A Contemporary City with A Storied Past

Home tours in Charleston, South Carolina keep preservation efforts thriving

By Abby Deering
Photographs by Jay Vaughan

The Preservation Society of Charleston is one of the most forward-thinking groups in town. It’s little wonder given that the organization’s founder, Susan Pringle Frost, was one of the most progressive Charlestonians of the 20th century.

Frost was a prominent leader of the suffragette movement and the first female Realtor in Charleston. She was flipping houses before house flipping was cool, buying, restoring, and selling dilapidated homes on the east end of Tradd Street and lower East Bay.

A lot of the money for this early restoration work came from Northern creditors who shared Frost’s deep appreciation for Charleston’s architectural history. Other wealthy Northerners, however, were buying homes, ripping out interiors, and bringing the trappings back up North to display in museums.

To protect against this, as well as the demolition of buildings, such as the proposed demolition of the Joseph Manigault House to make way for a gas station in 1920, Frost formed (along with 12 women and two men) what is now the oldest member-based preservation organization in the country — a catalyst and standard for others throughout the nation.

Protecting the fabric of the city and the notion of livability have been inherent in Charleston’s preservation movement from its beginning and as it evolves.

“We’re not only talking about the material culture of the city, we’re talking about what it means to live in this city as it grows,” says Sandi Clerici, CFO of the Preservation Society.

Kristopher King, the organization’s executive director, describes modern-day preservationists as urbanists. “We’re interested in and focused on the built environment, for sure, but it’s also about community, character and culture.”

King and his team advocate tirelessly throughout the year, attending every Board of Architectural Review meeting (a group the Preservation Society helped form and the first in the country), every zoning board meeting, and every city council meeting. They’re not blocking development but ensuring thoughtful development so that Charleston continues to flourish as a vibrant, vital, growing city — a city like no other in America, thanks in large part to the work started by Frost in 1920.

The Fall Tours of Homes, History and Architecture, now in its 40th year, is the biggest fundraiser for the Preservation Society and provides the opportunity to educate a large number of people about the work they do and why it is so important.

Moreover, it’s an opportunity to tell stories. “We love to tell stories about who lived in the homes, what their lives were like, who they were, and who they were relative to one another. It’s just wild when you really dig deep into these houses’ histories and understand the houses and their inhabitants as characters who are part of a much larger story,” says Corie Hipp, director of communications.

Staying true to the ethos of livability, the Preservation Society is reducing the footprint with a smaller number of tours and patrons on each tour. What this means for guests are new and more exclusive ways to discover the city and its history.

Here’s a look at what the Fall Tours of Homes, History and Architecture has in store this year:

House and Garden Tours
Homeowners open the doors and garden gates to their private properties. Each Thursday through Sunday, self-guided tours are offered with no two being the same. Guests will visit a minimum of four or five private interiors and several personal gardens. Docents will share information about the houses, their periods, and what makes each property unique.

Living in History
Enjoy lunch at 82 Queen while presenters entertain guests with various narratives about Charleston’s storied past, as well as the city’s present-day challenges.

A Day on Cooper
On this day outing, members and guests will venture north of the city via coach to the scenic landscapes of the Lowcountry, a setting rich in history and important to making Charleston a prosperous city. The tour offers a glimpse into the people and history of the Cooper River plantations and today’s stewards who lovingly preserve them. This tour will also include a visit to a chapel of ease. A delicious picnic lunch will be provided.

Four for $40
New this year is an abbreviated tour called “Four for $40.” On Thursday, Oct. 13, folks can visit four noteworthy properties that will cater to those wanting to kick off their weekend by experiencing a taste of Charleston’s history and architecture.

Up Close and Personal
Professionals in their field or licensed tour guides will lead “Up Close and Personal,” a series of new offerings designed with a theme or educational component. Guests will visit with homeowners and gain access to exclusive behind-the-scene spaces. One such tour, “The Accidental Preservationist,” (the unofficial subtitle for this might be “So You Want to Buy a Historic Home?”) will have a homeowner take guests through her renovation journey, which started with a little bit of sleuthing and led to a tremendous amount of archeology.

Walking History Tours
Guided walking tours are offered every Thursday through Sunday. Back by popular demand, “The Inventions of Wings” tour, based on the Susan Monk Kidd novel of the same name, walks the same path as the Grimke sisters, the first American women advocates of abolition and women’s rights. The highly anticipated “Ironwork of Charleston” tour will explore the city’s beautiful ironwork.  E

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