So we have this Museum Mile pass that I told you about last week and it is week two for acting a like a tourist in our hometown.
Last weekend we visited the Charleston Museum and then the museum houses of the Joseph Manigault house, the Heyward Washington house (yes, that Washington) and the Aiken Rhet or Gov. William Aiken house. And all within walking distance of each other.
So, for those about to tour / endure some old museum houses, we salute you!
The Charleston Museum was OK, great if you enjoy reading about history, wars fought, and the evolution of Charleston, entitled Becoming Americans. But the Natural History portion was smallish and not a lot of truly unique things to see.
We stayed there 3 hours.
There was a mummy and some old coffins from Egypt that stood out to me but that is about it.
The first two houses we toured we were not allowed to use our cameras, lucky for you and your post downloads. So I have some copied pics from their website, unless they are from outside.
One of Charleston’s most exquisite antebellum structures, the Joseph Manigault House, built in 1803, reflects the urban lifestyle of a wealthy, rice-planting family and the enslaved African Americans who lived there.
Joseph Manigault was the brother to the man in the final painting in my previous post, Charles Manigault, the grandsons of the ultra wealthy, Peter Manigault. The house was also designed by his brother Gabriel, a ‘Gentleman Architect.
This house, and other Neoclassical houses of the time, were known for their ‘balance’. One side of the wall mirrored the other. If a door was on the right then a door was on the left, even if it did not open. As you go down through these pictures you can plainly see the dedication put into there balance.
See the balance on the outside of the house. The left is exactly the same as the right.
And so it went inside.
Descending from French Huguenots who fled religious persecution in Europe in the late 1600s, the Manigaults prospered as rice planters and merchants during the 18th century and became one of South Carolina’s leading families.
The house above was termed a summer house (they did not live here all year round) but in truth it was a winter house as the Manigaults inhabited the house during the winter months that were actually known as Charleston’s ‘social season‘. It’s just too hot in the summer here, to get dressed up not to mention too many smells.
The city of Charleston at this time was actually a walled city. A wall was built around Charleston to protect it from pirates, the Spanish, and the French in the 1700’s and early 1800’s. This house was actually on the outside of the wall. So they liked to be called ‘in the country’.
It’s too much to go into but you can imagine how many smells are contained in the walled city, or outside for that matter. Start with the horses in the streets, throw in no running water, livestock slaughtered on one’s property, maintaining livestock from horses, cows and chickens on many properties and so on. This is why most houses had dining rooms, bedrooms and rooms for entertaining on the second floors.
Affluent houses such as these had water management system, usually consisting of a well but later developing into a ‘cistern’ due to the well water getting contaminated.
Such was life in the 1700s and early 1800’s
Joseph Manigault inherited several rice plantations and over two hundred slaves from his grandfather in 1788, and also married (very) well.
Arthur Middleton, father of his first wife, Maria Henrietta Middleton, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Following Henrietta’s death, he married Charlotte Drayton, with whom he had eight children.
If you ever visit Charleston two very well-known plantations to visit are the Middleton Place (Henrietta Middleton)
and Drayton Hall (Charlotte Drayton).
Note below the balance on the wall. A door on the right and one on the left. Pictures, tables and urns balancing each other out. The tassel on the left of the fireplace was used to call the slaves for service. The tassel to the right of the fireplace was just there for decoration.
It did nothing.
Most homes of distinction had rooms for entertaining called Drawing Rooms. Sometimes the men would like to sneak out and smoke and talk business. They retreated to the Withdrawing Rooms.
Built in 1772, this Georgian-style double house was the town home of Thomas Heyward, Jr., one of four South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence.
A patriot leader and artillery officer with the South Carolina militia during the American Revolutionary War, Heyward was captured when the British took Charleston in 1780. He was moved to St. Augustine, Florida, with several other influential Charlestonians but was exchanged in 1781.
The City rented this house for George Washington’s use during the President’s week-long Charleston stay, in May 1791, and it has traditionally been called the “Heyward-Washington House.” The story goes many a wealthy Charlestonian wrote letters to George Washington to please stay at their house. Mr. Washington, in true politician style, could not, would not decide. So he asked the Mayor of Charleston to pick out a suitable dwelling for his week long stay.
Heyward sold the house in 1794 to John F. Grimke, also a Revolutionary War officer and father of Sarah and Angeline Grimke, the famous abolitionists and suffragettes.
