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Longstreet Theatre & Annex

1855; Department of Theatre & Speech

This familiar landmark, built along the lines of a Roman temple, was designed originally as a chapel and auditorium for the growing enrollment of South Carolina College. From its inception the building was ill-fated. Completion was two years late, the roof blew off twice, and the poor acoustics were apparently incorrectable. The building was used as a military hospital during the Civil War, and the state legislature met there briefly after the war. From 1870 to 1887 it served as an arsenal and armory for the adjutant and inspector general of South Carolina. Finally, because the acoustical problem was never solved, it was converted into a science facility in 1888 and then a gymnasium in 1893.

With the remodeling of the building as a theatre in 1976, it has at last found a purpose complementing its architectural grace. Formerly two stories, it is now essentially four stories, featuring a circular stage surrounded by seating. An "effects" sound system and a hydraulic stage capable of accepting one or two wagon stage covers add to the versatility. The main entrance is now at the rear of the building, where a graceful courtyard welcomes theatregoers. The adjacent building, formerly a swimming pool, houses a shop support area and costume construction shop.

Augustus B. Longstreet (1790-1870), the colorful and controversial jurist, writer, and educator who served as president of South Carolina College from 1857 to 1861, is perhaps most widely known for his collection of sketches, Georgia Scenes a series based on his experiences in rural Georgia during his days as a young circuit-riding lawyer. The sketches, which first appeared in the Southern Recorder (Milledgeville, Georgia) and later in the newspaper he had started in Augusta, were eventually published in a volume and enjoyed nationwide popularity. The book is considered a significant contribution to Southern literary humor.

Longstreet had studied law at the famous Litchfield, Connecticut, law academy and returned to Georgia to practice. He served as a state legislator in 1821 and later as a judge in the superior court. In 1837 he was converted to the Methodist faith and one year later became a minister. He subsequently served as president of Emory College, Centenary College, and the University of Mississippi. Longstreet became president of South Carolina College at a time when he was a staunch secessionist. On the one hand he restored order and discipline to a high-spirited youth given to harassing professors (at one time he suspended half the student body). On the other hand, his rigorous support of secession caused a fervor which led the student body to enlist en masse when the Civil War began, and the school was closed. Longstreet then returned to Oxford, his secessionist leanings tempered.

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