Posted by: Nic Butler, Ph.D. | 3 April 2014

The Charleston Time Machine

After nearly seven years of blogging here at the Charleston Archive, I’m passing the reins of this domain to Charleston County Public Library‘s “new” archivist, Katie Gray. A CCPL veteran, Katie has been our “processing archivist” for several years now, and is now a board-certified archivist. Our department is undergoing a bit of a reorganization, and Katie is stepping forward to assume the full mantle of “Archivist” and all the perquisites that attend that title.  Congratulations to Katie! Image from "The Charleston Time Machine" As for me, I’m migrating to a new “public history” endeavor that I’ve christened The Charleston Time Machine, at a new website at In my new role as “historian” for the Charleston County Public Library system, I’ll be using local history to engage with the community and to promote life-long learning. Charleston has a nearly infinite supply of colorful, intriguing stories, and I hope to educate, inspire, and entertain the community by shining a light into some of the dim recesses of our city’s past. From now on, I will use the new Charleston Time Machine blog to announce my upcoming lectures and other events. Please click on the image above to follow me into the future! Thanks everyone! Nic

Posted by: Nic Butler, Ph.D. | 2 April 2014

Bill Saunders follow-up

For those of you who weren’t able to attend our recent “Conversation with Bill Saunders” here at the Charleston County Public Library, you’ll be pleased to know that the entire program is now available online. Mr. Saunders is truly a Civil Rights legend in South Carolina, and I was very honored to have this opportunity to speak with him about the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Enjoy!


Posted by: Nic Butler, Ph.D. | 14 February 2014

A Conversation with Bill Saunders

Half a century has passed since the U.S. Congress passed a landmark law to prohibit discrimination against racial, ethnic, national, and religious minorities, and women. The Civil Rights act of 1964 was a landmark achievement for those involved in the struggle for equality in America, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to the brave individuals who fought for its passage. Fifty years later, it’s easy for the younger generations to take certain rights for granted, and so a gentle reminder is occasionally required to keep us honest and aware. In Charleston County, for example, William (“Bill”) Saunders has spent a lifetime campaigning for civil rights. Whether working to promote educational opportunities on the sea island, or fighting the rights of hospital workers in downtown Charleston, Mr. Saunders has been a major figure in keeping the struggle alive and current. In commemoration of Black History Month, you’re invited to join CCPL’s historian, Dr. Nic Butler, for a conversation with civil rights veteran and Lowcountry legend, Bill Saunders, about how far our community has come since the ratification of the 1964 law. It’s free and open to public, so please feel free to share the PDF flyer below!

Bill Saunders Flyer (click for PDF file)

Bill Saunders Flyer (click for PDF file)

Time: Wednesday, February 16th 2014 at 6 p.m.

Place: Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.

Posted by: Nic Butler, Ph.D. | 30 January 2014

Postponement of Windmill Program!

Due to inclement weather, the Charleston County Public Library is closing at 5 p.m. today, January 30th, so the “Windmills in Early South Carolina” program has been postponed to Wednesday, April 16th, at 6 p.m. We are terribly sorry for the inconvenience, but we wish everyone to have a safe evening!

Posted by: Nic Butler, Ph.D. | 7 January 2014

Windmills in Early South Carolina

In recent weeks there has been much talk in the Charleston media about Clemson University’s new wind turbine testing facility at the old Charleston Navy Base. According to published reports, the high-tech facility is the world’s largest test bed for giant turbines designed to convert off-shore ocean winds into electricity. Its formal opening in November 2013 represents not just an important industry milestone for Clemson and Charleston County, but also a bold leap for the development of sustainable “clean energy” in South Carolina.

Detail from Zyl, Theatrum Machinarum Universale (1734)

Detail from Zyl, Theatrum Machinarum Universale (1734)

But wind-powered technology is not new to South Carolina. In fact, wind-powered machinery arrived in the Lowcountry along with some of the earliest settlers, as early as the 1680s. History records that several English and French Huguenot immigrants were granted land here on condition that they build windmills. In the early 1700s, Dutch engineers were recruited to South Carolina specifically to construct wind-powered sawmills, which were among the most technologically advanced machines in existence at the time. In eighteenth-century South Carolina, a number of windmills stood along our coastline from Cape Romain to Edisto Island, and several were located on the Charleston peninsula. Since these mills were principally used to saw timber, one could rightly say that windmills helped to build Charleston. The advent of steam-powered machinery in the early 1800s led to the rapid abandonment of wind power in South Carolina, however, and windmills became just another picturesque Lowcountry memory by the time of the Civil War.

One of the treasures in the Charleston Archive is a copy of Jan Zyl’s book, Theatrum Machinarum Universale; Of Groot Algemeen Moolen-Boek, Behelzende de Beschryving en Afbeeldingen van allerhande soorten van Moolens, der zelver Opstallen, en Gronden (“Great Universal Mill Book, Containing Descriptions and Illustrations of All Kinds of Mills, Their Elevations, and Plans”), which was published in Amsterdam in December 1734. Intended as a guide for the construction of various types of Dutch windmills, Zyl’s book contains instructions (in Dutch) and 61 meticulously engraved plates that offer visual testimony of the complexity of these ancient machines and of the ingenuity of their builders. In the near future we hope to digitize the entire book and share it with the public, but first the old book will need some repairs and conservation in order to stabilize it for future generations.

Want to learn more about Lowcountry windmill history and hear more about Zyl’s 1734 illustrations? You’re invited to join me for a free program, titled “Windmills in Early South Carolina,” at the Charleston County Public Library on Thursday, January 30th 2014 at 6 p.m. Please feel free to download and share the following flyer:

windmill flyer

Time: Thursday, January 30th 2014 at 6 p.m.

Place: Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.

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