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The man behind the gates: Philip Simmons

Most people spend time gazing in awe at the historic landmarks + homes of Charleston, but do you know the history behind the entrances to many of these places?

Philip Simmons stands beside one of his many iron gate cr

Philip Simmons stands next to one of his iron creations.

Photo by: Avery Research Center

“Keeper of the Gate,” “Giver of Gates,” and even “Dean” of Charleston blacksmiths. All of these names have been used to refer to a man who ironed his name into the fabric of Charleston’s history.

Born in 1912 on Daniel Island, Philip Simmons + his mother would soon come to call Charleston home. It’s here in 1925, passing by the workshop of Peter Simmons, that he discovered the trade of blacksmithing.

While much of his work at the start of his career consisted of repairing tools or replacing parts, Simmons would soon find his passion in creating decorative wrought iron pieces.

Intricate swirls and loops on a wrought iron gate crafted by Philip Simmons

Intricate details of a gate at 329 East Bay Street

Photo by: Avery Research Center

In 1931, Charleston passed an ordinance + created its “Old and Historic District” in downtown. This would mean homes + landmarks in the district would need updates and repairs, specifically on existing wrought iron pieces like gates, window grills + railings lining stairs. This gave Simmons the chance to perfect his craft on older, more delicate pieces. From there, the rest is quite literally history.

Around 1947, Simmons crafted his first full piece, a driveway gate for a King Street merchant looking to keep his rambunctious kids out of the street. From then on out, Simmons began receiving commissions for garden gates located in the Stolls Alley.

The office +workshop of Phillip Simmons. There is a fax machine atop a desk, a leather desk chair, a book case, and several plaque, photos + awards propped up celebrating the work of Philip Simmons.

The Philip Simmons Museum House on Blake Street.

Photo by: Bradley Blankemeyer

Simmons’s work continued to shine through and eventually led to him being nationally recognized + becoming one of the first to receive the National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor for traditional artist from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Got time for a stroll? You can view more pieces from Simmons all around downtown Charleston as well tour his home which was turned into a museum.

  • 67 Broad St. - Gateway
  • 69 Simons St. - Church walkway gate
  • 138 Wentworth St. - Driveway gate
  • 132 Cannon St. - Driveway gate and hand rails