It’s impossible to walk downtown Charleston without passing a historic home. The city is filled with dwellings that have been charming the streets of the Holy City since the 1700 and 1800s. One of those houses is the Nathaniel Russell House at 51 Meeting St.
Owned and managed by the Historic Charleston Foundation since 1955, this house is recognized as one of America’s most important neoclassical dwellings. It’s also the foundation’s headquarters for its work in preserving and protecting the historical, architectural and material culture that make up Charleston’s heritage.
A National Historic Landmark, the interior has been restored to its original 1808 grandeur and is surrounded by formal gardens.
Who was Nathaniel Russell? A Rhode Island native, Russell came to Charleston in 1765 at the age of 27. Charleston was already a booming seaport and, in another decade, the city would have a per capita wealth nearly four times that of all the American colonies. Charleston was the place to be.
Russell took advantage of Charleston’s bustling economy. As a merchant, he was shipping cargo to and from New England, the West Indies, South America, Virginia, Great Britain, continental Europe, West Africa and Asia. Russell exported items like Carolina Gold rice, indigo, tobacco and cotton as well as the African slave trade.
Russell married Sarah Hopton, daughter of one of Charleston’s wealthiest merchants. They had two daughters, Alicia and Sarah. The family lived in their Meeting Street home until 1857. The house was owned by Gov. R.F.W. Allston and later was a school for the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy from 1870-1905, until it was converted back to a private residence.
Today the house is open to public tours so visitors can see the collection of Russell family items along with artifacts like pottery and beads from the slaves who maintained the grand townhouse.
The Nathaniel Russell House is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12 adults; $5 children 6-16; under 6 free.