Nathaniel Russell House, Charleston

Nathaniel Russell House, Charleston (must see)

Nathaniel Russell, a prominent shipping merchant, chose to erect his grand "mansionhouse" on Meeting Street, strategically located within view of the busy wharves that fueled his prosperity. In 1808, at the age of 71, Russell's opulent residence was completed, at a reported cost of $80,000—an astronomical sum for its time. Inspired by the architectural style of English designer Robert Adam, who drew influence from the recently unearthed classical designs discovered in the Italian excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Russell's new abode showcased a blend of elegance and classical influence.

Visitors today are immediately captivated by the breathtaking elliptical staircase, seemingly floating through three floors without any apparent support, set against a backdrop of golden walls in the stair hall. The Adamesque embellishments adorning the mantels and cornices of the fireplaces here also rank among the most intricate in the city.

Elegantly proportioned rooms exhibit a splendid array of Charleston, English, and French furnishings, including precious china, silver, and paintings. The oval drawing room on the second floor stands out as the most lavishly adorned space, and served as the retreat for women after dinner. Draped in an apricot palette, it features ornate plaster moldings coated with 24-karat gold leaf.

Unlike most other Charleston house museums, the Russell House has never been through a sad period of decline and disrepair. First as a fine town house, then as the home of a South Carolina governor, and later as a school for girls and even a convent, 51 Meeting Street has always been a respected and cared-for landmark. Today it is owned and operated by Historic Charleston Foundation, an organization that has done much to preserve and illuminate the city's architectural heritage.

To the south of the house lies a formal English garden with gravel paths, boxwood hedges, and 19th-century botanical favorites. At the rear, you'll find the two-story slave quarters that once accommodated the 18 enslaved individuals who lived and worked on the property.

Tip:
It's a good idea to arrive early, especially if you're planning a weekend tour. Online tickets don't come with specific time slots, and on-site tours are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. While you're in the area, consider exploring the nearby old graveyard before or after your visit to the house. If you're interested, you can also opt for an additional fee to access the sister Aiken-Rhett House, farther uptown.

Want to visit this sight? Check out these Self-Guided Walking Tours in Charleston. Alternatively, you can download the mobile app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store. The app turns your mobile device to a personal tour guide and it works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Nathaniel Russell House on Map

Sight Name: Nathaniel Russell House
Sight Location: Charleston, USA (See walking tours in Charleston)
Sight Type: Attraction/Landmark
Guide(s) Containing This Sight:

Walking Tours in Charleston, South Carolina

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