Museum in the Midst: The Aiken-Rhett House, the former residence of Governor and Mrs. William Aiken Jr., remained in the family for 142 years, before the Charleston Museum bought it and opened it as a house museum in 1975. HCF assumed ownership in 1995, with a “preserved-as-found” approach.
Local artist Fletcher Williams’s “Promiseland” included works on paper and sculptural installations at the house, like these fence pickets in the slave quarters arranged as if in a dance-like dialogue.
First Lady of Preservation: Frances Ravenel Smythe Edmunds, the first director of Historic Charleston Foundation, became a leading figure in the 20th-century preservation movement not only in Charleston, but in the nation. Under her visionary leadership, the revolving fund was established, resulting in preservation of the Ansonborough neighborhood (where she is pictured) and became a model replicated by other preservation groups.
1947 - Historic Charleston Foundation is incorporated; its founders include architect Albert Simons (left) and Robert Whitelaw
1947 - Begins the Festival of Houses & Gardens.
1950 - Leads efforts to save Bennett Rice Mill.
Winslow Hastie has served as HCF president and CEO for the last four and a half years, following a decade as chief preservation officer. “Preservation is really about looking forward,” he says.
Susan Pringle Frost founded the Society for the Preservation of Old Buildings (today’s Preservation Society of Charleston) in 1920.
1955 - Purchases the Nathaniel Russell House
1957 - Establishes the nation’s first revolving fund to rehabilitate the Ansonborough neighborhood.
1974 - The Nathaniel Russell House is designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Ansonborough neighborhood in downtown Charleston.
1977-78 - Takes leading role in the development of Charleston Place Hotel.
1982 - Establishes easement program.
Enduring Legacy: Like Edmunds, Katharine “Kitty” Robinson (pictured at the HCF’s Nathaniel Russell House) first started as an HCF volunteer; she served 17 years as president and CEO. During her tenure, many events, like Charleston Antiques Show, and initiatives were established, including expanding the foundation’s reach as collaborator and convener on numerous civic issues.
1995 - Purchases the Aiken-Rhett House and adopts the “preserved-as-found” approach.
Fostering Dialogue: Over the years, HCF has sponsored numerous public forums, such as the May 2022 Advocacy Forum (above), to bring together national experts and local leaders to address key issues facing the city, from tourism management to flooding to housing affordability and density.
Rising Above: In 2018, HCF published guidelines for elevating historic homes to protect them from sea level rise. “Today, we know that we must accommodate the elevation of historic buildings where warranted and where possible in order to create resiliency for our buildings and historic districts and to ensure their very survival,” HCF shared on its blog.
2006 - Leads the mayor’s Walled City Task Force.
2012 - Commissions an independent economic impact study of the cruise ship industry in Charleston.
2013 - Initiates the Women Who Impact Preservation Program.
The ribbon cutting at the announcement of the HCF-sponsored Palmetto Community Land Trust heralded a new tool to mitigate gentrification and safeguard housing affordability.
The Romney Street Urban Garden.
Enduring Easements: The tried-and-true strategy of using interior and exterior easements remains an effective preservation tool. Case in point: this 18th-century home on Legare Street that HCF bought to safeguard from ruin. The foundation placed the interiors under easement and subsequently sold the property to new owners who took advantage of easement tax benefits to renovate it in 2014.
2017 - Starts the Nathaniel Russell Kitchen House Project, examining the lives of the enslaved people who lived and worked there.
2018 - Begins Phase One of the Pine Tree Hotel Project to help rehabilitate the historic building at Mosquito Beach.
Before & After: This historical freedman’s cottage on Romney Street was fully restored by HCF in partnership with the City of Charleston, as part of HCF’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. Next door is the Romney Street Urban Garden.
“[Preservation] is shifting from being about buildings to being more about people, neighborhoods, culture, all the things that are intangible but nonetheless vital.” —Winslow Hastie