54 Hasell St. Elegant turn of 18th century Georgian house boasts outbuildings, expansive gardens, period fixtures

The Col. William Rhett House at 54 Hasell St. is one of the oldest houses in Charleston dating to 1712.

The first owner of 54 Hasell St. was a colorful character.

Col. William Rhett arrived with his wife, Sarah, in Charles Town in 1694. He befriended Jonathan Amory, owner of a plantation north of the city. Amory died and passed the property to his son Thomas Amory. But in 1707, the plantation house burnt down, and Rhett bought 20 adjacent acres, which he called Rhettsbury.

In 1712, Rhett finished 54 Hasell. The next year, Rhett promised his daughter Sarah in marriage to Thomas Amory, “in what appears as an attempt to placate Amory’s inheritance claims,” according to a Realtor’s brochure.

A half-dozen years later, Rhett — by now a vice admiral — won a battle against pirate Stede Bonnet at Cape Fear. Bonnet escaped and Rhett recaptured the pirate, who was hanged. Move ahead three years, and Gov, William Nicholson charged Rhett with defamation and fines him 400 pounds. Rhett planned to leave Charleston for the governorship of the Bahamas, but died of apoplexy in 1722. His tombstone notes he was “a kind Husband, a tender Father, a faithful Friend, a charitable Neighbor.”

The Col. William Rhett House, too, can claim its share of exposure: Confederate general and South Carolina Gov. Wade Hampton would grow up there and two other governors lived at 54 Hasell. The distinguished residence today stands as one of the oldest houses in the city.

The downtown property, which includes a two-story Georgian brick and stucco main house with a metal roof and Rococco period plaster work, two carriage houses, gardens and the lots at 56 and 58 Hasell streets, lists for sale at $6.4 million.

“We’ve had maybe five people look at it,” says Andrew Drury, Realtor with Carolina One Real Estate and listing agent. “What’s interesting is very few houses in Charleston trade for $5 million or more,” he says.

“One person said it has the right pedigree,” notes Drury, whose family is involved in the present ownership. “It takes a buyer who wants a Georgian house.”

The carriage homes on the property, which combined are about 3,000 square feet, can generate rental income.

Another possible use for the Hasell Street estate would be as a corporate retreat. The three buildings all told total 8,705 square feet.

The Col. William Rhett House, which was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, has “experienced the city’s entire history,” Drury says. The home has weathered momentous events including the disastrous hurricane of 1752 that destroyed 500 buildings, the Revolutionary and Civil wars, earthquake of 1886 and Hurricane Hugo 27 years ago.

The property also has had its share of uncommon features, according to historians and others familiar with the house. They include:

• At least one house stood on the site as early as 1690. Structures prior to 1712 burned.

• The main home was constructed with 200,500 bricks and 5,500 bushels of lime.

• The landowner bought cypress and cedar timber for the neighboring Sindrey Row project, five European-style row houses that’s seen as a prototype for the Charleston single-house design.

• Being built on a bluff, the house faced south overlooking a creek — later filled in to create Market Street.

• Rhett owned a wharf in the walled city of Charleston, but 54 Hasell was further north.

• The original 54 Hasell entrance was off King Street and showcased a long avenue of oaks.

• Umberto Innocenti, a famed mid-20th century historic landscape designer, laid out the connected gardens. The foliage is considered one of the largest private ornamental collection of trees and plants in the city.

• The Hasell Street estate is not encumbered by conservation easements.

With twin stairwells from the sidewalk to side porches, the main house showcases eight windows with Charleston shutters facing Hasell Street. Many rooms feature original heart pine floors, 12-foot ceilings, dental crown molding and fireplaces. Historic touches include period furniture and tables that distinguish the living, family and dining rooms and six upstairs bedrooms. A large music box purchased by an early 20th century homeowner at the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition at Hampton Park in 1901-02 stands in the living room. Among more modern features, the house includes an elevator.

Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin R. Kittredge Jr., paid $13,400 to buy 54 Hasell St. in 1941. According to an article at the time in The Post and Courier, they planned to buy other property in the neighborhood and develop it.

The half-acre property sits in the Ansonborough section of Charleston between Anson and King streets. Traveling south, take East Bay Street at the Ravenel Bridge. Continue south of Calhoun Street. Just past the Harris Teeter supermarket on the left, turn right at the light on Hasell Street. On the right is 54 Hasell St. and adjacent lots for sale.

Reach Jim Parker at 843-937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.