The Dock Street Theatre

There’s no better way to get a flavor for the history of Charleston than with a carriage tour. But what kind of history might you see on these world-class carriage rides? Here’s more information about one of our favorite historic spots: The Dock Street Theatre.

Tracing the Theatre Back to Its Roots

How historic is this Theatre? You’ll understand once you hear its nickname: “America’s first Theatre.” The Dock Street Theatre is more than just another “historic” Theatre—it’s something of a legend along the east coast. And since it was the first building in America to actually be dedicated solely to theatrical performances, it deserves a special footnote in the history of Theatre throughout the continent.

The original Dock Street Theatre opened in 1736 with a debut performance of “The Recruiting Officer.” The theatre is assumed to have been destroyed, however, in a 1740 fire that affected a large sector of the French Quarter in downtown Charleston.

In 1809, the Theatre came back to life in the form of the Planter’s Hotel, which was built on the site. As the Planter’s Hotel, it played host to a number of infamous historical figures. Junius Booth (father of John Wilkes Booth) performed here—and Robert Smalls, the civil war legend who would sail a steamboat out of Charleston and hand it over to the Union, worked at the Planter’s hotel as a waiter before the war.

History After the Civil War

The Civil War was tough on many institutions across the country, and the Planter’s Hotel was no different.

After the war ended, the Planter’s Hotel was poorly maintained and was even scheduled to be torn down. Ironically, it was the Great Depression that would save the building. It became a public work project when Milton Pearlstine deferred to the city of Charleston as to what to do with the space. Out of what was once the Planter’s Hotel, builders fashioned a new grand Theatre in the space, even salvaging historical pieces from the 18th century along the way.

The renovation ultimately cost about $350,000—a significant amount of money during the depression. The result was a completely overhauled space that included an auditorium, a new stage house, and materials made from local Charleston wood.

Now known as the Historic Dock Street Theatre—as it is today—the space opened up once more in late 1937 and hasn’t looked back. Later renovations, including one as recent as 2010, have helped the space retain its authenticity while reinforcing the structure of the building for future generations to enjoy.

Visiting the Dock Street Theatre Today

Today, the Theatre is owned by the city of Charleston and open to the public. Depending on our lottery system which determines our routes, you may even get to ride by this historic Theatre on your Charleston Carriage Works tour.

For a great way to learn more about the history of Charleston, book your Charleston carriage tour today!