Charleston’s rich architectural history dates back to the 17th century. The Old Exchange Building represents the early, Colonial style. The Georgian period is characterized by symmetrical facades with a centered front entrance and 5 windows facing frontward. The Heyward Washington House is a great example. Beginning in the late 1700s this style gained in popularity and may be seen in many residences.
The Federalist period followed the Revolutionary war. Home designs incorporated lavish elements such as balconies, shutters, and palladium windows. The Rhett-Aiken House is a noted example of the Federalist architectural period.
As Charlestonians gained wealth they embraced the NeoClassical architectural style and constructed homes of considerable grandeur. This design period gained popularity in the years leading up to the Civil War. Neoclassical architecture is characterized by columns, smooth walls, and arched windows. The Charleston County Courthouse at the “Four Corners of Law” offers a good example of the Neoclassical architectural style in Charleston, South Carolina.
Gothic Revival, Italianate, Victorian, and Art Deco periods followed. Few cities in the United States are as diversely represented in architectural styles as Charleston, SC. These multiple examples of design are a significant contributor to the rich historical tapestry of the city’s character and charm.
Step back in time, and plan a day to enjoy Charleston historic house tours. See our list of locally recommended Charleston Historic Home Tours below!
The Best Historic Home Tours in Charleston, SC
1. Heyward-Washington House
Begin your tour at the infamous Heyward-Washington House. This Georgian-style double home offers the only glimpse at a kitchen building of this period. The home was constructed in 1772. This historically significant dwelling was the home of Thomas Heyward, Jr., one of the four South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence.
George Washington was a guest here during a visit to Charleston in 1791. This home served as the first home in the city to become a museum. The Heyward-Washington garden is a hidden gem behind the enclosed, brick walls.
Meticulously maintained, the garden is an excellent representation of 18th gardening in Charleston.
It incorporates elements of Georgian and Neoclassical design.
Wealthy Charleston merchant Nathaniel Russell built the home for his family in 1808. The three story cantilevered staircase is a stunning centerpiece in this exceptional residence on the High Battery in Charleston.
- Tours of the Nathaniel Russel House, an elite 19th-century home are available daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
3. Aiken-Rhett House
After your visit at the Nathaniel Russell House, you must also visit the Aiken-Rhett House. This complex offers an important, and educational perspective of life in the 1800s.
The back buildings, where slaves lived, offer visitors a unique opportunity to learn of the conditions and life endured by enslaved African peoples. This antebellum home was once owned by the powerful and wealthy Governor William Aiken.
Today, the Aiken-Rhett House is one of the best-preserved townhouse complexes in the United States.
- Tours are available daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you would like to save money on house tours at Nathaniel Russell and Aiken-Rhett, buy a combination ticket.
4. Edmondston-Alston House
When visitors think of Charleston, homes on the High Battery evoke an iconic image. The Edmondston-Alston house’s waterfront location commands stunning views of Charleston Harbor.
The Edmondston-Alston House has survived hurricanes, the earthquake of 1888 and the Civil War.
Add this one for a perfect waterside museum tour. Many period pieces of furniture, artwork, and silver are original to the owners of this historic residence.
- Tours are limited so plan in advance.
- Monday's from 1 pm - 4 pm
- Tuesday - Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm
5. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
No list of Charleston house tours is complete without Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Recently, Travel + Leisure named Magnolia one of America’s most beautiful gardens.
The plantation was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family and is the oldest public garden in America.
Not only can you tour the gardens, but you can also tour the Plantation House where the Drayton family once lived.
- Tours of Magnolia's Plantation House run daily from 10 am - 3:30 pm
Mansions in Charleston, SC
6. Joseph Manigault House
The Manigaults became one of South Carolina’s leading families, working as rice planters and merchants in the 18th Century after fleeing religious persecution in Europe in the 1600’s.
Constructed in 1803, the Joseph Manigault House represents the urban lifestyle of a wealthy Southern rice plantation family.
This brick antebellum residence was designed by the Scottish, Neoclassical architect Robert Adam.
