On August 31, 1886, at 9:50 PM, the largest earthquake ever recorded on the east coast of the United States destroyed homes and other property in Charleston, S.C., leaving as many as 150 dead in that city alone. Registering between 6.6 and 7.3 on the modern Richter scale, the quake cracked chimneys and plaster walls across North Carolina.
The bell in Asheville’s city hall tolled as the ground shook. The Reverend Anthony Porter, rector of Holy Communion Episcopal Church in Charleston, was vacationing in Asheville on that night. He later recorded what he perceived first as his wife moving furniture, then as carriages arriving in the yard, then as railroad cars approaching and, finally, as a corner of his residence was raised and then slammed to the ground, a quake.
Reports of the earthquake came in from across the Tar Heel state. The lighthouse keeper at Cape Hatteras felt the rumblings and saw windows broken in the tower. Effects were documented in Elizabethtown, Stovall, Huntersville, Raleigh, Hillsborough and Waynesville. The Northampton County Courthouse in Jackson had its walls damaged. To this day the large brick chimney outside the Carson House in Marion carries a crack made by the 1886 Charleston earthquake.