Grace, John Patrick
He made perhaps his greatest contribution to the city with the opening of the Cooper River Bridge in 1929. Grace was president of Cooper River Bridge, Inc., which built the bridge connecting Charleston with Mount Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island, and the Isle of Palms.
Politician. Of Irish descent, Grace was born on December 30, 1874, in Charleston, the son of James I. Grace and Elizabeth Daly. On November 27, 1912, he married Ella Barkley Sullivan, but left no heirs. After various employment experiences, Grace was hired by Congressman William Elliott of Beaufort in 1899 to be secretary of his Washington office. Grace graduated from Georgetown University Law School in 1902 and became the law partner of W. Turner Logan in Charleston. A racial progressive for his time, in 1907 Grace defended two black farm laborers charged with breaking the state’s peonage law. He not only won an acquittal, but also succeeded in having the federal district court in Charleston rule the peonage law unconstitutional.
Following an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1908, Grace ran for mayor of Charleston in 1911. A brash, demagogic campaigner, Grace narrowly won, thanks to strong support in the city’s ethnic and working-class wards. During his first term (1911–1915), Grace accelerated park construction, enacted health legislation, improved rail access to Charleston at competitive rates, and tried unsuccessfully to buy the electric company in order to lower rates for consumers.
Associated with the Reform wing of the South Carolina Democratic Party, which was allied with the controversial former governor Cole Blease, Grace was an ardent foe of progressive Governor Richard I. Manning. Manning and Grace clashed over enforcement of state liquor laws in Charleston, which Manning thought too lax. During the heated campaign of 1915, the governor sent militia to police the election, and Grace lost by twenty-eight votes.
Opposed to United States involvement in World War I, Grace edited the Charleston American from 1916 to 1917. Pro-German and anti-British, the newspaper attacked President Woodrow Wilson and Governor Manning on the war issue and eventually lost its bulk mail rate. To save the paper, Grace resigned as editor.
In 1919 Grace was again elected mayor of Charleston with one campaign theme–control of the docks. During this administration (1919–1923), Grace bought the decaying wharves from the Terminal Company and waged a tenacious battle to create the Ports Utility Commission–the forerunner of the State Ports Authority–to manage the docks. Also, Grace provided free education at Charleston High School and the College of Charleston and promoted downtown development through the construction of the Fort Sumter and Francis Marion hotels.
In 1923 Thomas P. Stoney defeated Grace in another bitterly contested election. Out of office, Grace still continued his interest in Charleston’s development. He made perhaps his greatest contribution to the city with the opening of the Cooper River Bridge in 1929. Grace was president of Cooper River Bridge, Inc., which built the bridge connecting Charleston with Mount Pleasant, Sullivan’s Island, and the Isle of Palms. Grace’s dream was to make the Isle of Palms a tourist destination that rivaled Miami, Florida. The bridge was a financial failure, however, and Charleston County bought it in 1941 and soon sold it to the state.
Grace died in Charleston on June 25, 1940, and was buried in St. Lawrence Cemetery. In 1943 the Cooper River Bridge was renamed the Grace Memorial Bridge in his honor.
Annan, Jason, and Pamela Gabriel. The Great Cooper River Bridge. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002.
Boggs, Doyle Willard, Jr. “John Patrick Grace and the Politics of Reform in South Carolina, 1900–1931.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1977.
Helsley, Terry Lynn. “‘Voices of Dissent’: the Antiwar Movement and the State Council of Defense in South Carolina, 1916–1918.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1974.
Rosen, Robert. A Short History of Charleston. San Francisco: Lexikos, 1982.