Friday, May 12th 2023
2023 Preservation Award | Dr. Charles H. Lesser
WINNER | Preservation Leadership
Dr. Charles H. Lesser
A resident of 309 Fulton Street in Columbia’s historic Hollywood-Rose Hill neighborhood, Dr. Charles H. (Chuck) Lesser has been a local tour de force in the fields of archives, history, and historic preservation advocacy for nearly five decades.
In 1975, shortly after earning a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Chuck—as he is known by his friends—assumed the position of assistant director for archives and publications with the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Ultimately, his love of the state’s history resulted in a professional career spent entirely at the institution. Chuck’s work on processing and making public the archives of South Carolina has been invaluable to understanding the historical landscape of the Palmetto State—particularly that of its colonial period. At his retirement, Chuck was recognized as Senior Historian Emeritus and regarded as the most knowledgeable scholar in the state on South Carolina’s colonial and Revolutionary-era records. Two publications reflected this deep knowledge: South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663-1721 (1995) and The Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army (1976). Two other major publications included The Palmetto State's Memory: A History of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1905-1960 (2009) and Relic of the Lost Cause: The Story of South Carolina's Ordinance of Secession (1990). Further authorship includes numerous chapters and essays in anthologies and encyclopedias and frequent contributions to scholarly journals.
Concurrent with his professional work with the state, Chuck has also been active in historic preservation in his neighborhood since the early 1980s, serving as neighborhood association president in 1988 and remaining active on the board for most of the years since. One of his most visible accomplishments was the shepherding of three phases of historic house research (2018-2023) in conjunction with Historic Columbia. In these efforts Chuck meticulously verified the research for 120 properties that led to brass plaques later installed on each property. To this day, Chuck continues to provide insight into the history of his neighborhood. Those contributions manifest themself in its printed directories, its website prose on the neighborhood’s history and in a printed brochure on the historic house plaque project. Chuck continues to provide walking tours of properties in the neighborhood. So much of what residents know about their neighborhood can be directly linked to his willingness to tackle the difficult job of “research done right.” His fellow residents are forever indebted to him for his contributions.
Chuck’s career of scholarship and service has impressed fellow scholars and friends alike. Dr. Robert “Bob” Weyeneth, Professor Emeritus and former codirector of the University of South Carolina’s Public History opines “Chuck has been a terrific colleague for me in the Public History Program at USC and a valuable mentor for my students over the years. He was always keenly interested in learning about the graduate student projects in the historic preservation and historic site interpretation seminars. Invariably–-and generously—Chuck would share his encyclopedic knowledge of South Carolina history and its records, offering valuable suggestions of sources (many of whom he had processed himself). National Register nominations, cultural resources plans, and all good public history rests on a solid foundation of historical research, and Chuck facilitated these USC preservation projects with his decades-long efforts to make the state’s archival records publicly accessible and to communicate their importance to students and faculty.” Lynn Shirley, president of the Hollywood-Rose Hill Neighborhood Association adds “In a neighborhood that runs on all volunteers, it’s relatively easy to find someone to be a secretary, distribute flyers and other functional needs. I can say without a doubt that the historical documentation about the neighborhood in general and individual homes we have created in the past decade would not have happened without Chuck’s leadership and insight into the processes we should follow, the resources that should be used and the partners with whom we should work.” Indeed, Chuck has been able to connect people interested in the past with not only tangible links to previous South Carolinians, in his vocation and avocation he has connected us with one another.
Preservation Award Plaque
While May is Preservation Month, Historic Columbia would like to encourage the community to recognize the significance of these award-winning projects all year. To that end, we have established a Preservation Plaque program. These plaques are designed for and available to past Preservation Award recipients.