Aiken-Rhett House – Charleston, South Carolina

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The Aiken-Rhett House is located at 48 Elizabeth Street in downtown Charleston. It was constructed ca. 1820 and stands as the most well-preserved antebellum townhouse in the city.

Conyers Bull of Mount Pleasant, 2006 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The house was originally built for John Robinson, a wealthy merchant from Charleston. In 1825, several of Robinson’s ships were captured and burned by the French. Although not legally liable for the cargo on board the ships, he felt obligated to repay the planters for the loss of their crops. In order to raise the capital he was forced to sell the home to William Aiken in 1827. That same year the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company was incorporated and Aiken – for whom the city of Aiken was named – was designated its first president.

Aiken used the home as a rental property until his death in 1831, when his assets were divided between his wife and his only son, William Aiken, Jr. Aiken, Jr. was a successful rice planter who would later become a prominent statesman and governor of South Carolina. He and his wife, Harriet, moved into the house in 1833 and began an extensive renovation of the property. They also added a wing in 1857 to showcase Aiken’s impressive art collection. The addition of the art gallery would be the last significant change to the house.

Aiken, Jr. lived in the house until his death in 1887, at which time he left the property to his family. The house remained in the family until 1975, when it was donated to the Charleston Museum. In 1995, it was purchased by the Historic Charleston Foundation, which maintains preservation efforts and offers daily tours of the home and outbuildings.

The Aiken-Rhett House is listed in the National Register, which says the following:

(Aiken-Rhett House) The Governor William Aiken House is significant both in terms of its architecture and its history. The main portion of the Governor William Aiken House was erected ca. 1820 by John Robinson, a merchant. In 1827, William Aiken, Sr. acquired the house. Aiken was president of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company and was a member of the state House of Representatives from 1824 until his death in 1831. After his father’s death, William Aiken, Jr. acquired the property. A rice planter, Aiken served in the state House of Representatives (1838-1841), as well as in the state Senate (1842-1844). From 1844 to 1846 he served as Governor of South Carolina, and later served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1851-1857).

The house exemplifies the changes which occurred in architectural design during the first half of the nineteenth century, reflecting late Federal period, Greek Revival, and Victorian period influences. It is three stories high and is constructed of stucco over brick. Quoins decorate the corners, while the basement level has been scored to resemble stone. The entrance façade was originally designated on that which is now the south (right side) façade. It features a Doric double piazza of two-stories with a pediment at attic level. A semicircular fanlight graces the pediment while elaborate consoles with acanthus leaves accentuate either end. The tin roof is hipped and the restrained cornice features modillions. The structure was extensively altered ca. 1833 and a one-story wing designed as an art gallery was added in 1857-58. Included within the nominated acreage are several outbuildings: a large kitchen building containing three kitchens, workrooms, and servant quarters on the second story, in addition to a stable, two Gothic style brick privies, and two shed structures.

Aiken-Rhett House Info

Address: 48 Elizabeth Street, Charleston, SC 29403

Aiken-Rhett House Map

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4 Comments about Aiken-Rhett House

Barb MacNeilNo Gravatar says:
May 12th, 2013 at 1:08 am

John Robinson, Charleston merchant, was my fourth great grand uncle. It was thrilling to see the house where he and his family once lived. It was equally exciting to read “In 1825, several of Robinson’s ships were captured and burned by the French. Although not legally liable for the cargo aboard the ships, he felt obligated to repay the planters for the loss of their crops. In order to raise capital he was forced to sell the home to William Aeken in 1827.” I just wish my grandad Robinson was still here for me to relate this story to him. Thank you so much for preserving the home and letting so many people enjoy it.

Scott RobinsonNo Gravatar says:
August 3rd, 2011 at 4:09 pm

My fourth Great-Grandfather was Charleston merchant John Robinson. My wife and I visited Charleston last week and took a wonderful tour of the (Robinson) Aiken-Rhett House. We had the pleasure of meeting Brandy Culp, the curator of the museum house. It was a truly great experience. The staff of the museum as well as the staff of the Historic Charleston Foundation Gift Shop were so friendly and helpful. We look forward to visiting again!

SCIWAYNo Gravatar says:
October 20th, 2010 at 8:29 am

Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story Rhonda!

Rhonda EarneyNo Gravatar says:
October 19th, 2010 at 4:35 pm

William Aiken was my father’s Great Uncle. Before my father, Eugene C. England, passed in 2009 I took my parents to the Aiken-Rhett home for a tour. I then took them to the cemetery and where we found Governor Aiken’s grave. This meant a great deal to all of us and made us proud to be related to him — and to be residents of South Carolina.


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