a compelling tale of urban life in antebellum Charleston
Charleston is known for its history. The Aiken-Rhett House’s walls tell a story of wealth, slavery, and war. Built in 1820 by merchant John Robinson, the Aiken-Rhett House is nationally significant as one of the best-preserved townhouse complexes in the nation. Vastly expanded by Governor and Mrs. William Aiken, Jr. in the 1830s and again in the 1850s, the house and its outbuildings include a kitchen, the original slave quarters, carriage block, and back lot. The house and its surviving furnishings offer a compelling portrait of urban life in antebellum Charleston, as well as a Southern politician, slaveholder, and industrialist. The house spent 142 years in the Aiken family’s hands before being sold to the Charleston Museum and opened as a museum house in 1975.
When the Foundation assumed ownership in 1995, they adopted a preserved-as-found preservation approach, meaning the structure and contents are left in an “as-found” state, including furniture, architecture, and finishes that have not been altered since the mid 19th century. The only restored room in the house, the art gallery, showcases paintings and sculpture the Aiken family acquired on their European Grand Tour.
While many dependency buildings in Charleston have been demolished or adapted, the Aiken-Rhett slave quarters – with their original paint, floors and fixtures – survive virtually untouched since the 1850s, allowing visitors the unique chance to better comprehend the every-day realities of the enslaved Africans who lived on-site, maintained the household and catered to the needs of the Aiken family and their guests.
Historic Charleston Foundation is an advocacy organization advancing the mission of historic preservation. As historic preservation has evolved into more than a movement to simply save historic buildings, the Foundation has broadened its scope into balancing the needs of modern society with protecting the sensitive fabric of the historic district.
Take a walk through history at the Aiken-Rhett House.
48 Elizabeth St.
Charleston, SC 29403