Friday, February 20, 2015

A Charleston Bed And Breakfast That Has Stood The Test Of Time

Strolling down Broad Street, you can't miss it. Standing proud and adorned in the finest iron works, the John Rutledge House has stood the test of time--with a little help. During its two hundred and fifty-two year history, it has weathered two natural catastrophes, quenched a conflagration of a great magnitude, and evaded the destructive forces of political dissension. Inspired by love, it is now a prominent, 4 diamond rated bed and breakfast.

John Rutledge was a leading figure in the countries early years. He was a delegate to the South Carolina Assembly, the Stamp Act Congress, the Continental Congress, the U.S. Constitutional Convention, where he signed Constitution, and six years the Governor of South Carolina. He built the home on Broad Street in 1763. It was a wedding gift for his young bride Elizabeth Grimke, the daughter of Charleston lawyer Frederick Grimke. Elizabeth is known in the history books for having breakfast with George Washington when he was a guest at the Rutledge House while on a Presidential visit to Charleston in 1791.

The house went through a renovation in 1853. A third floor was added at this time along with architectural enhancements, Italian marble fireplaces, parquet floors and the elaborate palmettos and eagles ironworks believed to be the work of famed nineteenth-century wrought iron manufacturer, artisan, and entrepreneur Christopher Werner.

On Dec. 11, 1861, Charleston would experience a night of terror and disaster. It would be called the Great Fire of 1861 and it consumed much of the cities famed landmarks. With the flames literally at the home's doorstep, surprisingly, it escaped the conflagration, but the building next door was completely destroyed--St. Andrews Hall was the location where the Articles of Secession were drawn up. The house did take a hit from a Union cannon ball that put a hole in the upper right side on the front.

For more than a hundred years after the Civil War, it served as a residence, office, and a school. Eventually, its hallowed halls fell silent. It remained that way for several years. Then, in 1989, an effort to return it to its former glory with a major restoration was undertaken. When completed, the beautiful inlaid floors, decorative plaster work, and welcoming staircase that was inspired by love and presented as a gift were back in place along with an array of modern conveniences and ready for the next phase of its continuing history. It opened for business as the John Rutledge House Inn.

The Inn has 19 rooms and suites, all elegantly appointed with period pieces and reproduction furniture--some suites have 12 foot ceilings and whirlpools. Two secluded carriage houses are also available. For a view overlooking Broad Street, you can sit on its piazza, and for a more intimate setting, there is the private courtyard--both ideal places to enjoy the complimentary breakfast and afternoon teas offered by the Inn

The rates range from $260 for a Ground Floor suite to $445 for the Grand Suite with prices in-between depending on accommodation. The Inn is pet friendly.

Surrounded by the best of Charleston, the John Rutledge House Inn is ideally outfitted for you and your family to absorb the ambiance of the cities famed hospitality and historical charm. With a glorious history of its own reaching back 252 years, for a brief moment you will live like a Charlestonian Rutledge being served the traditional afternoon tea and evening brandy. Inspired by love, it has stood the test of time.

Just a short walk down Broad Street from the John Rutledge House Inn is Fast and French.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Majestic Medway--Another Lowcountry Antebellum Plantation With A Summerville Link

In 1930's Summerville, only one solitary building stood in tack amongst the rubble of what was once the block of buildings adjacent to the Town Square on the east side of South Main Street. Ominously destructive, the stormy winds of progress was the tempest of purpose. Among the debris of strewn bricks and tattered beams was the skeletal remains of the tunneled pathway that led to the old Arcade Theater. The silent movies accompanied by piano and violin had become reticent. The solitary building was its replacement. Known by the town's residents as "The Show," the new theater was built by the Legendres.

Sidney Legendre, a member of a prominent New Orleans family, owned a house near Golf Rd on South Main Street. He and his brother, Morris, owned a string of theaters throughout the South. Their headquarters was in Summerville. Shortly after exploring Abyssinia for the American Museum of Natural History as part of the Sanford-Legendre Abyssinia Expedition in 1929, Sidney married the expedition's co-leader Gertrude Sanford. Many of the big-game heads she collected from 1923 to 1929 traveling the world as a big-game hunter in South Africa, Canada, and Alaska lined the auditorium walls of the new theater.

