Like much of old Charleston, Fenwick Hall Plantation is dripping with history. Soon, the pre-Revolutionary War home could add a new chapter to its storied past as it once again hits the market.
Asking price: $8.875 million.
Built long before America became a nation, the once-expansive agricultural property hugging the Stono River was occupied by the British during the War of Independence and later used as a field hospital by Union forces during the Civil War.
Owners came and went after John Fenwick erected the original manor house in 1730. It was twice added onto, and much of the land was eventually sold off to developers.
The moss-flung plantation, framed by magnolias and home to resident geese, fell into neglect at the beginning and end of the last century, with leaks and overgrown brush masking the grandeur of the two-story mansion at the end of a long avenue of majestic oaks.
At one point in the late 1900s, the home off River Road served as a treatment center for alcohol and drug abuse victims, though alterations to the original cypress paneling and added fire suppression features disrupted the interior character somewhat.
Now, most of the remaining 55 acres of the original plantation and the manor — with its five bedrooms, four and a half baths and 13 fireplaces — is up for sale.
Whoever buys the 7,818-square-foot house will probably have to invest another $1.5 million to restore the manor to its former glory.
The home, with its heart pine floors and cypress paneling, is in the throes of renovation.
Ripped-up carpet remnants and building materials litter many of the unfinished, empty rooms as they sit in disarray.
Unlike some of the former plantation properties around Charleston, Fenwick Hall is not open to the public. It's privately owned by hedge fund sponsor John C. Pernell, the president of Polaris Investment Partners, who bought it for $3.6 million in 2000 and operates his business from the site.
By the time Pernell purchased the property, the main house had sat empty for five years after the hospital pulled out, its roof leaked and the entire parcel was overgrown and neglected.
Only one set of the magnificent two rows of oak trees leading to the house was visible, and the entire back side of the tract behind the house was filled with brush.
"I didn't know the second row of trees was there," Pernell said. "I dug up over 1,200 trees, planted back about 400 and counted 285 oaks on the property."
Now, with its driveway flanked by two easily visible rows of moss-dangling oaks and the surrounding grounds manicured, the site represents a slice of the past surrounded by the ever-encroaching development of the present.
"It's a spectacular property," Pernell said while walking the historic tract and pointing out a flock of visiting geese in the distance.
In addition to a restored carriage house, the site includes a rental cottage Pernell called "The Kitchen House" and several modern structures from the hospital era, now used mainly for storage.
The buildings, with kitchens and amenities, could be transformed into duplex rental cottages or used as set-up sites for outdoor functions, Pernell said.
"If someone buys this for an event planning space, everything is here," said Patty Byrne of Handsome Properties, which is handling the property's sale.
Special events, such as weddings, sometimes set up tents near the allee of oaks. Other private events could be held there as well.
Pernell is selling all but about three acres where his offices are located on the property's edge because, at 65, he wants to simplify his life.
"Eighteen years is enough. I want to go to a less-crowded space," he said of the buildup of Johns Island around the old plantation that was annexed into the city of Charleston in 1985. "It's time to pass it along to the next owner."
He's thinking of moving to some family land in North Carolina, but he also maintains a small parcel in Maine.
Interestingly, Pernell, who lives on what remains of the once-extensive plantation, has never stayed in the manor. He now resides in a restored, two-story carriage house beside the mansion.
Pernell hopes the next owner will finish what he started with the restoration effort.
"Whoever buys it needs to make everyone feel comfortable without doing any more damage to the manor," he said.
The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Preservation Society of Charleston hopes the next owner will recognize the site's significance.
"John Pernell has been a good steward of the property," said Robert Gurley, the group's preservation director. "We are hopeful that the new owner is as passionate about Fenwick Hall as John was and will carry on the restoration work that John started."