On this Date in Charleston History: The Great Earthquake of 1886

This Day in Charleston History

Credit: MUSC Waring Library

Credit: MUSC Waring Library

On this day in 1886, the "Great Earthquake" leveled Charleston. To this day, it remains the most damaging quake to ever hit the southeast with around $6 million worth of damage done to about 2,000 buildings. That total would equate to over $100 million in damages today.

The earthquake, which began at 9:50 pm, also claimed the lives of 60 Charlestonians (although some estimates are as high as 110). Those facts are even more shocking considering the earthquake lasted less than a minute and was felt as far away as Boston, Chicago, and Cuba. Although the duration of the event was short, it was clearly quite powerful.

U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library

U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library

Estimates place the quake between a 6.6 and a 7.3 on the Richter scale.


  • More than 300 aftershocks related to the 1886 earthquake occurred over a 35 year period.
  • Small craters and fissures were found throughout the area.
  • The earthquake led to the construction of "earthquake bolts" that can be seen on buildings throughout the city. The bolts are long iron rods that run through walls for reinforcement. They are anchored with a washer-type device and a large iron nut.
    • Their effectiveness has never been tested
  • Multiple fires resulted from the quake.
  • Water line and wells were ruptured.
  • With many houses destroyed, "tent cities" popped up in public parks like Washington Square.
  • Some of the damage is still visible today.
  • Damage photos and more here.
The City Jail U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library

The City Jail
U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library



HistoryUSGS, Wikipedia, CCPL.

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