Charleston Sights

Aiken-Rhett House Museum

  • 48 Elizabeth St. Map It
  • Upper King
  • House/Mansion/Villa
  • Fodor's Choice

Published 07/23/2015

Fodor's Review

One of Charleston's most stately mansions, built in 1820 and virtually unaltered since 1858, has been preserved rather than restored, meaning visitors can see its original wallpaper, paint, and some furnishings. Two of the former owners, Governor Aiken and his wife, Harriet—lovers of all things foreign and beautiful—bought many of the chandeliers, sculptures, and paintings in Europe. The carriage house remains out back, along with a building that contained the kitchen, laundry, and slave quarters, making this the most intact property to showcase urban life in antebellum Charleston. Take the audio tour, as it vividly describes both the ornate family rooms and the slave quarters, giving historical and family details throughout.

Sight Information

Address:

48 Elizabeth St., Charleston, South Carolina, 29401, United States

Map It

Phone:

843-723–1159

Sight Details:

  • $10; $16 with admission to Nathaniel Russell House
  • Mon.–Sat. 10–5, Sun. 2–5; last tour at 4:15

Published 07/23/2015

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Feb 5, 2017

Loved This Preserved (Not Restored) Property

My spouse and I visited the Aiken-Rhett House on a Saturday morning in mid-November 2016. The house is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and on Sundays from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Plan to spend at least one hour for the self-guided audio tour, which describes the families that occupied the house, its rooms, and the slave quarters of this historical property. Admission costs $12 per adult; you can purchase a combination ticket to

also tour the Nathaniel Russell House for an additional $6 (for a total of $18) because the Historic Charleston Foundation owns both properties. (We only visited the Aiken-Rhett House.) The house is located an easy 1-mile walk from the City Market Street, or you can hop on the free trolley; street parking is available if you drive yourself. This property is not handicap-accessible; you must ascend/descend stairs to explore the entire house and compound. Note that this urban plantation is “preserved” not “restored”/“renovated”, so you will see crumbling plaster, peeling paint, shredded wallpaper, and tattered furnishings. However, those elements only added to our appreciation for the historically fascinating property. The owners have preserved the compound so completely that its slaveholding records and the intact buildings provide one of the most complete records of an urban slave community not only in antebellum Charleston, but also in the entire South. In its day, the Aiken-Rhett House was one of Charleston's most stately mansions. Original owner and merchant John Robinson built the house in 1818. Second owners Governor William Aiken Jr. and his wife Harriet renovated the home in 1858, but it has stood virtually unaltered since that time. Regarding the remaining furnishings and décor, Governor and Mrs. Aiken purchased the crystal and bronze chandeliers, sculptures, paintings, and antiques in Europe and shipped them to America. The carriage house remains at the rear of the property, along with a building that contained the kitchen, laundry, and slave quarters; another small building at the extreme rear of the property contained the privies. The audio tour explains the concept of a “work yard”, and that such yards “were part of every town house in Charleston in the first half of the 19th century and were the domain of slaves.” Governor Aiken was, by all accounts, an enlightened and a compassionate master (and an opponent of South Carolina’s secession); however, he was the third-largest slaveholder in South Carolina. We have toured many historic properties on our travels, but we have never visited a “preserved” estate, and we found it interesting and unique to observe an estate that looks as it did at the time of the Civil War.

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