Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Historic Preservation

Committee Chair/Advisor

Hudgins, Carter L

Committee Member

Pemberton , Katherine

Committee Member

Marks , Richard


This study is the first comprehensive analysis of domestic cisterns in the antebellum United States. Cisterns, traditionally defined as catchment or storage facilities for rainwater collected by means of a drainage system, became a common domestic utility in Charleston, South Carolina during the nineteenth century. The earliest cisterns on the peninsula were constructed in the city's more affluent properties. By 1870 they were a household feature in all areas of the city. Two primary factors motivated Charlestonians to install domestic water collection systems. First, the city urbanized with little to no sanitation policy. As a result the city experienced frequent outbreaks of water borne illnesses. Secondly, shallow wells that formerly provided adequate water supplies were contaminated and numerous campaigns to reach pure water by drilling of artesian wells failed. In response to this rising fear of disease, residents incorporated cisterns that provided a convenient and well-monitored source of potable water. Cistern technology evolved throughout the nineteenth century in response to developments in the field of bacteriology and sanitation reforms of the Progressive Era. The drive to provide potable water coupled with the standardization and development of new construction materials vastly altered cistern design and application. Surviving cisterns, trades catalogs, and city records identify physical variations and commonalities in cistern design and placement. The creation of the City of Charleston Water Works Company in 1879 obviated the need for private sources of clean water and by the early twentieth century city officials discouraged cistern use.

Included in

Architecture Commons



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