11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Watch Status: City of Charleston

Year Listed: 2011
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Threat: Public Policy


For the first time in its history, the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places has been supplemented with a site placed on “Watch Status”: the city of Charleston. The Watch Status means that a specific threat to a historic site appears to be growing, but can be avoided or controlled through collaboration and innovation. In the case of Charleston, expanding cruise ship tourism could jeopardize the historic character of the city, historic downtown Charleston and its surrounding neighborhoods. The Watch Status designation is accompanied by an offer from the National Trust to assist with finding a balanced solution that benefits the community and its rich cultural heritage.

While there are many proposals at play in the Charleston cruise tourism issue, including relocation of the cruise docking pier, the National Trust believes that defining enforceable limits on the size, number and frequency of cruise ships visiting the downtown piers is central to a positive resolution. The National Trust wants to play a constructive role in addressing this issue by offering its assistance in three ways:

  • Helping sponsor a Tourism Impact Study for Charleston. The study would provide a deeper understanding of the economic, social and cultural impacts that current tourism and the increased levels of cruise traffic will create on the historic peninsula of Charleston. The study should be commissioned by parties with an interest in the issue, including the City, preservation organizations and the state ports authority. The National Trust’s participation can provide assurance that the study responsibly reflects the concerns of all parties. In addition, the National Trust plans to support such a study with a grant to help defray costs.
  • Funding an Enforcement Authority Legal Review. The National Trust can bring its significant legal resources to better understand the issue of authority in setting enforceable limits on cruise tourism. Precedent from other coastal communities, role and scope of potential city ordinances and state regulation and oversight are all considerations in the complex process of setting cruise limits. Parties engaged in this issue will ultimately need to understand what legal basis exists for management of cruise tourism levels. The National Trust can play a useful role in helping clarify the options available.
  • Launching a Community Forum on Cruise Tourism. The National Trust plans to tap into its social networking and online presence to encourage continued discussion of the cruise tourism issue, both within the Charleston community and interested public audiences.

The National Trust believes that a positive, solution-oriented approach to the issues surrounding the city of Charleston is the only viable solution.