to a single house, but unique in plan with a large room at the west end of each floor, two smaller rooms in the middle, and a stair hall at the east end (where the door is). Upstairs on the front left was the law library, which has Greek Revival surrounds for bookshelves.
White gave this relatively small structure the appearance—and something of the monumentality—of a public building by using fewer and larger windows than usual, and by adding a pediment above a projecting center. The balcony with its intricate lace iron work (see the photo below) was a later addition. And if you look closely, you can see the English bond brickwork beneath the stucco veneer.
Mr. Petigru is buried nearby in the cemetery of St. Michael’s Church, and his famous epitaph reads in part: “In the great Civil War he withstood his people for his country, but his people did homage to the man who held his conscience higher than their praise.” Petigru was a slave owner who frequently defended slaves. Renown for his wit, he was once asked what he thought of Secession, and responded that South Carolina is too small to be a nation and too large to be an insane asylum. Even in wartime, the Legislature continued to employ him to codify the State’s laws. •
Copyright Notice: all material in this series is the exclusive property of Gene Waddell. If you want to reuse any of it in any form, you must get permission in writing from email@example.com.