The Dock Street Theatre is a wonder. This historic theater was the first building in America built exclusively to be used for theatrical productions. The first theatrical production? The Recruiting Officer which opened on Feb. 12, 1736. That’s not all though. The first opera performance in America, Flora, also took place at The Dock Street Theatre. The original Dock Street was destroyed in a great 1740 fire. In 1809 the current building was constructed as The Planters Hotel. The hotel, known for its first class food and drinks, is where Planters Punch originated.
The hotel was used exclusively by rich planters coming to Charleston during the horse racing season. Robert Smalls, the slave who commandeered a Confederate steamboat out of Charleston harbor during the Civil War, once worked as a waiter in the hotel’s dining room.
This was also the hotel where theatrical troops often stayed. Edgar Allen Poe’s mother Eliza is said to have stayed here along with Junius Brutus Booth, the father of John Wilkes booth. Probably the most famous actor of his day, Junius Booth, in a drunken rage, tried to throw his manager out the window of the hotel. The newspapers of the time state, ” his beautiful countenance was marred forever.”
After the Civil War the hotel fell in disrepair and revived as the Dock Street Theatre in 1935. With its wrought iron balcony, sandstone columns, grand foyer and sweeping double staircase, the Dock Street Theatre is enchanting. Modeled on an 18th century London playhouse, the theater is still going strong under the guidance of Julien Wiles, founder of the Charleston Stage Company.