The F.W. Wagener Building – the story of George Poirier

The F.W. Wagener Building Wagener Building (Grits, 2011)

Situated at 161 East Bay Street, the Wagener Building is a huge, High Victorian structure with large, high-arched windows and cast-iron interior pillars.  It was built by German immigrant and agricultural broker, F.W. Wagener, in 1880 to house his firm’s various enterprises.  All three floors feature an open, 80 by 260 foot space—plenty of room for Wagener’s offices and a grocery store, with space left over to rent.

Cotton was big business in Charleston in the early 1800s, due, in large part, to the thriving and profitable phosphate mining business.  Phosphate mining allowed Charleston farmers to purchase more fertilizer at cheaper prices.  Leading up to the Civil War, money for cotton poured in from England and the northern states, making cotton—and by extension, phosphate—two of the most profitable businesses Charleston had ever seen.

East Bay Street in the mid 1880s. The Wagener Building is on the right, with the flag. (Poston, 1997)

Nothing lasts forever, though, and the Poirier family, like many wealthy cotton planters, made sure their bread was buttered on both sides.  The Poiriers rented office space from F.W. Wagener, and used his firm’s services to broker their cotton sales.  Then, in 1881, things began to shift.  Phosphate fertilizer helped planters produce record crops, but those planters soon found themselves with an overabundance of cotton.  But the Poiriers were prepared.  Though business had taken a downturn, the Poiriers had invested wisely.  During the war, they publically dumped money into the Confederacy, but also quietly invested in U.S. Bonds and British interests.  They enjoyed such a lavish lifestyle and successful enterprise, that their son, George, inherited the business having scarcely worked a full day in his entire life.  Unaccustomed to the discipline and attention required to run a successful cotton business, George quickly burned through his inheritance.

Boll Weevil on Cotton (Marva, 2008)

Then, in 1885, the boll weevil fiercely attacked Charleston cotton crops.  George, quickly finding himself in over his head, became acutely aware of his situation.  His entire self-worth had been intertwined with the success and reputation of his family, so when the money began to run out, he started into a steep, psychological downward spiral.   He thought of one, last-ditch effort to pay off his creditors and move away from the cotton business.  He gathered his meager harvest of cotton, and brokered a deal with the British for his last load.  After his cotton was loaded on the England-bound merchant ship, George climbed to his third floor office of the Wagener building to contemplate what would come next.  He sat in his captain’s chair and watched through the giant arched windows of his office as his cotton left port and steamed across the harbor.

George gasped in horror at the first plumes of smoke wafting from the ship’s cargo hold.  A drunken sailor had fallen asleep with a lit pipe, igniting the last of George’s cotton, family fortune, and sanity.  He pressed his face against the glass and screamed as sailors jumped from the ship, now in flames.

Captain’s Chair (Taylor, 2008)

George had had enough.  He methodically gathered the furniture of his office, and piled it in the corner of the room, with his captain’s chair perched on top.  He stood precariously on the chair, while tossing a rope over the rafters.  He slipped the noose over his head…and jumped.

The next day, a young newsboy announced the demise of George Poirier with unintelligible screaming in the middle of East Bay Street.  When passersby calmed him down, all he could do was point to the third floor of the Wagener Building.  There, with the sun streaming through the windows, swung the hanging corpse of George Poirier.  The newsboy was the second to find George’s body.  Entering through an open window, the scavenger birds had gotten to him first.

The building was renovated several times since George Poirier’s death on the third floor.  In the early 1980s, it was the East Bay Trading Company restaurant.  There have been numerous accounts of paranormal activity in the building.  Some have seen the shadow of a swinging corpse.  Bar tenders have reported beer taps running, inexplicably.    But these things are rather bland in comparison to what restaurant manager James McCallister witnessed in 1983.

One summer night, McCallister was closing up and the only remaining customers were a young bunch up on the third floor.  They reported feeling a cold wind, and asked if McCallister could turn off the air conditioning.  McCallister investigated, but found the air conditioning had been turned off for hours.  He went to the third floor and over to a brick wall, where he found a frigid, “winter wind” that made the manufactured coolness of AC-produced air feel like a warm summer breeze.  He ran his hand all over the wall, trying to find the wind’s source, without success.  He turned to see the women sitting at the bar hunched, with their backs turned to him, shielding themselves from the icy air.  Their long hair blew parallel to the bar.  A flash of light blazed from the ceiling for an instant, but by the time McCallister looked up, he saw nothing.

And that’s not even the weirdest thing that happened.

A few months later, the cold air again became a problem.  Again, McCallister investigated and found nothing.  The next morning, McCallister arrived to begin opening the restaurant.  When he got to the third floor, his jaw dropped.  All of the bar stools, chairs, and heavy tables were piled high in the corner.  A captain’s chair sat atop the heap, slowly rocking back and forth.  Just as McCallister stepped forward to begin dismantling the pile, the captain’s chair fell, shattering at McCallister’s feet.

Southend Brewery Restaurant (Southend Brewery, 2011)

Today, the Wagener Building is home to the Southend Brewery restaurant.  They offer a family-friendly atmosphere, and a wide selection of microbrews.  They serve all sorts of American fare, from wood-fired pizzas to barbecued ribs, and some Low Country favorites, like she-crab soup and shrimp and grits.  They open at 11:30AM, seven days a week.  They’ll take reservations, but they can usually accommodate walk-ins, even in large groups.   If you go, try the fried green tomatoes—they’re delicious!

Image Credits:

Boll Weevil on Cotton:
Marva. (2008, May 10). Boll weevils, fire ants and such. Retrieved from http://marvassanitycheck.blogspot.com/2008/05/boll-weevils-fire-ants-and-such.html

Captains’ Chair:
Taylor, F. (2008, August 29). Collectibles-general (antiques). Retrieved from http://en.allexperts.com/q/Collectibles-General-Antiques-682/2008/8/Set-3-chairs.htm

East Bay Street in the  mid 1880s:
Poston, J. (1997). The buildings of charleston: a guide to the city’s architecture. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

Southend Brewery Restaurant:
Southend Brewery. (2011). Photos of Southend Brewery Charleston SC. Retrieved from http://southendbrewery.com/gallerybrewery-brewpub-irish-pub-charleson-sc/

Wagener Building:
Grits, T. (2011, September 2). True southend brewery ghost stories. Retrieved from http://southendbrewery.com/tag/southend-brewery-haunted/

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~ by scareschs on April 15, 2012.

2 Responses to “The F.W. Wagener Building – the story of George Poirier”

  1. […]                                          Haunted Wagener Building https://scaresandhauntsofcharleston.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/the-f-w-wagener-building-the-story-of-g… […]

  2. I had an experience on the second floor in the bathroom. I didnt even know the place was haunted. it was my first hour in Charleston. I felt watched and I knew I was being watched. I went and asked the people at the front and I told them my story and they told it it was haunted. I basically figured it out on my own.

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