The exterior features a two story porch, elaborate windows and exterior doors. Inside, the interior is crafted in rich woodwork details as seen in the fireplace mantels, cornices, and doors. You’ll find period pieces and furniture from France, Europe and America as well as original color schemes throughout the rooms.
The Joseph Manigault House, also referred to as Charleston’s Huguenot House was threatened with demolition, but a group of caring Charlestonians organized to save the home. It was purchased by the Charleston Museum in 1933 for purposes of preservation.
This was the birth of the Preservation Society of Charleston.
- Tours begin daily at 10:00 am.
- If you’re looking to tour The Charleston Museum, The Heyward Washington House and the Joesph Manigault House, buy the 3 site ticket. The more you see, the more you save!
7. Calhoun Mansion
Calhoun Mansion is one of Charleston’s most unique house tours. As you wander the halls and rooms of this 19th-century home, you will discover historic art collections, antiques, furniture, and more.
Not only is the mansion stunning, but the relics inside of it give visitors a glimpse into the lives of the people of Old Charleston.
- All Tours of the Calhoun Mansion are currently cancelled during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
- When the Calhoun Mansion resumes we’ll update tour offerings and times here.
Interesting Facts About Charleston History
Charleston's history is riddled with important political figures, unique heritage, devastating fires, and costly wars. Throughout the course of American history, Charleston has played a vital role in our country’s development.
Here are just a few Charleston history facts you’ll learn on a vacation to the area:
- The first theater in America, the Dock Street Theater, was built in colonial Charleston in 1736. It is located on iconic Church Street, Charleston SC.
- America’s first museum is The Charleston Museum, founded in 1773.
- Four Charleston natives – Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas Lynch Jr., Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge, signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Take a tour around the city and you’ll recognize these old Charleston family names!
- Charleston was the site of the Battle of Fort Sullivan, the first decisive victory in the Revolutionary War
- The first game of golf played in America was in Charleston in 1788
- The Ordinance of Secession, which led to the Civil War, was signed in Charleston in 1860.
- The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in 1861
How to Learn More about Charleston History
With so many great ways to learn about the Holy City, there is something for everyone in Charleston. You’ll find a wide variety of historic places to visit and educational things to do. Here are just a few recommendations:
Take A Charleston Sightseeing Tour
Charleston sightseeing tours are an easy and fun way to learn about Charleston from an expert. Many of the area’s local guides are Charlestonians with ties to the city that go back 5, 8, or even 10 generations! Others are historians who have developed an extensive knowledge of the Lowcountry through years and years of study. Whether you take a guided walking tour, fun boating excursion, classic carriage ride, or unique and spooky ghost tour, these options provide education and excitement all in one.
Visit a Historic Site or Museum
Another great way to learn about Charleston is by visiting a historic site or museum. The Charleston Museum, America’s first museum, is a great place to start. Then, head to any of these other great museums in downtown Charleston:
- The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry
- The Gibbes Museum of Art
- Old Slave Mart Museum
- Postal Museum
- Karpeles Manuscript Museum
- The North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum and Education Center
In addition, Charleston has a wide variety of important forts and military sites, original historic homes, and century-old buildings to explore. Whether you take a ferry onto the Charleston Harbor, or you wander Charleston’s old, cobbled streets, you can visit these educational sites near downtown Charleston:
- Historic Charleston City Market
- Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
- Fort Sumter or Fort Moultrie
If you are looking for fun ways to explore the Charleston peninsula, read our blog on the city’s best walking tours! If your dreams include owning a piece of Charleston history, contact Pam Harrington Exclusives for a current list of historic Charleston homes for sale.
Historic Homes in Charleston, SC for Sale
Owning a historic home in Charleston offers a unique opportunity to be a part of America’s history. You are helping to continue and preserve the historical charm of Charleston.
Pam Harrington Exclusives is a leader in Charleston real estate, serving historic Charleston and the islands for over 45 years.
When it comes to buying a historic home in Charleston, it is vital to work with a realtor who understands the nuances of historic home ownership from the Charleston BAR building restrictions, to historic tax credits, and other specialty considerations.
When you are ready to become a part of our history, we are here to assist you.