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History of Colcock Hall

History of Colcock Hall

About the Exhibit

This physical exhibit can be found on the first floor of Colcock Hall on the Medical University of South Carolina campus at Ashley Avenue and Bee Street. For more information, contact

Illustrations and Reproductions. The Waring Historical Library holds the copyrights for some (but not all) of the illustrations and textual images. If you are interested in reproducing items, please contact the University Archivist. As with all copyrighted material, "fair use" guidelines of the applicable copyright laws may apply to educational or other non-commercial uses.

In 1825, the United States government acquired the land now bounded by Bee, Doughty, President and Ashley. Charleston architect Edward Brickell White designed the complex of buildings collectively known as the Charleston Arsenal, which was built between 1825 and 1832. On December 30, 1860, the South Carolina militia seized the arsenal, making it one of the first federal properties to fall into Confederate hands. At the war’s end, Federal troops reclaimed it and occupied the site from 1865 until 1879, when it was decommissioned as a military installation.

Porter Military Academy was established in 1867 by Reverend Doctor Anthony Toomer Porter as “The Orphan Home and School Association of The Church of the Holy Communion.” Originally intended as a school for boys orphaned by the Civil War, the school changed its name in 1880 to “The Holy Communion Church Institute.” That same year the school took over the site of the federal arsenal on the corner of Ashley Avenue and Bee Street. The name was changed to The Porter Military Academy in 1886 to honor its founder, Dr. A. Toomer Porter.

In 1919, poet and novelist Hervey Allen came to Charleston to teach English at Porter Military Academy. Allen’s best-known poem, “The Blindman,” was widely read and hailed as the birth of the "lost generation" of the 1920s. His novel Anthony Adverse was one of the biggest selling novels of the 1930s and was later made into the Warner Brothers film of the same name, starring Olivia de Havilland and Fredric March. His time in Charleston coincided with the city’s Literary Renaissance. Allen befriended Charleston writers such as DuBose Heyward, John Bennett and Laura Bragg and in 1919 he helped found the Poetry Society of South Carolina. Allen’s poem about the Porter Oak appeared in the first school annual. That same oak survives at the southwest corner of Colcock Hall.

The Old Oak Tree

I am the oldest and noblest thing at Porter.
I have no vices nor any small virtues.
I neither teach nor preach.
I am perfect in beauty.
God made me.

Before the school I was.
A century ago
I saw them bury men in the cemetery
When the yellow fever flitted through the land.
I saw the Arsenal grow up about me.
I heard the gun fired at Sumpter
That killed a million men.
I saw the men in the blue go—
They went in the night, and hurriedly,
Burying their great cannon.
Then came the men in gray.

Then a furnace light beat upon the walls
And men toiled day and night casting huge cannon,
For it was the war, the drums beat in the streets.
Then the grass grew there
And my leaves shivered to the federal cannon
That drew nearer and nearer.
One day the men in gray went
And the blue-coats came again.

Then a silence fell upon the land,
The cannon gaped and rusted;
Birds build in their mouths;

Sorrow and desolation filled the land.
While men hated each other and cursed
I grew more beautiful day by day.

At last a man came with the love of Christ in this heart,
Full of sorrow and faith and great pity.
He brought the boys on muleback;
He brought the boys by wagon;
He brought the boys by boat;
He brought the boys—
The old arsenal became a school.

Under my branches now sounds the murmur of young voices
From the school rooms where faithful men toiled.
Day after day, year after year,
The seed, which a good man planted,
Like the acorn from which I sprang,
Has grown great. I watch and wait.
The school grows. Boys come and go,
But I remain.

Before you go, look at me!
I am the oldest and noblest thing at Porter.
I saw to you:
Grow up strong and beautiful;
Strike your roots deep;
Stand up firmly against the storm;
Throw out sheltering arms to others;
Live to a gracious and noble old age.

Hervey Allen


Colcock Hall was designed and built during the Confederate occupation of this property for the manufacture of small arms and cannon repair. This Greek-revival building is constructed of red brick laid in a running bond with yellowish mortar. Along the south wall of the building are the remnants of seven arches which were once two-story openings through which cannons could be brought for rifling and rebanding. When Porter Military Academy acquired the building, these arches were partially bricked up to create a two-story building for use as a classroom, as Dr. Porter commented, “Changing its use from moulding bullets into moulding brains and hearts and characters.”[sic]

Colcock Hall was first named Butler Hall for Confederate General Matthew Calbraith Butler, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina who co-sponsored the joint resolution of Congress for the transfer of the property to Porter Military Academy. In 1919 it was renamed for Charles Jones Colcock, the second headmaster and rector of the Academy. Born in Beaufort in 1852, Colcock was the grandson of Judge Charles Jones Colcock, who served as the first president of Board of Trustees of the Medical College of the State of South Carolina from 1834 to 1836. The younger Colcock attended the College of Charleston for two years before heading north to Union College in Schenectady, New York. He stayed at Union and taught math for three years before returning to South Carolina and a teaching position at Porter Military Academy. He became head master in 1890 and rector in 1902 after the death of A. Toomer Porter.

In the early 1960s, Porter Military Academy merged with the Gaud School and the Watt School and relocated to a new site on Albemarle Road west of the Ashley River. In 1963, the Medical College of South Carolina purchased the 11-acre site at a cost of $1,136,000.00. The Waring Historical Library, St. Luke’s Chapel (formerly St. Timothy’s Chapel) and Colcock Hall were retained by the Medical College and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Pictured from left are Dr. H. Rawling Pratt-Thomas, president of the Medical College, the Rt. Rev. Gray Temple, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and Dr. Thomas A. Pitts, chairman of the Medical College’s Board of Trustees. About the purchase and future of the site, Dr. Pratt-Thomas stated, “The Medical College’s plans for utilization of the Porter site include a library, dental school and medical science building so as to increase the output of these much needed members of the health professions…I believe time will prove that this development enabled each institution to realize its full potential and is the beginning of an era of even greater service.” –News and Courier, August 31, 1963.

Colcock Hall was immediately renovated to serve as the first home for the newly established Dental School. “The ground floor of the building, excepting one room, has been completely refurbished and remodeled to serve the needs of the School of Dentistry to this point. The refurbishment included the development of a library and a stock room/work room in addition to office space…. The second floor of Colcock Hall will be refurbished and remodeled at a later date to make provisions for two pre-clinical dental laboratories, a women’s lounge, a lecture room, a staff room, a men’s locker room and an equipment research facility.” –Medical College News, July 1, 1966.


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