This essay is adapted from Lost Charleston. This site is included on Charleston Raconteurs' Lost Charleston (Route 1) Tour.
It was a grand idea at a time when Charlestonians were ready for a change in their fortunes. The last four decades of the 19th century had brought war, natural disasters and economic depression to the city. One of the ways local businessmen sought to recover was with the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition of 1901-1902. Another was with the establishment of the Commercial Club shortly thereafter.
The purpose of the Commercial Club was to promote Charleston’s commercial and industrial growth. Organizers believed that by housing dynamic professionals and businessmen together, informal encounters, casual conversations and leisure activities would stimulate great ideas and collaboration. Among its earliest members were the Charleston Chamber of Commerce (America’s first), Cotton Exchange, Merchants Exchange, Young Businessmen’s League, and a new Real Estate Exchange.
Backers explored a number of locations for their new facility, finally deciding to rehabilitate four attached late 19th century Georgian row houses. Known as Smith’s Row for their builder, W.B. Smith, the site was strategically located behind the Charleston County Courthouse and across the street from City Hall. Architect A.W. Todd removed the houses’ roofs to accommodate a new fourth floor featuring large windows. A rear section was added and the entire structure stuccoed to create a single façade. Grandest of all, a three-story piazza and fourth-floor balcony dominated the sidewalk.
Its first floor accommodated useful shops for businessmen, including a barbershop, haberdashery, coffee shop and drug store. The second floor housed one large and two smaller dining rooms, a restaurant, and rooms for reading, billiards, bowling, ping pong and shuffle board. The roof garden and banquet hall were on the third floor, and the fourth floor was enclosed in glass that could be opened, “making a delightful resort to spend the evenings during the summer months,” according to the Evening Post (Sept. 27, 1902).
Despite its great expectations, the club was short-lived. In 1918 it was converted into the Timrod Inn, managed by Mary A. Storfer, who announced in the News and Courier (Jan. 3, 1918): “Many people have told us that the Timrod Inn fills a distinct place in the community, and indications are that our rooms will be in demand from the beginning. We shall open Monday morning and guests will be given desirable accommodations without delay.”
Over the next three generations, the free exchange of ideas envisioned by the Commercial Club’s founders did continue here in a way as many Broad Street lawyers and politicians met every morning in the hotel’s coffee shop. Many of the city’s biggest deals were made here. Mrs. Storfer’s inn did well. In 1945, her successors sold it to Timrod Corp. who upgraded it to become the Timrod Hotel. The property changed hands numerous times after that. Occasionally there were discussions of converting at least part of the hotel into apartments or back to offices, but nothing ever came of those discussions.
Like Charleston’s other grand hotels, the Timrod had become woefully outdated for modern travelers and their automobiles by the 1960s. Its last four residents were told to vacate in 1963 and it was demolished a year later to make way for new county offices.