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A First Month's Firsts

courtesy Post and Courier

Charleston can claim quite a few firsts in its three-hundred years as the anchor of the Lowcountry, and this month marks two of them - the founding of the Museum of Charleston as "America's First Museum", and The Post & Courier, the South's oldest daily newspaper (shown above after the 1886 earthquake).

Thompson Hall, the Museum's home in 1910

The Museum claims the older heritage, tracing its roots to January of 1773, when the 19 men who had established the Charleston Library Society thirty years earlier voted to expand their collection of books and manuscripts imported from Britain to focus on the natural history of the Carolinas. Despite the lack of a permanent home and a disastrous 1778 fire, the museum eventually found its first home in 1852 in the College of Charleston's Randolph Hall. By then, renowned naturalist Louis Agassiz visited the city and declared the Museum's collections to be among the best in the country. Surviving the destruction of the Civil War (much of the collection was moved to the Midlands), the Museum was officially incorporated in 1915 and marked another first when, in 1920, it named Laura Bragg as the country's first woman to lead a publicly supported museum. Many of the items from the Museum's early years can be seen today at the Museum's permanent home since 1980, on Meeting Street.

The Museum's peripatetic history was recorded by an upstart newspaper, The Charleston Courier, which published its first edition in January of 1803 under the leadership of editor Aaron Willington, a newspaperman who had moved to the city from Massachusetts. Determined to make The Charleston Courier the newspaper of record for the city, Willington was known to row out to ships arriving in Charleston Harbor from all over the world to scoop the latest international news, and was the first to hire a translator to comb Spanish language newspapers from the Caribbean. Just after the Civil War, Willington's newspaper merged with The Charleston Daily News to become The News and Courier. It continued under that name until 1991, when it merged with the city's only other paper, The Evening Post, to become The Post and Courier, now South Carolina's largest newspaper.

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