The small city park bounded by Broad, Ashley, Tradd, and Chisolm Streets in downtown Charleston is presently identified by a wooden sign bearing the name “Horse Lot.” But what is the history of this site?
The land now occupied by the Horse Lot was once tidal marshland on the southwest side of the peninsula of Charleston. It was part of the large expanse of land on the west side of the peninsula set aside as a “public common” in 1768 by Governor Charles Greville Montagu and the South Carolina Legislature. No action was taken to improve the lands for several generations, however, and in 1817 the City Council of Charleston sold part of the public common, including the site of the present Horse Lot, to Joshua Brown. By 1840, Brown’s portion of the common was in the hands of Mr. Chisolm, who had built a rice mill on the site. An 1872 bird’s-Eye-view map of Charleston shows that the present site of the Horse Lot was being used as a mill pond. On page 158 of the Charleston Year Bookfor 1883, the Commissioners of the Colonial Common (now Colonial Lake) complained about the need for a retaining wall on the south side of the newly-created Colonial Lake to prevent water from rushing over Broad Street into “Chisolm’s Pond.”
Beginning in 1909 and concluding in 1922, the City of Charleston undertook a large project to embank and fill the mud flat on the southwest side of the peninsula. The cornerstone of this project, commonly called the “Boulevard Project,” was the creation of a retaining wall and roadway along the edge of the newly-filled land. The present site of the Horse Lot was well within the bounds of the Boulevard Project, and thus the old lumber mill pond was probably filled at a very early stage of the project. The Charleston County Public Library has a 1902 edition of the Sanborn Insurance Map of Charleston that was updated with corrections through 1929. This source shows half of the lot bounded by Broad, Ashley, Tradd, and Chisolm Streets being used for storage by the Anderson Lumber Company, and the other half occupied by private residences.
On page 65 of his book Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys, George C. Rogers Jr. references “Beauregard Park” in a discussion of city parks that were built on “made land.” That park name appears once in an bill to appropriate money for city projects in early 1937, which included the construction of a city park on recently-filled lands between Ashley Avenue and Chisolm Street. On 11 May 1937, however, City Council changed the name of this small public space to Murray Park, since it was directly opposite Murray Vocational School on the west side of Chisolm Street. On page 133 of the Charleston Year Book of 1937, the annual report of the city’s Parks Department also notes that 200 cubic yards of fill have been added to Murray Park during that year.
Today there is a sign at the site identifying it as the “Horse Lot,” a more recent and historically-misleading name. The earliest reference to this name I have yet found appears in January 1974, when neighbors around Murray Park complained to City Council about the site being used as a parking lot rather than as a public park. The rationale behind the modern name “Horse Lot” is a bit of a mystery, since it does not appear that the site was ever used for the public grazing or holding of horses. Nevertheless, a descendant of the Anderson family (that once operated Anderson Lumber Company near this site) recalls a family story that the lot once housed the horses that were used to haul timber out of the Ashley River through Chisolm’s Pond. Hmm, now that sounds like a good lead!