The mind joggling history of these Lowcountry benches

Black and white picture of family on joggling board
Whole family squeezed on a joggling board.| Photo from South Carolina Encyclopedia.

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Charleston has its iconic quirks – from sidewalks made of waves of uneven brick, slightly slanted houses and… jiggly benches? You may recognize this funky seat from outside of Hyman’s Seafood, College of Charleston campus buildings or historic Charleston homes.The joggling board may seem odd, but like most things in Charleston, there is a hefty history behind why it is the way it is. In fact, these benches have connections to flirting, exercise and Scotland.

Bench on Southern porch
Joggling board on classic Southern | Photo by @alexthorntonphoto

Flashback to 1803. Mary Benjamin Kinloch Huger went to help take care of her brother, Cleland Kinloch, on Acton Plantation in Sumter SC after his wife passed away. While there, Huger developed rheumatism, a condition that deteriorates one’s joints, tissues, and muscles. Because of her ailment, she was no longer able to enjoy carriage rides, so she wrote to her family back in Scotland expressing her troubles. 

They replied with plans for an innovative bench that would simulate the horse-drawn rides she adored. The bouncy movement also provided exercise for Huger that she was unable to accomplish regularly. 

But the joggling board was not appreciated exclusively at Acton Plantation – the bench populated porches all over the Lowcountry by the 1880s. The seat’s prominence temporarily declined leading up to WWII as a result of limited access to wood but surged again in the 1960s after Charleston local, Thomas Thornhill, co-founder of Old Charleston Joggling Board Company, started building wood pieces for people in his basement.

Black and white picture of family on joggling board
Whole family squeezed on a joggling board.| Photo from South Carolina Encyclopedia.

The seat is historically made of  longleaf pine but is more commonly made with yellow pine today. The limber lumber allows several people to sit without the bench breaking. But don’t let that fool you – three (or seven) is a crowd.

These benches are also known to be used in courtship. Two lovebirds sitting on opposite ends of the bench can slowly inch closer together as the bench wobbles.

Black and white photo of man holding baby on joggling board
Bouncing gently on a joggling board has been known to calm a fussy baby. Older children have been kept entertained on this “wooden trampoline”, too. | Photo from South Carolina Encyclopedia.

The typical deep green color of the boards has a deep history, too. After the Civil War ended, the government sent people from the North down to Charleston with buckets of black paint in hopes of fixing the damage the city suffered from the war. But, locals found the “Yankee paint” upsetting so they added “Rebel Yellow” to make the color their own. This color rendition is now known as “Charleston Green”.