Charleston Interiorsby Samuel Chamberlain
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This splendid pictorial survey depicts 51 historic homes of Charleston, South Carolina. Over 300 photographs, accompanied by descriptive text, depict exquisite 18th- and 19th-century houses and their interiors. Includes illustrations of Ashley Hall, Crayton Hall, the Joseph Manigault house, as well as the homes of Colonel William Rhett, John Edwards, Charles Pinckney, and others.
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By Samuel Chamberlain, Narcissa Chamberlain
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1984 Narcisse Chamberlain and Stephanie Chamberlain
All rights reserved.
The Branford-Horry House
This pilgrimage to the old houses of Charleston begins on a sunny morning on Meeting Street with one of the finest double houses in the city, built in about 1751 by William Branford. In the Charleston idiom, this imposing residence is called "double" because it has two rooms, rather than one, as well as its entrance door, all facing the street. The portico, extending boldly over the public way, was built in the 1830's by Elias Horry, great- grandson of the original builder. Beyond are the twin towers of the First (Scotch) Presbyterian Church.
The Nathaniel Russell House
Nathaniel Russell was the son of a chief justice of Rhode Island. He came to Charleston from Bristol before the Revolution and in time became one of the most successful businessmen in the city. In Charleston, he was fondly (we assume) nicknamed "the King of the Yankees," and became president of the Charleston New England Society. He and his family lived for some time on East Bay, near the harbor, the scene of his business activities, as was customary with the merchants of this era. Quite late in life he built this truly elegant house in the Adam style on Meeting Street which had become a more fashionable residential neighborhood. It is known that he was living here by 1809 and that he spared neither pains nor money to make his house a fine one. It cost, in fact, something over $80,000. His pride as owner of the most elegant house in the city must have been somewhat humbled by the whims of weather. A newspaper of September, 1811, reports that a tornado left his house entirely unroofed, the windows broken and the furniture ruined, at a loss of $20,000. However, it was promptly restored and the family lived here until the house was sold by Russell's daughter in 1857 to a governor of South Carolina, Robert F. W. Alston. Since then it has been a convent school and the home of several owners.
In February, 1955, the house came into the hands of the Historic Charleston Foundation. This organization of public-spirited citizens has since put it into good repair, opened it to the public as a house-museum, at the moment only partially furnished, and hopes to complete its restoration as one of the finest mansions of the Federal period in America. Sensitive brickwork with white marble trim, tall windows in recessed arches, and balconies with slender iron railings distinguish the exterior. The house is surrounded by a spacious garden protected from the street by a brick wall with railings added by a recent owner. But fine as its exterior is, the house must be examined within before the amount of careful planning and fine workmanship that Nathaniel Russell lavished upon his home can be fully appreciated.
The Daniel Huger House
The Huger House, built in about 1760, was owned for some time by Mrs. Elizabeth Blake, who may have been the original builder. Her sister was Mrs. Miles Brewton, whose distinguished house still stands nearby on King Street. Her cousin was the wife of Lord William Campbell, Royal Governor of the Province. In 1775 the Revolutionary politics of the day forced the Governor to flee. He made his precipitous exit from Mrs. Blake's house, some say via the large Palladian window in the stairway, to the end of the garden where Vander Horst's Creek then flowed. A boat took him to the harbor and the safety of the man-of-war H.M.S. Tamar. In 1795, the house was sold to Colonel William Morris of New York, whose niece and her husband, Daniel Elliott Huger, later obtained possession. Their descendants have occupied it ever since. The Huger House has the well-proportioned façade of a classic town house. Its fine interior suffered during the War between the States; traces of shell damage can still be seen in the paneling of the hall. When the city fell in 1865, the house was sacked and the great mirrors that once filled the panels of the drawing room were lost.
The William Mason Smith House
William Mason Smith was a planter and the son of Robert Smith, the first Church of England bishop of South Carolina. He built this house in about 1820, when the fine proportion and delicacy of the Federal period were fading, but before the heaviness of the Victorian had taken over. French Empire and English Regency were the predominant influences in this country at the time. The house has high ceilings and arched windows and doors. The sweeping curve of its lovely staircase, which originally had a domed roof, was first built into a projection of the outside wall. The stair well is now covered over and made one with the rest of the house.
