Whereas Charleston banking institutions had traditionally favored conservatively styled buildings, the directors of the Farmers’ and Exchange Bank made a radical departure in introducing the city to the most flamboyant of the nineteenth-century exotic revivals.

Farmers’ and Exchange Bank. Library of Congress.

(Charleston). Completed in 1854, the Farmers’ and Exchange Bank is among the finest examples of the Moorish-revival style in the United States. It was one of several bank buildings designed by the architectural firm of Jones and Lee in the mid-1850s as Charleston’s financial district expanded northward up East Bay Street. Whereas Charleston banking institutions had traditionally favored conservatively styled buildings, the directors of the Farmers’ and Exchange Bank made a radical departure in introducing the city to the most flamboyant of the nineteenth-century exotic revivals.

The bank was designed by the architect Francis D. Lee, who described it as “Saracenic” in style. The two-story facade is arranged in a three-bay format and clad in mottled New Jersey and Connecticut brownstone. Its exuberant ornamentation includes rounded horseshoe arches and Eastern-inspired decorative motifs. The mass of the cornice is formed by muquarnas, or honeycomb vaulting, a common feature in Islamic architecture. On the interior a paved vestibule leads to the main banking room. This opulent space is twenty-one feet wide and nearly fifty feet in length and features arcaded walls, elaborate plaster ornamentation, and a coffered ceiling and skylight.

In a city known for its traditional architecture, the Farmers’ and Exchange Bank is a bold and striking anomaly. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1973. It remains in private ownership.

Lane, Mills. Architecture of the Old South: South Carolina. Savannah, Ga.: Beehive, 1984.

Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Severens, Kenneth. Charleston Antebellum Architecture and Civic Destiny. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Farmers' and Exchange Bank
  • Author Daniel J. Vivian
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/farmers%C2%92-and-exchange-bank/
  • Access Date December 19, 2018
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date May 17, 2016
  • Date of Last Update October 4, 2016