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The Trust Visits Charleston, South Carolina

Nathaniel Russell House free-flying staircase.

Reflecting on the Charleston symposium, it’s hard to believe how much we did in just four days. We heard so many wonderful lectures and were given privileged access to some of the best private collections the city has to offer. We owe our gratitude to the many stars of this symposium who invited us into the low country.

Tom Savage got us going in the opening lecture with a wonderful introduction to Charleston’s finest homes and plantations and the people who dwelled in them. A lost 1751 portrait of the young Peter Manigault, the bookish design of the Miles Brewton House and the Scottish form sideboards and lady’s closet furnishing the Pre- and Post-Revolutionary houses are just a few of the highlights from Tom’s lecture.

Ralph Harvard, not to be dampened by the hurricane in New York, made it to Charleston just in time to deliver a fabulous lecture on Charleston and Low Country architecture. St. Michael’s Anglican Church, built in the 1750s, is considered the most important church in America. Ralph spoke on its very academic rococo carving by Henry Burnett who documented his work in the church. Later that afternoon, we saw the church on our tour where Ralph spoke again on the beautiful carving throughout. Henry Burnett is also credited with the lady’s closet currently housed at MESDA.

The stars of the symposium: Ralph Harvard (L) and Tom Savage, both Trust Governors who knowledgeably and cheerfully guided members to the most incredible houses in Charleston.

June Lucas lectured on the productive relationship between MESDA and Charleston over the years. MESDA’s first piece of signed furniture in its collection was from Charleston. Many surviving examples of Charleston furniture are mahogany with cypress as a secondary wood for utilitarian pieces. One popular form in the 1770s in Charleston is a mahogany double chest, twenty of which still survive today.

Much of Charleston’s early wealth was earned by people of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and German descent who worked as jewelers, watchmakers and silversmiths in the Colonial period and raised themselves up from the trade to become gentlemen. Brandy Culp of Historic Charleston Foundation, said that scholars, in examining the Charleston silver, should not look at New York for dating, but to England because Charlestonians wanted the most current and fashionable pieces rather than regional interpretations.

With such wonderful lectures, it is no surprise that the houses we visited were also outstanding. Thanks to our incredible guides, Charleston’s own Nancy Small and Sallie Avice du Buisson who volunteered their time and expertise through the weekend, along with board members and lecturers extraordinaire Tom Savage and Ralph Harvard, our Friday and Saturday walking tours were chock-full of wonderful houses showcasing great Charleston architecture and beautiful examples of low country furniture. It was such a treat to see Charleston’s rich heritage preserved through the efforts of historical foundations as well as the private collectors who welcomed us into their homes.

The Sunday afternoon tour traveled two hours inland to visit Millford Plantation of Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. Richard McHenry and Cindy Caldwell from Charlotte, NC, at the colonnaded front.

A highlight of the tours was the opportunity to see the home of Sarah and Ozey Horton, Trust members whose Greek Revival house was recently featured in Gil Schafer’s new book, The Great American House
(see Books). Sarah and Ozey hosted just one of the many cocktail parties members attended. So many of our members from Charleston showed us true Southern hospitality. Suzi Parsell, Nancy Small and Bessie Hanahan hosted a reception at the Confederate Widows Home. Debbie Fisher served champagne one afternoon, and Sarah Donnem and Suzi also invited members to their homes for refreshments Sunday evening after the long ride from Dick Jenrette’s beautiful Millford Plantation.

Mr. Jenrette was present in Charleston on Saturday where he greeted members and answered questions at the magnificent Roper House on the Battery. Both Millford Plantation and Roper House are filled with Mr. Jenrette’s distinctive taste for Duncan Phyfe furniture. Much of the furniture at Millford Plantation is original to the house and we learned that Duncan Phyfe visited the plantation when he was commissioned to furnish it.

A review of the weekend wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Charlie Duell. As a descendant of the Middleton family who built the plantation on the edge of Charleston, Charlie is single-handedly responsible for returning the house and gardens to their former glory. As mentioned in his lecture and book on the plantation, Middleton Place is a “phoenix still rising.” Charlie was a delight on Thursday’s optional tour where he spoke to our group over a truly southern lunch of fried chicken and collard greens. His knowledge of his ancestral home and the passion he has for its preservation can be seen in the tremendous efforts he has made in its restoration.

Indeed, all of the wonderful lectures, collections and people are too numerous to mention. We are happy to be celebrating the end of our 35th anniversary year with this symposium!

Beautiful dining room at the 1808 Nathaniel Russell House.

Detail of Cornice and window woodwork at the Nathaniel Russell House,.c. 1808.

From the back garden of the c. 1772 Heyward Washington House with kitchen dependency and privy.

The 18th century tomb of the Middleton family at Middleton Place.

The Dewey Lee Curtis Scholars for the Charleston Symposium were (middle left and right) Leslie Wilson, an M.A. Candidate in the History of Decorative Arts, Smithsonian Institution/George Mason University, and Kimberly Schrimsher, M.A. Courtauld Institute and currently at High Museum in Atlanta. Mary Meese, Wilmington, DE, and Randy Schrimsher, Huntstville, AL, chat with them at coffee break.

Making it to Charleston from New England in spite of “Sandy” are Jane and Richard Nylander.

Trust members entering early Charleston home on the Saturday morning tour.

A beautifully manicured Southern backyard of the c.1838 Roper House belonging to Classical American Homes Preservation Trust.

Paneling at Drayton Hall.

(Right and below) Elaborate woodwork at Drayton Hall c.1730s


John Hellman, Cleveland Circle of the Decorative Arts Trust, in the yellow bedroom at Millford Plantation.

Sophisticated Classical interior of Millford Plantation.

Barbara Eberlein, Philadelphia, heading down to take a close look at the 19th century water source at Millford Plantation, disguised as a Gothic church.

Clarissa Barnes of Philadelphia, created the bed covering and hangings for this Duncan Phyfe bed at Millford Plantation when it was included in the Phyfe show last year at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

The small Classical gatehouse at Millford Plantation.