If you go
What: Mackey Hill will give an updated presentation of his Archdale findings. An informal reception will follow.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Room 309 of the Simons Center at the College of Charleston.
Cost: Free and open to the public.
Before Drayton Hall, the Lowcountry had other grand plantation homes that were cutting edge architectural statements for the New World.
One of them was Archdale Hall, which once stood across the Ashley River from Middleton Place and Magnolia plantations.
And while this home has been gone for more than a century, a victim of the 1886 earthquake, fragments of it live on.
Macky Hill, a lifelong architecture student, preservationist, Realtor and historian, has been working hard to track down these fragments and weave them into a more complete picture of a remarkable house.
“It’s so different than what we thought Colonial architecture in Charleston was,” he says. “It might be unique, but I doubt it.”
Today, most of what survives of the house is a pile where the front stairs once were and a few other foundation fragments surrounded by North Charleston’s Archdale neighborhood.
But there are also a few old photos surviving showing six views so far.
While the bulk of the home stood briefly after the earthquake, it was never repaired and collapsed within a few weeks.
“Charleston was flattened, and no one was coming out halfway to Summerville,” Hill says. “Fortunately, (photographer) George Cook got out there.”
Archdale Hall was the centerpiece of a plantation that had hundreds of acres on the eastern bank of the Ashley.
Hill says what makes it so interesting is that its architecture isn’t the familiar Georgian-Palladian example of Drayton Hall but the earlier, English Baroque architectural style.
The style also is referred to as Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702-14 (and is totally different from the late 19th-century Queen Anne Victorian style).
“This is more of a Renaissance classicism than the disciplined Palladian classicism, which became the vogue after 1715,” he says.
Its most important details were its large, elaborately carved brick cartouche above the entry and the giant Order pilasters at the corners.
“Nothing like it has been found before in colonial America,” Hill says, “but chances are that if this one existed, surely others must have as well. Archdale looks like something straight out of a London suburb between 1685 and 1720, just before the Palladian Revival style swept in with the new Royal House of Hanover in 1715.”
Hill isn’t sure yet when the house was built, but while educated guesses place the date between 1706 and 1740, the evidence points to an early date, possibly before 1718, the year William Baker, its builder, died.
As far as its architectural importance, Hill says, “It really doesn’t matter when the building was built. Just this door surround is a rarity. Gauged brickwork is a really high end, gilded master guild skill, and carved brick is higher still. There weren’t many builders who could pull it off working in the Colonies, and nothing this elaborate has been found this side of the Atlantic before.”
Hill is referring to one of the home’s signature features: a large and elaborate carved brick crest above its front door.
He recently visited the Charleston Museum, which received a box of artifacts from Archdale in 1975.
There, Martha Zierden, director of archaeology, had searched the museum’s collections, and Hill discovered pieces of carved bricks, including one with the top of an angel’s wing, a design that matches up with a surviving photograph.
Since the bricks’ origins are so important, the Charleston Museum is making them available for study by the scientists at Clemson University’s Lasch Conservation Lab. There, materials science specialists are analyzing their composition.
“We’re trying to figure out if these bricks were English made or South Carolina made,” he says.
Hill isn’t sure where his research will lead him next, or even when he will stop seeking answers. “There is so much we don’t know that is knowable,” he says. “But it’s not a nice, simple, logical, sequential project. It’s like a crime novel happening in four different locations and four different time periods.”
With so few surviving Lowcountry buildings or ruins dating before 1740, those answers could shed new light into the early history of one of the nation’s wealthiest Colonies.
Other questions include: who designed the house; what was its interior plan; and how was money made at Archdale?
Hill is getting emails from interested experts all over with suggestions and ideas, and the response motivates him to dig deeper.
“Next week,” he says, “we’ll know things we didn’t know today.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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