Charleston Earthquake of 1886

Charleston Earthquake 1886

Epicenter is in Summerville

It is called the Charleston Earthquake of 1886, but did you know the epicenter was in Summerville? The reason it is called the Charleston Earthquake is because of all the damage that occurred in downtown Charleston. Summerville in 1886 was considered rural with far fewer buildings impacted by the earthquake.

Charleston Earthquake 1886

The Severity of the Earthquake

It was the most destructive earthquake on the east coast ever recorded. The earthquake was preceded by foreshocks felt in Summerville, South Carolina, on August 27 and 28. But, still, no one was prepared for the strength of the August 31 quake. The earthquake struck at 9:51 PM on August 31st.   The intensity is estimated 7.1 to  7.3 on the Richter Scale. The earthquake was so unusual and so severe that it is reported some people feared Florida had broken away from the continent! The shocks of this earthquake were felt as far away as Boston in the northeast, Milwaukee in the Midwest, and the island of Bermuda to the east. It was estimated that every two out of three people in the United States felt this quake.

Aftershocks occurred daily for weeks. There were many deaths with the numbers varying from different sources. Almost every building in Charleston was damaged or destroyed. The effects of this earthquake resulted in changes in how buildings are built and reinforced. Prior to the quake, reinforcing rods were used in Charleston as a preventive measure against severe gales, hurricanes, and tornadoes, which occur far more frequently than earthquakes. It’s only because so many were installed after the 1886 disaster that they came to be called “earthquake bolts.” Builders and engineers in the Charleston area have made reinforcing modern structures a priority.

South Carolina’s Greatest Natural Disaster

The Great Earthquake of 1886 was considered the greatest natural disaster to ever hit South Carolina until it was superseded by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  And that, my friends, is the quick story of the earthquake that centered in Summerville.

For other Summerville history stories, click here.