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.
(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.