Henrietta Aiken Rhett lived until 1918. After she died, 3 of her sons continued to live in the house. Being men, they made no substantial changes in it. The only married one, William, finally moved out. Probably surprising everyone, I’On Rhett abandoned bachelorhood in 1932 at the age of 55 by marrying Frances Hinson Dill. They closed off many rooms, which preserved them. When I’On died at age 83, Frances became sole heir and lived in Aiken-Rhett in just a few rooms until 1968. After she left, the house was simply closed up.
I learned much about the generations of families that lived in Aiken-Rhett and one odd footnote by buying the highly recommended Grandeur Preserved from The History Press in its gift shop and reading it in one sitting. The curious footnote told me that the cult movie The Swamp Thing was filmed in this house in 1981.
In 1995 the Historic Charleston Foundation took ownership of Aiken-Rhett and made a brilliant judgement call. Rather than restore and fill it with period furniture, it decided to leave it as it was, a mostly unchanged 19th century museum-home. There was one major exception, the easy-to-miss-while-touring art gallery. Like a lot of well-to-do 19th century couples, William and Harriet Aiken toured Europe and sent home enough art to fill one room. That room suffered water damage, and a decision was made to restore it to its original look. So what you see today throughout the house is largely the way it looked in 1858, including a lot of original furnishings.
Ruth’s 2 favorite areas were the art gallery and the wide, wrap-around porches on the front of the house. On the latter were 2 joggling boards, one usable. Ruth was enchanted by these combination swinging veranda seat and trampoline, a coastal South Carolina invention that can still be bought if you have a big enough porch. My favorites were the ornate interior, almost side-by-side staircases, and the oddly upstairs drawing room. A vast area used for entertaining, it contained an old harp and a couple of forlorn, sagging yet authentic 19th century circular conversation sofas. They made me determined to go home and replace our carpeting, throw out the old whatever, etc. This room especially shows what happens when you don’t update periodically.
If you’re lucky enough on your travels to visit Aiken-Rhett, get the audio tour and/or buy Grandeur Preserved to hear great stories about this frozen-in-time house including the tale of a lightning induced fire put out by a heroic maid who saved an in-progress wedding.