From Orphanage to Residence Hall

College of Charleston is known for its beautiful campus. Some of the buildings on campus have a rich, unique history. An excellent example of a building with a unique history is Joe E. Berry Residence Hall, which was originally an orphanage.  

The Charleston Orphan House was the first public American orphanage. It was established on October 18th, 1794 for young children affected by the Revolutionary War. Not only did it serve kids who were truly orphans, but also helped educate and raise children whose parents were poor and/or disabled and couldn’t sustain them. The institution helped young men find apprenticeships and taught young women how to be housewives. During this time, Charleston Orphan House received visits from President Washington, President Monroe, President Taft, and others such as Robert E. Lee, Grover Cleveland, and more. Once the Civil War started, the children were moved to former seminary school for safety while the institution became a temporary hospital for the Union Army. According to South Carolina Encyclopedia, the nine story building had “five thousand children” go through its system, reaching a maximum residency of 334 kids soon after the Civil War.

The Charleston Orphan House met disaster in 1918 during the Spanish influenza pandemic, and the institution became filled with ill children. In efforts to prevent other kids from becoming sick, the healthy children spent the day outside playing. A small group found oily rags outside the courtyard and began to play with them. The rags somehow managed to catch fire causing part of the orphanage to burn. There were four casualties due to smoke inhalation. The city rebuilt the Charleston Orphan House, which remained there for another thirty-three years. In 1951, the commissioners of the orphanage bought land in North Charleston to relocate on Oak Grove Plantation in hopes of providing a homier lifestyle. There, the institution stayed as an agency of the City of Charleston until 1978, when the Charleston Orphan House became the Carolina Youth Development Center, which still functions to this day. They reach at least 900 kids every year in hope of creating a better future for the next generation.

As for the old orphanage building, it was torn down and replaced with the department store Sears. Then in 1988 it became one of the new residence halls for the College of Charleston. While there are no remains of the old orphanage on the block, there is a sign on the Charleston Bookstore along the outside wall marking where it once stood. There are tales of hauntings happening on the fifth and sixth floor of Berry Residence Hall, from the sound of rolling marbles to hearing children singing. Whether that is true or not, none can deny the remarkable impact the Charleston Orphan House had in its time in serving as a home to children in need and providing them with an education for their future.



Carolina Youth Development Center. “Our History.” Carolina Youth Development Center | Protecting Childhood. Preparing for Adulthood., Carolina Youth Development Center,

College of Charleston. “College of Charleston.” College of Charleston, College of Charleston,

Copeland, Henry de Saussure. “Charleston, Calhoun Street, Charleston Orphan House.” Flickr, Yahoo!, 23 June 2008,

Murray, John E. “Charleston Orphan House.” South Carolina Encyclopedia, University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies, 1 Aug. 2016,

Payne, John. Charleston Orphan House Part 1 Building the Campus, Lois Lane Properties,

Robertson, Mike. “3 Tales of College of Charleston Ghosts.” The College Today, College of Charleston, 28 Oct. 2015,