We recently introduced you to Philip Simmons, the wrought-iron artist who furthered Charleston’s ornamental gate tradition with his signature masterpieces seen throughout the city. If you recall, the craftsman passed away in 2009, but his workshop remains open on Blake Street downtown, where family members continue to keep his name and skills alive by crafting more memorable works. It’s also now a museum and book shop, so folks can still learn about Simmons and his contributions to the city.
That’s why we’ve included the Philip Simmons House as the first stopping point in this guide, although the rest of this list will concentrate below Calhoun Street (don’t worry- we’ll explore more of his works, including some north of Calhoun Street in a later post). Of these stopping points, some are quite grand, while others are easy to pass by if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There are no plaques nearby for these works and there’s not much fanfare. Some have become part of folks’ everyday lives, whether they know it or not – especially South of Broad, where you find ironworks on many if not most houses. His works blend into the scenery beautifully, but if you know where to look, Mr Simmons’s signature stamp can be seen in every neighborhood on the peninsula.
The Philip Simmons House, 30.5 Blake Street
At the Philip Simmons house, apprentices and family members continue their mission to preserve Simmons’s legacy. He created hundreds of hand-wrought iron fences, gates, and more, and he did it all from his little garage at his modest home on Blake Street. Here, you’ll get to have a short, free, informative yet informal tour that will leave you with a better understanding and a deep appreciation of the great importance of a man so beloved by his neighborhood and by all of Charleston.
91 Anson Street
Stroll over to 91 Anson where you’ll find St John’s Reformed Episcopal Church and its decorative gates bearing a wrought-iron heart and cross. There you can also wander beyond the gate and inside the Philip Simmons Garden. The entrance gate was designed by Philip Simmons, and crafted at his shop by Carlton Simmons (nephew) and Joseph Pringle (cousin). The original drawings Simmons made for the gate are kept in the Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston and can be viewed online thanks to the Lowcountry Digital Library. The gate is magnificent, but the gardens behind the gate are equally lovely and worth a stroll.
313 King Street
At 313 King Street is Simmons’s first walkway gate, the Krawcheck residence, which we discussed in an earlier post. You may remember that 313 King is actually the storefront address of the Grady Ervin clothing store, and if you ask the kind folks who work there nicely, they will point you to a door in the back of the store that leads to this beautiful, historic work. This is said to be Mr. Simmons’s very first commission in Charleston.
138 Wentworth Street
At 138 Wentworth Street, the grand driveway gate of the Edwin L. Kerrison House (circa 1838) towers high above the fence and exudes elegance. The house was restored in the 1970s and that is presumably when Simmons created the gate, which includes examples of his signature perfect spirals.
45 Meeting Street
The railings and window grills at 45 Meeting Street are attributed to Simmons. The walkway gate that opens to the front yard also exudes the Simmons aesthetic with a beautiful swirling floral pattern.
2 St. Michael’s Alley
One of Simmons’s most famous and photographed works is the Egret Gate at 2 St Michael’s Alley. The alley is a quiet, short street just south of St Michael’s Church between East Bay and Meeting Streets. The gate separates the back of the driveway from the backyard and when cars are parked in the drive, it’s hard to see the full gate. This design features an egret in the center standing atop the letter R.
78 East Bay Street
78 East Bay is an example of one of Simmons’s works you may easily pass without noticing. Many of the porch railings, window grills, and especially the gates are prominently displayed in front of residences. The subtle archway detail above the door blends nicely with the building’s facade, but it’s a signature Simmons piece.
Stolls Alley, between East Bay and Church Streets, is so narrow on the East Bay end that many people miss it all together. There are five separate gates designed forged by Philip Simmons gates along the alley, so a stroll down this shady, hidden spot is highly recommended.
Philip Simmons is a household name among Charleston architecture enthusiasts. As a Lowcountry blacksmith, the renowned artisan spent his life, or 78 years of it, crafting everyday objects like horseshoes, tools, and fireplace pokers — most from his workshop at 30 1/2 Blake Street in downtown Charleston.
Simmons passed away in 2009 at the age of 97 and left his signature everywhere from the Smithsonian to Paris — but especially in Charleston. When he died, the city honored him by tying white ribbons on all of his known works throughout Charleston.
He lived here all his life, and it was on his walks to school that he became intrigued with ironwork, which would change his life. His first apprenticeship with a blacksmith began when he was only 12 years old. His supervisor was the grandson of slaves, and so the skills he learned had been passed down from several generations of African American artisans.
What Simmons is most remembered for are his stunning wrought iron gates and other ornamental work that can be seen throughout Charleston. His gate work began in the early 1940s when he met a businessman named Jack Krawcheck, who commissioned a wrought iron gate for his King Street store. Simmons had to source his materials from scrap iron since the demand for iron during World War II made iron scarce to come by.
But the result was impressive enough for the Krawcheck family to commission more than 30 more iron pieces throughout Simmons’ career. And over the course of the following seven decades, Simmons made a living with his newfound calling, creating over 500 decorative home pieces including iron balconies, window grilles, fences, and gates.
So where can you learn more about Simmons today? His craft continues to be honored in his shop on Blake Street thanks to apprentices and his family — Carlton Simmons (Nephew) and Joseph Pringle (cousin). His home is a museum house with a book shop that opened the year after his passing.
His family and colleagues want to merely fulfill Simmons’ last wish, and that is to make sure his trade is carried on, which is why engineer John Paul Huguley founded the American College of the Building Arts. Simmons was the “inspirational founder,” Huguley told the Post & Courier two years ago. The school restored one of Simmons’ most significant gates, the coiled rattlesnakes at 329 East Bay Street.
The Philip Simmons Foundation also ensures that his legacy lives on via everything from sterling silver jewelry fashioned in shapes inspired Simmons’ memorable works.
But you don’t have to stop in the Blake Street shop or shop for jewelry online to see his handiwork. Take your very own walking tour around the peninsula to behold his works everywhere from the Philip Simmons Garden at 91 Anson Street to the driveway gate of the mansion at 138 Wentworth Street to Simmons’ very first walkway gate at the Krawcheck residence at 313 King Street. Today 313 King houses the gentlemens’ shop Grady Ervin & Co. where the folks are nice enough to direct you to gate behind the store. They also sell a belt that includes this gate design, so shop around while you’re in there! It’s a lovely store.
We’ll talk more about his works you can find around Charleston over the next few months in upcoming posts dedicated to #wroughtironwednesday and the late, great Philip Simmons.