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Charleston's 19th Century Gem: The Aiken Rhett House

February 23, 2023

Visiting Charleston? Be sure to include the historic Aiken Rhett House Museum on your list. As you walk through each room of the museum, surrounded by this preserved 19th-century home, you'll get an amazing insight into the city's best architectural and historical legacy. The history is truly captivating!

Photo of the historic Aiken Rhett House in Charleston, SC
Courtesy of: Historic Charleston Foundation

The History of the Aiken Rhett House

The Aiken Rhett House, sometimes referred to as the William Aiken House, was built in 1820 by merchant John Robinson and sold shortly after in 1825 because of his dire financial situation from a poor business venture. Robinson sold the house to William Aiken, an Irish immigrant who earned wealth as a successful merchant. The house was a rental property until an accident led to his untimely death. At this point, his fortune was divided between his wife, Henrietta, and his only son, William Aiken Jr. 

In 1833, William Aiken Jr. married Harriet Lowndes, and they moved into the house as their primary residence. They made many renovations, earning their property a lofty reputation as one of the most impressive houses of the 19th century. As a wealthy businessman, politician, and governor, William Aiken Jr. went on multiple European tours and purchased many pieces of art that still hang in the Aiken Rhett House today.

After William died in 1887, the Charleston mansion was left to his wife and daughter. Once his wife passed in 1892, his daughter, Henrietta, and her husband lived in the residence with their five children. Similarly, once Henrietta and her husband passed, ownership of the Aiken Rhett House was split between their children and their heirs. I’On Rhett and Andrew Burnet Rhett, Jr. lived in the house until the mid-twentieth century. 

The Aiken Rhett House stayed within the family for 142 years before being sold to The Charleston Museum in 1975. It has been open to the public ever since.

The Aiken Rhett House was built in 1820.
Courtesy of: historylizzie.co.uk

Connection to Aiken, South Carolina

You may wonder, does this Aiken family legacy have a connection to Aiken, South Carolina? Yes! Aiken was one of the first railroad towns. It was built around the long railroad from Charleston to the Savannah River. The president of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company was none other than William Aiken, who first purchased the house from John Robinson. The town of Aiken, SC, is famous for this railroad and the Battle of Aiken that happened near the end of the Civil War on February 11, 1865. 

Interior of the Aiken Rhett house in Charleston, SC.
Courtesy of: Historic Charleston Foundation

The Living History of the Aiken Rhett House

While touring the house, you will discover the illustrious family history and gain an authentic 19th-century experience. As you stroll through the house and adjacent grounds with the original stables, kitchens, and slave quarters, you'll see the original paints and floors, bringing to life the conditions of those who lived there. This untouched and unfiltered piece of living history is what makes this museum a popular tourist attraction in Charleston.

Inside view of the living room in the Aiken Rhett House in Charleston, SC
Courtesy of: The Humble Fabulist

Is the Aiken Rhett House haunted?

One can't be sure if the Aiken Rhett House is truly haunted, but the sensation of being there may be enough to give anyone a chill. With its original, faded wallpaper, you can almost feel generations of Aiken family - notable men, women, and staff who once called it home.

Exterior view of the Aiken Rhett House in Charleston, SC
Courtesy of: Historic Charleston Foundation

Plan a visit to the Aiken Rhett House Museum

The Aiken Rhett House Museum is open daily from 10 am - 5 pm, with the last tour at 4:15. The 45-minute tour costs $15.00 for adults, $7.00 for children, and free for anyone under the age of 6. Tours are self-guided through a free multi-media app. There are no reserved times, so kindly plan your visit anytime within the operating hours at the museum at 48 Elizabeth Street. This location is just a short 15-minute walk from Old South Carriage Company, another activity that immerses you in Charleston's rich and charming history. You’ll love being transported into the city's enchanting past!

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