Historic House Museums of Charleston, South Carolina

Sometimes the best way to learn about historic houses is to visit them. Some areas of the country have few historic houses open to the public, while others seem to be blessed with them.

The Southern city of Charleston cherishes its history, and opens the doors of several outstanding historic house museums to visitors to both the city and nearby countryside.

From the amazing Drayton Hall near Charleston – a 1738 Plantation House being meticulously and carefully preserved by the National Trust for Historic Preservation – to several 1850’s and 1860’s historic house museums in Charleston – you will find places full of inspiration, education, and simple appreciation. These sites are all worth visiting.

Hopefully this overview of one of Charleston’s outstanding Historic House Museums will encourage you to visit Charleston.


The skyline of Charleston – few buildings are over 4 stories tall

Charleston is a delightful city when visited on a delightfully warm day in February. After being in the frosty mountains of North Carolina at the 20th Annual Arts & Crafts Show in Asheville, it was a treat to be welcomed by the palm trees and tropical ambience of Charleston. Streets of white wooden houses with distinctive double-height side porches called ‘piazzas’ on narrow streets made strolling around the city delightful.

Still imbued with the history of the Civil War, Charleston today features hidden gardens, narrow streets, and wonderful architecture from many historic periods. They make Charleston a “must-see” city for architectural enthusiasts.

A typical Charleston House with a ‘front’ door actually leading to a side-facing open porch called a ‘piazza’

A typical Charleston House with a ‘front’ door actually leading to a side-facing open porch called a ‘piazza’

The historic house museums in Charleston are presented as either fully furnished or as ‘preserved’ where the wear of the ages is in full view for your enjoyment.

The Aiken-Rhett House – Charleston

The Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston is an example of a Historic House with remarkable ‘preserved’ interiors.

One of the most interesting houses to see in Charleston is the Aiken-Rhett House. Built in 1817 for merchant John Robinson, this twelve-room mansion (four on each floor) also has a distinctive “piazza” – a Charleston term for a double verandah. Carefully preserved, the exterior features examples of recreated sanded paint finishes, to simulate stone construction, and graining, which is a method of painting that simulates more expensive woods.

The house gets its name from William and Harriet Aiken Jr. who moved to the house in 1833, and their daughter’s husband’s name Major. A.B. Rhett.

The Aiken and Rhett families lived in the house, making few changes, until 1975, when it was donated to the Charleston Museum, who owned the property until 1995, when the Historic Charleston Foundation purchased it.

The main floor ‘piazza’ of the Aiken-Rhett House overlooking the garden, with special triple-hung windows providing access to the outside from the Drawing Room.

Sanded paint and Grained woodwork at the Aiken-Rhett house

Sanded paint and Grained woodwork at the Aiken-Rhett house

The interior of the Aiken-Rhett House is special to visit. It retains original painted finishes, worn furniture and an air of real, and not recreated, history.

The rear garden of the Aiken-Rhett House still retains its Slave quarters, Carriage House, and this Gothic-style outdoor privy in a brick structure at the rear corner of the garden.

Carriages on display at the Aiken-Rhett house in Charleston – preserved, not restored.