Tuesday, July 12, 2016

One Man's Sold Dream Becomes Another Man's Great Gain--Wentworth Mansion

The Second Empire Style bricked behemoth, characterized by its mansard roof and dormers,
benevolently stands four stories above Charleston's intersecting streets of Wentworth and Smith. To get a complete photograph of the impressive mansion, I had to cross over to the other side of Wentworth and Smith where I took an angled shot for the best panorama. Beyond the mansion’s encircling black wrought iron enclosure, the beautifully landscaped grounds beckoned me to enter through its front gate. I accepted the enticement and stepped over the threshold into the present past.

Constructed by the finest artisans of the day, the nearly 24,000 square foot architectural treasure was completed just in time to have its infrastructure rocked and its constitution tested. In August of 1886, The Great Earthquake of Charleston struck with violent fury. While bricks rained down onto the streets of the Holy City, the magnificent Wentworth home of wealthy cotton merchant, Francis Silas Rodgers, emerged from the upheaval virtually unscathed. It is considered one of the finest homes in Charleston.

Francis Rodgers had a dream. Not the kind you conceive in your sleep and awaken from, but more along the lines of a concept. With a family of 13, Rodgers had envisioned that the mansion be used to live in by his children and their children. He employed architect Daniel G. Wayne to bring it to reality.

Rodgers spared no expense in the building of his lavish mansion. The exterior was covered in Philadelphia pressed brick and the windows and quoins were finished in stone. Interior features included inlaid floors, two grand matching Italian chandeliers from Europe, marble mantles carved by sculptor Emile T. Viett, elaborate wooden staircases, a double parlor, Louis Comfort Tiffany glass panels, and a rooftop cupola with panoramic views of the city. A bas-relief cornice above the dining room window depicts a cotton plant, representative of Rodgers' business.

In regards to the two commissioned grand matching chandeliers, which still hang today in the grand mansion suite, it is said Rodgers brought back their maker to ensure proper installation.

The family flourished, but 34 years later his heirs sold it for $100,000 to the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association, who in 1940, sold it to the Atlantic Coast Life Insurance Company. The insurance company used it as their office headquarters until 1996, when Richard Widman had a dream of his own, purchased the unappreciated mansion, and changed its destiny.

Widman renovated the mansion with the noble resolve of preserving its famed historic features. Modern conveniences were added like gas-lit fireplaces, king-size sleigh beds, whirlpool tubs, and double glass-walled, walk-in showers, and air conditioning. After 18 months and 7 million dollars, the grand historic mansion opened as a 21-room, award- winning luxury hotel offering guests a true taste of Southern hospitality in an unsurpassed setting. Wentworth Mansion is a must-see for history buffs and a one-of-a-kind authentic Charleston experience where patrons are immersed into luxury living and good ole Southern hospitality at its best. The year was 1998 and this was only the first phase of Widman's plans.

In 2000, Widman converted the carriage house behind the home, which once housed the stables and carriages, into Circa 1886, today a AAA Four Diamond, Forbes Four Star award-winning restaurant. In 2004, the structure that was originally used as the stable for the Mansion was renovated to house the Spa at Wentworth Mansion. The 1,000 square foot spa offers patrons a full range of treatments.

Wentworth Mansion has been named the #1 Small City Hotel in the U.S. in the 2015 Travel and Leisure World's Best Awards, #2 Best Hotel in Charleston of the Top 25 Best Hotels in the U.S. in the 2015 Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards, and One of the Top 50 Hotels in the U.S. in the 2015 US News.

Amenities: Southern breakfast served from 7:30-10:30 a.m. at Circa 1886 restaurant; afternoon tea and lemonade from 2-4 p.m.; evening wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres from 5-6 p.m.

Specials and packages.

Average rates depending on room selection: August--$440-$595, January--$359-$800, April--$460-$610.

(All photos are original work except the photo of the chandeliers--courtesy of Wentworth Mansion.)

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