Charleston, S.C. (WCBD) – In this week’s edition of 2 Your Roots, we turn our attention to a man said to have decorated the Holy City by hand: Philip Simmons.
Born in Wando in 1912, Philip Simmons grew to become Charleston’s most celebrated ironworker of the 20th century. According to the Philip Simmons Foundation, while walking to and from school as a young boy, Simmons became intrigued with the ironwork throughout the Holy City.
Simmons shadowed blacksmiths, pipefitters, shipwrights, and coppers in the area, but is said to have received his most important education from a blacksmith who ran a shop on Calhoun Street.
“ It was in that environment where Philip Simmons acquired the values and refined the talents that would sustain him throughout his long metalworking career.”Philip Simmons Foundation
Simmons began an apprenticeship at age 13, and was a blacksmith by 18. Over his quarter-century career, he hand-crafted over 500 wrought iron gates, balconies, fences. According to the South Carolina Encyclopedia, Simmons often described himself as a “general blacksmith” since he could shoe horses, repair wagons, fashion iron fittings for boats, make and mend tools, and fabricate structural iron for buildings.
“Simmons’s most elaborate ironworks were created for homes in the celebrated Battery District near the harbor…Among the most visible of his works are the gates made for the Christopher Gadsden House on East Bay Street, which feature a pair of threatening rattlesnakes that commemorate Gadsden’s “Don’t Tread on Me” flag designed during the Revolutionary War.”The South Carolina Encyclopedia
Other pieces of work include the railings and window grilles at 45 Meeting Street and the heart gates at St. John’s Reformed Episcopal Church. To view pictures of his work, click here.
Throughout his career, Simmons racked up an impressive amount of accolades and recognition including “The Order of the Palmetto”, South Carolina’s highest award. It was given to him by Governor David Beasley in 1998.
He continued to design into the twenty-first century before passing in 2009 at the age of 97. Today, his legacy can be seen crafted throughout Charleston.
In 2015, The Charleston County School District Board of Trustees voted in favor of the Simmons Pinckney Middle School, after the late Philip Simmons and the late Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina State Senator who was killed in the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church shooting.