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What You Need to Know Before Visiting the Aiken-Rhett House
Originally built in 1820, and expanded twice in 1830 and 1850, the Aiken-Rhett House is one of the nation's best examples of a well-preserved townhouse complex from this era. The grounds include the main house, a kitchen, slave quarters, carriage block, and a back lot. This museum house offers a compelling portrait of life in 19th-century Charleston, both for the upper-class family who lived here and the scores of enslaved Africans who made their lifestyle possible. Explore the Aiken-Rhett House on your next visit to Charleston!
Charleston is home to some of the most unique history in the South. The Aiken-Rhett House offers an in-depth look into 19th-century life on a stunning estate in the heart of the city. This largely untouched home is an attraction that you won’t want to miss during your time in the Holy City.
Searching for more ways to make the most of your Charleston vacation? Our Charleston Insider’s Guide is full of the top shops, restaurants, historical sites, and much more!
The Aiken-Rhett House: Preserved History at Its Finest
Originally built in 1820, and expanded twice in 1830 and 1850, the Aiken-Rhett House is one of the nation’s best examples of a well-preserved townhouse complex from this era. The grounds include the main house, a kitchen, slave quarters, carriage block, and a back lot. This museum house offers a compelling portrait of life in 19th-century Charleston, both for the upper-class family who lived here and the scores of enslaved Africans who made their lifestyle possible.
Though both the Nathaniel Russell House and the Aiken-Rhett House are part of the Historic Charleston Foundation, they use different approaches in maintaining each museum over the years. While conservators meticulously restored the Nathaniel Russell House, they decided to take a preserved-as-found approach with the latter, where virtually altered nothing in throughout the home since the HCF assumed ownership in 1995. This means that all the furniture, finishes, and architecture are still intact, so visitors can view them in their original form. This includes the slave quarters, with original paint, floors, and fixtures dating to the 1850s, making this one of the very best places to see and understand the everyday realities of slave life in Charleston. The exception to this preserved-as-found strategy is the art gallery, which houses paintings and sculptures acquired by the Aiken family on their European Grand Tour in 1857-1858.
While a tour of the house museum is truly fascinating for adults, children may need a little extra excitement and hands-on engagement to inspire a love of history. If you’re traveling with kids, consider visiting during one of the Historic Charleston Foundation’s fun family activity days. Past summer events included a Family Fun Scavenger Hunt, where families will scour the house and grounds for certain objects, clues, and artifacts to discover more about the Aiken family and their servants and slaves. There will also be period games and crafts, as well as a mock archaeological dig in the yard.
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