Aiken-Rhett House Showcases Charleston’s Elegant Past

Only about a 20-minute walk from the luxurious accommodations at Bluegreen Resorts’ The Lodge Alley Inn, the Aiken-Rhett House Museum gives visitors a peek into Charleston, South Carolina’s historic past. The house, originally built in the 1820s, is among the city’s most well-preserved buildings.

This house is a definite must see for those who want to get a true feel of what life was really like in mid-19th century Charleston. Many of the objects purchased by the Aiken family remain in their original condition in the rooms in which the family actually used them. The house has not undergone restoration, but remains in an “as found” state as near to that of its first residents as possible.

In the 1830s, William Aiken, Jr., who would later become a South Carolina governor, and his wife, Harriet, embarked on an extensive project of rebuilding and enhancing the home bequeathed to them by William’s late father, an Irish immigrant and merchant. To the original classic “double house” with two rooms on either side of a central hall, the couple added much additional floor space. They also renovated the first floor. The elegance of the home was maintained by a large cadre of enslaved African-Americans, who lived within the several outbuildings located behind the house. Those outbuildings, containing a kitchen, a laundry, a carriage house, and a stable, have also been preserved so that visitors can envision the world of the highly skilled cooks, carriage drivers, gardeners, and seamstresses who lived their lives in service to the Aiken family.

In the years just before the Civil War, the Aikens constructed an art gallery to house the many fine pieces they had collected on their extensive travels in Europe. William and Harriet Aiken were particularly interested in acquiring paintings attributed to Old Masters such as Raphael. While today’s evaluators have pronounced many of the works in the Aiken collection to be of dubious authenticity, the collection remains the only example of a private fine art gallery of the period to survive with its contents nearly intact. The gallery has undergone a small degree of restoration, and curators use a climate control system to protect the beauty of the works on display.

The Aiken-Rhett House, situated at 48 Elizabeth Street, is open seven days a week, with adult general admission only $12.