The John Edwards House
One of the finest houses on Meeting Street, from an architectural point of view, is this one built for John Edwards in about 1770, probably by William Miller and John Fullerton, who constructed a number of fine residences at this period. A double flight of steps with iron railings curves up from the sidewalk to a landing. The portico is supported by Ionic columns and the walls of the house are elegantly surfaced with wooden rustication. Inside and out the architectural details, predominantly Georgian, are handsomely designed. In 1793, Alexandre François Auguste, Marquis de Grasse (son of the admiral, the Comte de Grasse, who commanded the French fleet at Yorktown) arrived in Charleston with his wife and daughters, four sisters and his stepmother. They had fled from San Domingo where he was a planter, because of the native uprisings. This was the house where they found refuge, through the hospitality of John B. Holmes who then lived there. De Grasse must have had some difficulty in supporting his bevy of dependent ladies, for in the newspaper he later advertised a "school of designing," and taught architecture and landscaping, as well as the gentlemanly art of fencing.
The Josiah Smith House
The historic promenade down Meeting Street ends with the Josiah Smith House. Josiah Smith is known to have reclaimed a substantial area of the swampy land that originally spread, broken with creeks and covered with moss-hung trees, south of today's Meeting Street. He probably built this post-Revolutionary house at the edge of his reclamation project in 1783. His venture sounds rather like a modern real-estate investment. At least, this lot and its house found a buyer in a certain Wilson Glover in 1800. For a number of recent years the house was the home of the Charleston Club. Today, it is in private hands again and has been handsomely refurbished. Over the years, certain changes have taken place, the woodwork in the front of the house being, for example, somewhat later than the Georgian paneling at the back.CHAPTER 2
The Thomas Legare House
Church Street is narrower and less exclusively residential than lower Meeting Street. Many of its houses are very early and they are usually not as formal as some of the great mansions of Charleston. There are shops, narrow sidewalks and flowering gardens to delight the inquiring visitor, as well as old graveyards and fine churches such as St. Philip's and the old French Huguenot Church shown on the preceding page. At the southern end of Church Street is this house built in the 1760's by Thomas Legare, member of a family of Huguenot settlers. The scale of this house is in general moderately small, and the ceilings are lower than in later houses.
The Heyward-Washington House
Charlestonians take particular pride in the Heyward-Washington House on Church Street. It is believed that an earlier house was torn down when the present one was built, in about 1770, by Daniel Heyward, a rice planter of St. Luke's Parish. The house went to his son, Thomas Heyward, who was a delegate from South Carolina to the Continental Congress and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In 1791, during Thomas Heyward's ownership, the house was leased by the city and was beautifully furnished as a residence for President George Washington during his visit to Charleston. Many receptions and entertainments took place here during the week of his stay. The house is now the property of the Charleston Museum and is furnished with a wealth of fine Charleston-made furniture. It is hoped, in time, to complete the furnishings with pieces dating no later than the time of Washington's visit. The restoration plans include the service buildings in the rear—a kitchen, wash-kitchen, necessary, carriage house and tool shed, and a formal garden of the period. The house itself is a characteristic three-story, double one, practically square in plan, with a central hall and four rooms on each floor.
The William Hendricks Buildings
Through an arched passage between shops on Church Street, one enters a charming paved garden that leads to this diminutive residence. The buildings on the street were tenements built as an investment by William Hendricks in 1749. This small house in the rear contained kitchens to serve them. It is a particularly appealing example of what has been done in Charleston to restore and adapt old buildings for contemporary use. The old chimney serves two huge fireplaces inside. The house contains many pieces brought back from the Orient by the owners' seafaring New England ancestors, among them Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812, and Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who opened world trade with Japan.
The Jacob Motte House
This tall, old double house on Church Street is impressive in scale and massive in construction, with heavy stone quoins at the corners of the walls, in the mid-18th-century Georgian manner. It was probably built shortly before 1745 by Richard Capers, member of a Huguenot family. Among it distinguished owners was Jacob Motte, Public Treasurer of the Province before the Revolution. Like so many Charleston houses, it contains any number of bibelots and handsome pieces of furniture that evoke the people and families of Charleston history. Mrs. William Mason Smith, whose grand-daughters live in the house today, bought it in 1869, and left in it some of its most interesting mementos: the family set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1806, a portrait of Bishop Robert Smith by James Earle, and the Bishop's own coconut-and-silver drinking cup. In the second-floor drawing room (below) is one of a pair of Mrs. Smith's very exceptional Empire card tables, made of mahogany and rosewood, with satinwood inlays. Its griffon-head harp supports are delightful curiosities of furniture-making. The painting over the mantel is of the Castle of Chillon, by Charles Fraser, great-great-uncle of the present owners.
