Date of Award

August 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Historic Preservation

Committee Member

Amalia Leifeste

Committee Member

Laurel Bartlett

Committee Member

Carter Hudgins

Committee Member

Richard Marks


A secondary staircase is a stair built for the use of domestic workers to reach both utilitarian and non-utilitarian spaces of a structure. These service stairs may be found not only in the United States, but in many areas of the world. These staircases are also examples of dual circulation, meaning there are multiple ways to travel through the same space. The presence of these staircases is a sign of extreme wealth, as people who found the need for a secondary stair were wealthy enough to afford servants, or in the case of the American south prior to the Civil War, enslaved African Americans. It is the purpose of this thesis to study the placement, function and character of service stairs located in Charleston and how they changed through time. This thesis analyzes the floor plans of sixteen structures in order to study the differences of the service stairs through time and also the differences in their relationship with primary staircases. This thesis concludes that secondary staircases in Charleston did change with time. In the four early Georgian structures represented in this thesis, the secondary staircases were located in the center of the structure, usually placed between a fireplace chimney stack and a wall. In the remaining twelve structures, the secondary staircase was placed in the rear of the structure, close to dining rooms, butler’s pantries, and side work yard exits. The reason for this shift in placement from a central and vertical part of the house to a rear placement could be a combination of several factors. These factors are the advancement of architecture, growing racial tensions, a lesser need for the enslaved to be located within the house, a change in urban density, and less intrusion upon the privacy of the enslavers. While not groundbreaking, the change in character of these staircases have the potential to tell us about the changing of the attitudes of Charlestonians through time, both socially and architecturally.



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