The Aiken-Rhett House Museum

In this post, we share everything you need to know about visiting the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston. This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area, and it is also the home of one of the most well preserved mansions that Charleston has to offer, making it all the more appealing. 

Getting There
Tickets & Hours
Events
History & Architecture
Free Tours by Foot


GETTING THERE

The Aiken-Rhett House is based to the north of the so called Museum Mile, which is situated in the heart of Charleston. 

Address: 48 Elizabeth St, Charleston, SC 29403, USA


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TICKETS & HOURS

The Aiken-Rhett House is included on the Charleston Heritage Pass. Choose between a 2, 3, or 7 day pass. Read our post on the Heritage Pass to learn more and check out Charleston on a Budget for more money-saving tips. 

Single House Ticket:

  • Adult: $12.00
  • Child 6-16: $5.00
  • Under 6: Free

Combination Ticket:
(Visit both Aiken-Rhett and Nathaniel Russell House Museums)

  • Adult  Combo: $18.00
  • Child 6-16 Combo: $10.00

Hours: Daily 10 am – 5 pm (Last tour at 4:15 pm.) Tours are self-guided audio tours.


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EVENTS

Festival of Houses and Gardens 

One of the most popular events to take place in Charleston every year, the Festival of Houses and Gardens invites the public to tour more than 150 private houses and gardens in the historic district of the city. Each property dates back to anywhere from the Georgian and Antebellum periods into the early 20th century, and ‘showcases Charleston’s distinctive architecture, history, gardens, and culture.’ Tickets are available from November and tend to sell out quick, so be sure to get yours as soon as possible. All proceeds benefit Historic Charleston Foundation. 

Read our post Things to Do in Charleston in March to learn more. 

Charleston Antiques Show

Described as a celebration of antiques and design. Collectors and enthusiasts gather together to 7th to mid–century modern English, European, and American period furnishings, decorative arts & fine art, architectural elements, garden furniture, vintage jewelry, silver and more.


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HISTORY & ARCHITECTURE

Architecture

According to National Register of Historic Places nomination form, the Aiken-Rhett House “exemplifies the changes which Aiken-Rhett House Museumoccurred in architectural design during the first half of the 19th Century.  The upper floors reflect the refined qualities (in both woodwork and proportion) of the late Federal period.  The main floor exemplifies the height of the Greek Revival design, while the art gallery (added in 1858) indicates a movement into the Victorian era.”   

48 Elizabeth Street

This property was built on 48 Elizabeth Street, by John Robinson, a merchant of the area. In 1827, Robinson lost a number of his ships in his fleet and he had to sell the property. It was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Aiken, who were extremely wealthy citizens of Charleston during that time. The property wasn’t the primary residence of the Aiken’s, however, since they used it as a rental unit.

Aiken was an immigrant from Ireland and he had managed to amass a large fortune during his time as a merchant in the city. He died very suddenly in a carriage accident, however, and so the house was then passed on to his son, Aiken Jr. who continued to renovate and build onto the property. Many of the pieces that were collected from their travels can still be seen in the house today. In fact, many of the pieces are in precisely the same rooms they were initially placed by Aiken his wife.

The Second Expansion

One of the things that makes the Aiken-Rhett House truly remarkable is that it was kept in such good condition. During the 1850s, an expansion was conducted on the property and this only added to the allure of the place. Aiken Jr. was a very successful rice planter and politician. Gov. Aiken made the decision to enlist Joseph Daniel Aiken, his cousin, to not only design but also to oversee the construction of the art gallery within the home, which happens to be one of a kind.

The library is another impressive facet of the building. It contains over 2000 books that were published during the 1800s and many of them can be seen in the Charleston Library Society archives today. It is interesting to note that many of the volumes were actually signed by members of the family.

Slavery and the Aiken-Rhett House Museum

Before the Civil War, the Aiken-Rhett House was home to African American slaves who maintained the home and waited on the family. Some of the positions that these slaves held included cook, laundress, footmen, seamstress and gardener, among others. There is documentation that was found that showed the names of about 14 of the slaves that lived and worked at Aiken-Rhett House. These names included; Victoria, Charles, Elizabeth, Rachel, Sambo and Dorcas Richardson, Ann, Tom and Henry Greggs and Julia, among others. The documentation shows that some of the slaves remained in the house after they were emancipated.

The slaves resided in the slave quarters that were situated at the back of the house. They would eat in a communal kitchen. Studies of the grounds have shown that many rooms within these quarters contained fireplaces, and the rooms were painted very vibrant colors.

 

The Death Of William Aiken Jr.

William Aiken Jr. died in North Carolina in 1887 and the property was passed on to his wife and daughter. His wife lived on the property until she died in 1892 and it then became the residence of her daughter and son-in-law. When her daughter, Henrietta died, it was passed on to her children, and then again on to their heirs.

Due to the care and consideration that went into maintaining the property, it was only in the 1870s that the property left the ownership of William’s family. After it left the hands of William’s family, it was donated to the Charleston Museum, although it was purchased by the Charleston Foundation in the 1990s.

Anyone who is planning on visiting Charleston should take some time to pay a visit to the Aiken-Rhett House. This property is not only a landmark in this town but it also gives visitors a unique view of the history of this area and this makes it more than worth a visit.

Is The Aiken-Rhett Mansion Haunted?

Many people still think that the Aiken-Rhett House is haunted, with some people even claiming to see a woman roaming the halls of the house. Others claim to hear footsteps when no one else is around.


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