During the weekends, Fridays through Sundays, the Museum Mile Weekend Pass offers good value. The tickets are $25 per person and $10 for children. For those coming on my private tour, we do not go into museum houses, only private homes and gardens. I LOVE these museum houses and got my start giving tours in them in college. If you come on a week day for my tour, offered Mondays through Fridays, plan to take advantage of the Museum Mile Weekend Pass. If you order it, it is best to start with it on Friday morning. Schedule a tour with me either Thursday before or Monday after if you can stay that long. Artist Elizabeth O’Neill Verner said, ” If you are weary of the syncopated unrest of a crazy world, come here and set your feet to a saner tempo…for the streets (AND MUSEUMS) of Charleston have some thing to give those who walk them in a receptive mood that will make life forever richer.”
One of the museums is The Governor Aiken -Rhett House, one of my favorites because IT IS PRESERVED rather than “renovated.” The collection is original and tells the story of Gov AIKEN, known for “moderation in all things,” and his daughter marrying the son of the Fire Eater, Senator Robert Barnwell RHETT, who argued for independence for the State of South Carolina; thus the name the Gov. Aiken-Rhett House, at 48 Elizabeth St.
Another favorite is the Powder Magazine on 79 Cumberland St near St. Philips and the Market. It is a humble little building that carried a big bang. It is where the gun powder was stored to defend Charleston fr0om invasion from Spaniards and French and Indians in the Colonial period of the 18th century. It will be celebrating its 300th anniversary soon. The man who was Powder Receiver was the most respected man in the colony; he had the security of the entire city on his shoulders. The moving of that gun powder to the Powder Magazine was the sensitive bomb with a bang. The groin architecture is European in strength and beauty, three feet thick.
The Confederate Museum is upstairs in the Market Hall facing Meeting Street and Charleston Place at the foot of Beaufain and where the Market begins. It is lost in time, the collection having been dropped off by individual Confederate soldiers here in Charleston for a reunion 20 years after The War. I had saved it in my youth so that I would have something still to discover in Charleston. One day I was asked by the Preservation Society to give a tour for Lord and Lady Salisbury. It was raining torentially. They wanted to go anyway. In particular, he wanted to go to the Confederate Museum. They were elegant, beautifully mannered people. He was the epitome of a perfect gentleman, racing around as fast as a servant to open my door for me and to anticipate my every need. God bless him. He wanted to go to the Confederate Museum. This was OVER 20 years ago. Doubtfully, I told him it was not professionally done with choice collections under glass and climate controlled, that experts had told me that it should have been on many floors, not all together packed into one room. He taught me a lasting lesson when he said,”Young lady, THAT IS A REAL MUSEUM!” The Daughters of the Confederacy run the museum and took the collection home to air dry after the roof was blown off in Hurricane Hugo in 1989. They are committed to providing this access to the real memorabilia of the Confederacy.
The Edmondston-Alston House at 21 East Battery is where I worked during college and then as assistant administrator after graduating from the College of Charleston. It overlooks the harbor and Ft. Sumter, where The War started 150 years ago. Hester Bateman silver is in the dining room, exquisite. Susan Pringle Alston portrait is there, too, which she had painted on her grand tour of Europe, probably by a street artist in Paris or Florence, as my daughter Olivia did. The frame and style are the same as one we see in a private home on my tour from the same period. The books in the library and the furniture are all original to the Alston family, rice planters, reflecting the interests and lifestyle of this Charleston aristocratic family. Charles Alston’s father married the Pringle daughter at the Miles Brewton House on lower King with the cheveau de frise, the spikey iron fence. His father was Wm. Alston, called King Billy! See the book by Richard Cote, Mary’s World.
Who can come to Charleston without seeing the free flying eliptical staircase of the Nathanial Russell House, 51 MeetingSt.? It is the quintessential Adam style house, which never went out of style in Charleston. Who can say they have seen Charleston if they have never seen Thomas Elfe furniture, our premiere cabinet maker from the 18th century? His work is prolific in the Heyward- Washington House. Note the letters from Edward Rutledge asking President George Washington to stay at his house, and George Washington’s carefully worded regret, saying he could show no favoritism, that he must rent a house.The kitchen house and formal garden are worth the visit, maintained by The Garden Club of Charleston.
The Gibbes Museum of Art is a very human scale art museum at 135 Meeting where you can see the faces of the people Who Built This City.
See the old Exchange and Provost Dungeon at the foot of Broad, where the British imprisoned signers of the Declaration of Independence along with common criminals during the British siege of Charleston. It is also where the tea was stored by locals from the Charleston Tea Party, the FIRST 18th century tea party in America before those more flamboyant in Boston took the credit, thus the name of my tour!
For a complete, unbiased listing, see www.charlestonmuseummile.org or the Charleston Visitors Center, where the tickets may be purchased.