The Thomas Rose House
The Thomas Rose House, built in about 1735, is usually spoken of in superlatives that it well deserves. It is an example of the earlier Georgian period at its very best. Its exterior lines are simple and solid, with quoined corners and only two floors instead of the towering three more usual in Charleston. The entrance is through the handsome portico shown here, in the end of the lower piazza that was added later. It is something of a shock for the newcomer to pass from the street through the apparently solid wall of a Charleston house, and to emerge, not in the building, but in the open air on the other side. But one soon becomes accustomed to this attractive convention and to finding the actual entrance door further on in the wall of the house. The present owners have restored and furnished this house with exquisite taste and care, using fine 18th-century pieces that might have been designed for it, so perfectly do they find their places there. One of their proudest, though invisible, possessions is a romantic ghost, the shade of a poetic young doctor who was killed in a duel over a young actress some two hundred years ago.
The closely-placed windows have been ingeniously curtained in an 18th-century, tapered design that avoids voluminous folds which might have overpowered the room. At the left they hang just to the level of the window seats; at the back they follow the casements to the floor.
44 Church Street
A Charlestonian with fine feeling and respect for the tradition of his city built himself this contemporary house in the style of the early residences. His gifts—and his patience—as a designer and craftsman certainly can be matched by only a small handful of today's professional cabinetmakers. With his own hand, he designed and made the carved trim of the hall (right), as well as much of the furniture throughout the house. In a remarkable way, the usual parallel between authenticity and sheer age does not apply to this attractive house. On its fine pieces the builder's signature and 20th-century date have a validity all their own.
The George Eveleigh House
At the bend where old Church Street widens into a brief tree-shaded area, stands the George Eveleigh House, older than many of its neighbors and probably built in 1738. George Eveleigh was a merchant of the early days who made much of his fortune from the deerskin trade with the Indians. The house is set well back from the street, behind a plastered brick wall with fine iron gates. The tile-paved piazza, though early, is probably not the original one, as records speak of brick pillars which were destroyed here by the hurricane of 1752. Much of the furniture in the George Eveleigh House has belonged to the same family for more generations that is usual even in Charleston. There are also numerous examples of prized Charleston-made furniture.
19 Church Street
The owners and renovators of this pleasant retreat had a particularly happy subject with which to work. Once a carriage house and stable, it is now transformed into a residence of 18th-century style. The brick wall on the street shelters a quiet garden and a shady terrace where the carriage entrance used to be. A vine is trimmed to set off the arches of the French windows, and a wrought-iron balcony finishes the simple façade.CHAPTER 3
The Simmons-Edwards House
Legare Street is one of the most tranquil of Charleston's thoroughfares, tree-shaded and relatively free of traffic. Its name, though pronounced as if "Simon" went before it, has a particular prestige among Charlestonians. Its most distinguished structure is the brick mansion built by Francis Simmons in about 1800. It was purchased, in 1816, by George Edwards, who added the brick gateposts and iron fence. The entrance, shown on the preceding page, is approached by curved, marble steps framed with iron grilles worked with Edwards' initials. The pineapple finials, symbols of hospitality, were made in Italy by workmen who seem to have been more familiar with their native artichoke than with the intended fruit. But they are handsome decoration for this dignified house of Adam design.
10 Legare Street
There are many and varied small buildings in Charleston that beg to be restored and adapted for living on a smaller scale than is possible in the big city houses. Their former purpose usually lends them the charm of the unexpected and original, as has happened in this old carriage house. It has been decorated with style, but also with a sharp eye for uncluttered practicality. In its main room, the background of low ceilings, white walls and a rugless checkerboard floor has a modern flavor against which old pieces can have their maximum effect. (Left) A small, early English piano by Broadwood stands at the foot of the staircase. The Currier print above shows General George Washington on a charger.
The Charles Elliott House,
This spacious pre-Revolutionary house was built in about 1770 by Charles Elliott. Its original simple lines are somewhat confused by the much later piazzas, which nevertheless have a Charlestonian charm of their own. Details such as pedimented windows and strong cornices under the jutting eaves preserve much of the building's original distinction.
Mrs. William Heyward's House
This charming double house was built in about 1789 by the widow of William Heyward, brother of Thomas Heyward who built the Heyward-Washington mansion on Church Street. Mrs. Heyward was a prosperous rice planter in her own right. It is possible that this building was originally rectangular and that the two-story, rounded bay was added soon after the house was built. Mrs. Heyward's son James, it is said, occasionally haunts this cheerful house and chooses to seat himself comfortably at the desk in the library.
Excerpted from Charleston interiors by Samuel Chamberlain, Narcissa Chamberlain. Copyright © 1984 Narcisse Chamberlain and Stephanie Chamberlain. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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