Gertrude became famous for her work as a spy in World War II and was the first American woman captured by the Germans, but pulled off a daring escape of which she tells about in a book she wrote entitled "The Time of My Life." Gertrude once said, "I don't contemplate life. I live it," and she did. In time, Gertrude and her husband amassed a large estate called Medway Plantation located in Mount Holly within Berkeley County. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Medway's imprint on the illustrious history of the Lowcountry is far reaching. Considered the oldest masonry residence in the Carolinas, the plantation's first home was built in the late 1600's on the Back River, a tributary of the Cooper River, by a settler from Holland named Johan van Arsens-- married to Sabrina de Vignon.

After his death, his widow married Landgrave Thomas Smith around 1687, who was appointed governor of the Province of Carolina in 1693 and was one of the wealthiest men in the Province.--It is believed the plantation was named "Medway" after the Medway River that flows near Exeter, England, the home of Thomas Smith. Then, it was sold in 1701 to Edward Hyrne, but went back to the Smith family when Hyrne defaulted on the mortgage. Despite this misfortune, Hyrne is credited with playing a role in the building of the original house. In 1984, the Hyrne family seal was discovered to be impressed into some of the bricks around a doorframe.

The property changed hands numerous times since until it ended up in the ownership of Peter Gaillard Stoney in the mid 1830's. During this time, it grew rice, but after abolition, growing labor-intensive crops like rice ceased to be economical. It also provided timber and produced the famous "Carolina Grey" bricks made from the local clay along the river bank. Much of the brick used in the construction of Fort Sumter came from Medway. As time passed, the rundown estate was used for recreational hunting.

While visiting the Lowcountry and horseback riding one day, the Legendres stumbled upon the neglected Medway. Speaking about their discovery, Gertrude later wrote, "Something about it haunted us both." In 1929, the Legendre's purchased the plantation for $100,000, restored the house and expanded the estate to cover 6,695 acres. Medway also has four guest houses, three staff houses, a lakefront lodge, a riverside boat landing, formal gardens and a stable. The plantation has served as a retreat for writers and artists in recent times. As an environmentalist, Gertrude turned it into a nature preserve before her death in 2000.

Medway Plantation is one of ten haunted places in Berkeley County. It is believed to be haunted by a grieving young bride whose husband died on a hunting trip. According to legend, the young hunter was mistaken for a deer and killed. His young bride reportedly cried herself to death inside the historic home.

After returning to Medway for the first time in years, Bokara Legendre recounts the first night she spent in her redone bedroom. "There was a problem with the fireplace, and the chamber filled with thick black smoke. As a member of the plantation staff put out the fire, he glimpsed an apparition." In her redecoration of the antebellum mansion, Bokara added abstract paintings and a pastel color scheme. Horrified by the notion of killing animals for sport, she also took down her parents' trophy heads and put up her own impressionistic paintings of wolves.

Image by Katherine Wolkoff
Medway Plantation is another historic landmark with a Summerville connection. Shaded by giant oaks and climbing ivy, it is absolutely enchanting and beautifully haunting. Gertrude Legendre often quoted a sentimental poem written about Medway describing it as a place where "restless Time himself has come to rest." Bokara believes the apparition seen in her chamber and haunting the estate was her mother. Unhappy about some of the changes to the old house, it would appear to her daughter Gertrude has joined restless Time.

I wonder what she thinks of the removal of the big game heads from the theater her and her husband built on Hutchinson Square in Summerville?

Timber was the main source of revenue for Medway Plantation, but had never fully recovered from damage inflicted by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The costs of running the plantation were enormous--more than $800,000 a year on average. Bokara wrote:
The money master came to lunch
It's always fun we laughed a bunch.
He said it's time to make a choice,
I heard a slight change in his voice —
"In seven years you will be
Dead or in penury."
Bokara made the decision to sell the plantation asking $15 million. A foreign buyer was expected to close.

In 2012, it was purchased by Tradeland Investors Inc., owned by Gregory Callimanopulos and his family. It is not open to the public.

For more about Summerville go to Visiting Summerville.