As you walk onto the pretty grounds of the Joseph Manigault House in Charleston, consider this: In 1920, a dry cleaners and a gas station sat on the corners of the lot and the charming Temple Gate structure in the garden housed the station's spare tires.
Thanks to the efforts of a group of Charlestonians, the property was saved. In 1949, the Charleston Museum inherited the house, and over the years has meticulously renovated the historic building.
Joseph Manigault, the original owner of the building, was a French Huguenot who fled to America to escape persecution in France. He amassed a fortune in America, thanks to his prosperous rice plantations.
Manigault was lucky enough to have an architect in the family. His brother, Gabriel Manigault - also credited with designing Charleston's City Hall and the South Carolina Society Hall - designed the house at 350 Meeting St. for his brother. The three-story brick home is a great example of the Adams or Federal style, which emphasized curved walls, ornamentation, and bright, pastel color schemes.
The show-stopping feature of the Joseph Manigault house is the beautiful, circular cantilevered staircase in the foyer. Visitors can even get a peek at how the stairs were tied into the rest of the house as they seem to float up to the higher stories. While the magnificent chandelier that it surrounds is not original to the house, (at the time that the house was first sold, lighting fixtures were considered furniture and moved with the family from house to house) it evokes the period wonderfully, giving visitors a sense of what the house would have been like in its prime.
If you ever have a chance to visit the house during the holiday season, you are in for a special treat. The Garden Club of Charleston decorates the mansion using live, local plant materials, and the stunningly beautiful creations made of evergreen, dried flowers and fruit, add a wonderful glow to the house for the Christmas season.
The Joseph Manigault House is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. with tours on the half hour. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children 3-12. Children younger than 3 are free. Combination tickets for the house tour and admission to the nearby Charleston Museum are a bargain at $16 for adults.