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Historic James Island home lands buyer in less than a month; seller's prized artwork up for auction

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Real items 3a

Secessionville Manor on James Island sold in less than a month.

Secessionville Manor, an oak-lined estate dating to the early 1800s, fetched more than $3.4 million in a sale clinched a few weeks after going on the market.

Esther B. Ferguson owned the James Island property, which in March was listed for the first time in 30 years and went under contract after 17 days. The name of the buyer was not immediately available.

The historic home's sale took place in conjunction with a Christie's auction OF Ferguson's esteemed art collection that included a Picasso and works from Rodin, Gaugin and Jasper Johns, according to property listing agency William Means Real Estate.

Andy Jones of William Means represented Ferguson and United States Trust in the sale of the manor, located at 1687 Fort Lamar Road.

A Hartsville native, Esther Ferguson moved to New York as a young woman.

Her husband, the late James Ferguson, retired as chairman and chief executive of General Foods Corp. in 1989, and the couple relocated to Charleston. She oversaw the careful restoration of Secessionville Manor, according to William Means Real Estate. The home, built in 1820 in the Greek Revival style, is a three-story, wooden frame raised plantation cottage accessible by a private driveway and surrounded by 300-year-old oak trees, the agency says. It was likely constructed as a summer home for Rawlins Rivers and his wife, Zephrine A. Holmes, "middle-class cotton planters of James Island," the realty notes.

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While in New York, Esther frequently visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, eventually assembling a varied private collection. According to William Means, among the most celebrated pieces of artwork is an original Pablo Picasso, “Femme dans un fauteuil,” dated 1956. The piece's estimated value is $5-$7 million. Ferguson's first major acquisition was the Picasso work, followed by paintings, sculpture and works on paper by artists such as Auguste Rodin, Paul Gauguin, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Barbara Hepworth, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Milton Avery and Fernand Leger, the real estate firm says.

Christie's auction May 15-27 entitled The Esther B. Ferguson Collection -- A Legacy of Art and Patronage -- was expected to include sales from New York to Hong Kong.

"Not only is Secessionville Manor a spectacular property with historic significance, but Esther Ferguson’s collection of artwork ranks among the finest private collections in the United States," Jones says. "Art enthusiasts around the world will be eager to add such significant pieces to their own collections."

The Fergusons were earnest philanthropists, "contributing to the arts and cultural vitality" of Charleston and South Carolina, the agency says.

Notably, Esther Ferguson founded the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University. She's served on the boards of the Charleston Symphony, the South Carolina Arts Commission, the Young Concert Artists and Spoleto Festival USA and is a longtime board member of the Gibbes Museum. She has provided financial backing and leadership to the Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture and the International Piano Series, both at the College of Charleston.

Marking its 84th year, William Means Real Estate is among the oldest agencies in Charleston. Helen Lyles Geer has served as president and broker-in-charge for 18 years. In 1997, William Means Real Estate became an exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate. The realty has offices on Broad Street in downtown Charleston and in Mount Pleasant. Visit

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