The Calhoun Mansion in Charleston is considered one of the most important pieces of Victorian architecture on the Eastern Seaboard. Wealthy Charleston merchant George Williams completed his 24,000-square-foot mansion in 1876. It was built on a lot known as the Lowndes House lot, once owned by Governor Charles Pinckney a signer of the United States Constitution. Williams purchased the lot with $40,000 in Confederate money. Williams built the home as a testament to his belief that Charleston would rise from the ruins of the Civil War.
He managed to remain solvent through the war, with more than $1 million in capital at the war’s end. He quickly resumed his businesses after the war and even founded the Carolina Savings Bank. To help stimulate Charleston’s economic recovery, he hired Charleston architect William P. Russell to design the home local builders and artisans to construct it. It took them took five years and Williams $200,000 to finish the project. When the home was completed, the Charleston News and Courier deemed it “the handsomest and most complete private residence in the South.”
The home contains 25 rooms with 14-foot-tall ceilings. It boasts 23 fireplaces and lighting by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The manse features a stairwell that extends to a 75-foot-high domed ceiling as well as a music room that boasts a 45-foot-high glass skylight. After Williams died in 1903, his son-in-law, Patrick Calhoun, grandson of John C. Calhoun, acquired the property.
John C. Calhoun was a South Carolina statesman and Vice President of the United States from 1825 through 1832. Williams died in 1903, and the home changed hands over the subsequent years. It even became a hotel called the Calhoun Mansion for a while after World War I.
The home fell later into disrepair over the decades until it was finally condemned in 1972. A private resident then purchased the home in 1976 for $220,000 and restored it. The process took $5 million and 25 years. Upon completion, the owner opened a portion of it to tours as a house museum while living in another part of the mansion. A lawyer, the owner came under fire in the late 1980s for providing free lodging in the mansion for circuit court judges while they presided in the nearby Charleston County Courthouse. It was on the market in the early 2000s for $9.5 million and sold in 2004 to a private buyer. It continues to be operated as a house museum while also being used as a residence.
Gardens of the Calhoun Mansion