Built around 1738, Drayton Hall is a masterpiece of Georgian Palladian architecture, and remains the country’s oldest example. The building’s organization believes in preservation (keeping the house from deteriorating further) rather than restoration (recreating the house to resemble how it must have looked in its heyday). As a result, the house contains no furniture or decorations and the gardens are long-gone. The structure, which was built by John Drayton to house his family, thus has an almost haunting quality, especially when you realize that the house is the only one on the river to have survived both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
Fort Sumter National Monument
This national monument, the site of major American battles, is located in Charleston Harbour. Ferries depart from Liberty Square and tours of it last just over two hours. The area is famous for being where the first shots of the Civil War were fired: Union forces were occupying the island, but when South Carolina seceded and Union troops refused to leave, the South Carolina infantry opened fire on the Yankees.
Today, there is not much left to see on the island, so only Civil War aficionados or those with a knowledgeable guide will get anything out of a visit.
Many of Charleston’s grandest houses were in fact just one of multiple residences owned by wealthy landowners. The town homes could have been built to be the winter houses, situated to take advantage of the cultural offerings and social gatherings. Alternatively, they could have been meant for summer usage, as a respite from the malaria-ridden swamps.
The house’s second floors were typically used for entertaining, as they were slightly more removed from the smells, sounds and dirt of the street, and offered a bit more of a breeze. If visitors only have time to see one or two, they should head to Heyward-Washington House and Nathaniel Russell House.
- Heyward-Washington House (87 Church Street; 843-722-2996; www.charlestonmuseum.org)
Though it was built in 1722, this house’s most famous resident was George Washington, who rented it during his tour of the southern colonies in 1791. The original owner, Thomas Heyward, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and had been a prisoner of war in the American Revolution. A wealthy plantation owner, he built the house to escape summertime malaria scares at his plantation. The furniture is predominantly Charleston-made and features some of the best pieces in the country. The house also features a lovely and traditional garden in the back.
- Joseph Manigault House (350 Meeting Street; 843-722-2996; www.charlestonmuseum.org)
Built in 1803-1807, by a wealthy rice-planting Huguenot family, this house remains a fantastic example of Federal architecture and boasts a superior furniture collection.
- Aiken-Rhett House (48 Elizabeth Street; 843-723-1159; www.historiccharleston.org)
This building, constructed around 1820, still features interiors that have been unchanged since 1858. Visitors can also see the slave quarters, carriage house and stables. Furniture and decorative objects in the collection are of a high quality; many of them were brought back from the family’s Grand Tour of Europe.
- Roper House (www.classicalamerican.org)
This privately owned and beautifully preserved home sits on the High Battery and serves as a fine example of what the mansions of the area looked like in their heyday. Tours may be booked only for groups, and must be done so well in advance.
- Nathaniel Russell House (51 Meeting Street; 843-724-8481; www.historiccharleston.org)
This house, built between 1803-1808, has been referred to as, “…beyond all comparison, the finest establishment in Charleston.” The Federal-style townhouse originally belonged to successful merchant Nathaniel Russell, and features an awe-inspiring free-flying staircase
- Edmonston-Alston House (21 East Battery; 843-722-7171; www.edmonstonalston.org
Built around 1828, this is one of the oldest buildings on the Battery. It features great views of the harbor and it is purported that Robert E. Lee once slept here.
This plantation, built in 1676, is now open to visitors who would like to see not only the main house, but also outbuildings, former slave quarters, gardens and even a petting zoo.
First settled in 1675, right after colonists moved to modern-day South Carolina, this plantation was home to the Middleton family from 1741 until 1865. It sits 14 miles northwest of Charleston and features America’s oldest (and arguably most stunning) gardens. A tour of the buildings provides a good history of what life was like over the past 350 years.
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