11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Philip Simmons' Workshop and Home

Year Listed: 2007
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Threat: Deterioration

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Photo: Libby Williams

Significance

The workshop and home of Philip Simmons (1912 – 2009) are significant for their association with the legendary blacksmith. The buildings offer a tangible connection to Mr. Simmons and to a unique cultural tradition that has been passed from one generation to another for hundreds of years.

Often called a "poet of ironwork," Mr. Simmons learned the blacksmithing trade from a former slave in the 1920s, and was recognized with the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts, their highest honor for a traditional artist. Elected to the South Carolina Hall of Fame, Mr. Simmons also received the state's highest award, the Order of the Palmetto. His Star and Fish gate, created on the national mall during the Folklife Festival, is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

After devoting himself exclusively to decorative ironwork in 1938, Mr. Simmons created more than 500 pieces, primarily gates, in Charleston. All of his work in creating new ironwork and in restoring historic decorative ironwork was done from his modest home and forge on Charleston's East Side. In 2007, there was an effort underway to catalogue Mr. Simmons' work in Charleston and to capture his stories. These efforts, however, did not initially include the preservation of his home and workshop. The shop, though not architecturally significant, was given to him by his former mentor and teacher Peter Simmons (no relation), an ex-slave who had inherited it from his father, Guy Simmons, a slave.