Earthquake rods are long pieces of iron several inches in diameter that are inserted through the walls of buildings to reinforce them. These rods are screwed into turnbuckles or toggles and are secured at the outside ends with large washers and nuts. Repairmen ran these rods through the walls of hundreds of buildings injured by the great Charleston earthquake of 1886 to guard them from further injury. Many of the buildings fitted with this hardware after the earthquake are located in the Charleston region, although buildings as far away as Savannah, Georgia, display them as well.
Often called “earthquake bolts,” these iron reinforcement rods commonly were incorporated into buildings in Charleston and elsewhere before the great earthquake. Their initial purpose, however, usually was to safeguard against gales and hurricanes rather than to protect from the rending and wrenching of earthquakes.
Owners who objected to seeing unadorned rod ends on the exteriors of their buildings covered them with stucco or capped them with cast-iron decorations depicting such objects as stars, concentric circles, long rectangular bars, lion heads, butterflies, diamonds, s’s, v’s, x’s, and crosses. While the rod portions of earthquake rods are seldom visible, in some buildings no effort has been made to conceal them, such as in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Summerville.
Tourists often are fascinated with earthquake rod caps, and they have become a standard decorative element in much of Charleston’s architecture. Tour guides point them out, and some hotels and bed and breakfasts that have them advertise the fact in their promotional literature. Some modern buildings, such as the Omni Hotel at Charleston Place, even feature faux earthquake rod caps on their exterior walls.
Peters, Kenneth E., and Robert B. Herrmann, comps. and eds. First-Hand Observations of the Charleston Earthquake of August 31, 1886, and Other Earthquake Materials. Columbia: South Carolina Geological Survey, 1986.