Going on a home tour in Charleston is a unique experience that every visitor to Charleston should try. Not only do you get to experience what life might have been like in the 18th and 19th centuries, but you get an up close look at the detail and precision that went into constructing these spectacular homes. Touring these historic homes and mansions bring to life the ways in which Charleston’s elite lived. Here we highlight five of Charleston’s historic homes that are open for tours. Read on and then decide which homes you would like to see on your next visit to Charleston.
The Nathaniel Russell House – Located at 51 Meeting St. near High Battery, the Nathaniel Russell House is known as one of the country’s most important neoclassical dwellings. The Historic Charleston Foundation purchased the home in 1955 and used it as its headquarters for 37 years. The home has been restored back to its original 1808 furnishings and the grand formal garden was updated as well. Nathaniel Russell was a wealthy merchant from Rhode Island who participated in the African slave trade. He married and had two daughters. The home remained in the family until 1857 and then served as a school for Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy until the early 1900s. The home remained a residence until 1955 when the Historic Charleston Foundation purchased it. In 1995, the Historic Charleston Foundation embarked on a massive restoration project to transform it back to its original appearance. Visitors will see period artwork, furniture and the detailed finishings that make this home special. They can also learn about the African Americans who were responsible for maintaining one of the nation’s grandest homes. Tours are docent led and last 30 minutes. The cost is $10; $5 for children 6-16; free for children under 6. The hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Call 843-723-1623 for more information.
Calhoun Mansion – The Calhoun Mansion is not just a home, it is indeed a mansion. Located at 14-16 Meeting St., this home boasts 35 rooms, a grand ballroom, Japanese water gardens, 35 fireplaces, a 75-foot domed stair hall ceiling, khoi ponds, a private elevator, three piazzas and a 90-foot cupola. The home was built in 1876 by George W. Williams for only $200,000. Williams died in 1903 and after that the home went through a succession of owners and fell into such disrepair that it had to be condemned in 1972. The home was then bought by a Charleston native who spent the next 25 years and $5 million restoring it back to its original beautiful design. The home, which is the largest single-family home in Charleston, is now open to the public for tours, but does remain as a private residence. Admission is $15 per person and tours start at 11 a.m. on the hour and half hour, lasting until 5 p.m. A New Grand Tour is offered of the entire residence lasting 90 minutes for $75. Call 843-722-8205 for more information.
Heyward-Washington House – This brick double house is hard not to notice at 87 Church St. in the heart of Charleston’s historic district. It was built in 1772 originally as a townhouse for rice planter Daniel Heyward’s son, Thomas Heyward Jr. In May 1791, George Washington stayed in the home for a week during his visit to Charleston and since then the home has been known as the Heyward-Washington House. Heyward signed the Declaration of Independence and was a patriot leader. He was captured by the British in 1780 when he was an artillery officer with the S.C. militia during the American Revolution. He was exiled to St. Augustine, Fla., for one year and returned to Charleston in 1781. The home was sold in 1794 and was used as a residence by several different owners until it was acquired by the Charleston Museum in 1929. In 1930 it opened as the first historic house museum in Charleston and became a National Historic Landmark in 1978. Visitors to the Heyward-Washington House will see priceless pieces from the 18th century. There’s a carriage shed and a kitchen dating back to the 1740s. The gardens surrounding the home are nothing short of exquisite. The home is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $10. Call 843-722-2996 for more information.
Joseph Manigault House – Gabriel Manigault built this home, located at 350 Meeting St., for his brother Joseph. The Manigaults were descendents of French Huguenots who came to the United States to escape persecution in Europe. Joseph became a great success in Charleston. He owned plantations, sat on the state legislature and was a trustee with the College of Charleston. The Manigualts thrived at rice planting, which made them a wealthy family. The home is a great example of how the affluent family lived and how their slaves assisted them. Many of the collections in the home are wonderful examples of early 19th-century American, English and French influences. Visitors can tour the home, the gardens, the kitchen, slave quarters and stable. The cost is $10 and the house is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Call 843-722-2996 for more information.
Edmonston Alston House – Take a stroll along the Battery and you’re sure to notice the Edmonston Alston House, located at 21 East Battery. The house, constructed in 1825, has deep roots in South Carolina history. Set along the Charleston Harbor, Gen. P. T. Beauregard watched the shots of the Civil War from this home’s piazza in April 1861. In December of that same year, Gen. Robert E. Lee took refuge at this home the night a wide-spread fire threatened the hotel where he was staying. Visitors to the home can peruse the elaborate collection of family heirlooms. Despite numerous hurricanes and earthquakes that have threatened the home, the heirlooms have survived for more than 150 years. The home was originally owned by a wealthy shipping merchant, Charles Edmonston in 1825. Economic panic forced Edmonston to sell the home to Charles Alston, a member of the Lowcountry rice planting dynasty, in 1837. Alston immediately went about updating the home to a Greek Revival style adding a piazza with Corinthian columns, a cast-iron balcony and a rooftop railing bearing the Alston coat of arms. The home is open for 30-minute tours from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 1-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Cost is $12; $8 for students and children (ages 6-13). Call 843-722-7171 for more information.