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 backlot. Together, the house and its surviving furnishings offer a compelling portrait of urban life in antebellum Charleston while telling the story of a Southern politician, slaveholder, and industrialist. The complex spent 142 years in the Aiken family's hands before being sold to the Charleston Museum and opened as a museum house in 1975. Take a look inside in the video below!
When the Historic Charleston Foundation assumed ownership in 1995, it 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 sculptures 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—survived virtually untouched since the 1850s, allowing visitors the unique chance to better comprehend the everyday realities of the enslaved Africans who lived on-site, maintained the household, and catered to the needs of the Aiken family and their guests. The museum is open daily from 10 AM - 5 PM, with the last tour starting at 4 PM. Tours are self-guided audio tours. Single and combination tickets are available, with combination tickets also giving visitors access to the Nathaniel Russell House Museum. Tap the link below for more information on ticket prices, tours, and group rates.
Cover photo courtesy of the Historic Charleston Foundation