The building on the right was the water management system. The large building on the left was the kitchen on the first floor and the slave quarters on the second floor. The building on the far left, where you can only make out the tiled roof, was the ‘Necessary’ room.
Three guesses on what was necessary.
And why wasn’t it closer?
Were there no prostate issues on the 1700-1800’s?
Why do you think the kitchen was not part of the main house in colonial times?
So now I had to take a pause. (not applause)
So these houses were bought and sold several times from their original owners over the years, how is it the furniture, paintings, etc. are legit?
Enter the phrase ‘ museum house’. These houses have been bought by the Charleston Museum and / or the Charleston Preservation Society and ‘restored‘ to what they may have looked like using family or historic documents.
For instance, the Joseph Manigualt House was bought by an Esso gas station at one point and sold gas in the front yard. The third owner of the Heyward Washington house was a baker and turned the first floor into a bakery. The floors may be original floors but the paint color “may have been” or “what we think it was” using historical data.
There were several really incredible book cases in both houses.
Most of the furniture were ‘time pieces’, maybe not from that family, but a piece of furniture from that time period. The Rice Plantation bed on Joseph Manigaults room looked too good to be 175 years old. It was a dead giveaway.
So I wondered what would a house that was not made over look like? Did these restored houses lose their original integrity?
I had my theory answered as we walked over to the Aiken Rhett House.
This house is termed, ‘preserved not restored.’ And I tell you, walking through the dimly lit house, with the floors squeaking and the paint peeling off the walls, it was more than a little creepy.
It reminded me of the hotel in The Shining after it had been abandoned.
I will try to go faster here with a picture tour. If interested in this history take your time and read behind the scenes or just go at your own pace to stay ahead of the tour. Please leave your audio headphones at the cashier’s desk as you leave.
Here is why the house is called the Aiken Rhett house. And also thee Love letter. It is also known as Gov. William Aiken house.
Marble stairway entrance
Large two room divided living room downstairs
Very detailed moldings on the main living room chandelier
Leaving the living room, and chasing the sunlight, we went through some large open double doors onto a roomy piazza. The single hung windows (on the right border) transform into doorways that allow you to walk onto the piazza. These windows are advantageously placed to allow for a cross breeze through the house and are extremely common in the South. These roomy piazzas on three sides of the house.
The back yard or courtyard, completely walled in.
Kitchen and Slave quarters on the right. The stables and garage on the left
Remember the kitchen picture at the Heyward Washington house? Here is what the kitchen may have resembled had it not been ‘restored’
And this is what is left of the oven and stove
We took the worn down stairs upstairs above the kitchen to see the floor the resident slaves lived on.
There were 4 individual rooms up stairs. Each room had its own door with a lock for privacy and a window. At the end of the hall was actually a type of sitting room where the slaves could gather at the end of their day.
Going back out to the courtyard we noticed some nice trees and two Necessary Rooms (2 green doors) all the way at the end of the lot.
After viewing the stables and some very old but nice horse-drawn carriages we went back inside and to the second floor to Governor Aiken’s Drawing room.
Above is the picture in the brochure. Below is what I saw. I don’t even know if you could use the word ‘preserved’ for this room. But with the large airy room I imagine it could have been very enchanting in its time.
We toured several other rooms on the second floor including master bedrooms and bathrooms, all dimly lit with make-shift lights and electricity cords, all in disrepair. There was a small but well stocked library. And as we headed towards the end of our tour we opened the door to the only ‘restored room’ in the house, the Gallery….
We had to open the door to the Gallery as it was the only room in the house with air conditioning. And I imagine you needed the A/C to protect these beautiful works of art..
I couldn’t even afford the frames on these paintings!
My favorite piece, of course, was the focal piece, a sculpture by Italian Domenico Menconi of Mary Magdalene, signed and dated 1858.
She has her hands on the books of the Old Testament and New Testament.
To me, it seems she is looking to heaven, dreaming, in an expression that says it all.
So that was our weekend as we toured some more landmarks where we live. It is truly magical going on holiday for a day (wish it were longer) and reliving or imagining some of the history available in Charleston.
Thanks for touring these with us! We have one more weekend to sight see.
And then I can get around to the Christmas post 🙂
Have a great weekend everyone!