Setback delays heat-gauge plan: Next summer now deadline for evaluating new thermometers for carriage-tour industry

Many tourists enjoy the carriage ride experience while in downtown Charleston along the Battery.

Leroy Burnell

For 25 years, Alphonso Brown has taken tourists by the house and workshop of Charleston's legendary blacksmith Philip Simmons.

Brown even discovered all the neighborhood hideouts where Simmons would play checkers or shoot the breeze while taking a break from his forge.

In recent years, the property at 30 1/2 Blake St. has suffered from the wear and tear of years, making it an authentic, if somewhat run-down, stop on his Gullah Tours route.

The outlook was grim enough in 2007 that the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed it as one of the nation's 11 most endangered places.

Simmons, who died last year at age 97, would have appreciated what has happened since.

The nonprofit foundation that bears his name, with help from the city of Charleston, recently finished repairing the home, which has reopened as a museum.

"I just love it," Brown says. "I could hardly wait. (I kept asking) When? When? How long?"

The work, done by Hosey Construction, fixed foundation problems that had caused the rear of the house to sink not long after its 2002 renovation --plus a new roof, repairs to an inside bathroom wall and a bathroom on the outside for visitors.

The rooms are furnished to shed light into how Simmons lived, but the spaces also serve as a sort of shrine to his work, including many portraits of the man and his famous iron gates. There's a gallery, gift shop and break area, but Simmons' bedroom and office are being furnished much like they were when he lived there.

The museum also includes the bed frame that Simmons put together out of scrap iron he found abandoned on the street (the house's backyard is still full of similar metal bits that Simmons collected over the years).

His daughter Lillian Gilliam says she remembers visiting him once years ago, "and he said, 'I'm making my bed!' "

Rossie Coulter of the Philip Simmons Foundation says that was typical. "He never bought an umbrella. He always picked them up (broken) and put them back together."

The wooden house, built around 1890, has only 840 square feet. Simmons bought it in 1959 and lived there until illness forced him into an assisted living home two years ago.

The recent repairs preserve its modest charms, such as its askew front door but it also gives a nod to the practical with an exterior bathroom.

Meanwhile, Coulter says work should begin soon to stabilize the forge and replace its roof. That's perhaps the most historic part of the site: Its history dates back some 150 years. It's been set up in five separate spots, as Simmons and his predecessors moved it around as neighborhoods changed.

In the longer turn, the foundation will work on restoring the larger house at 30 Blake St. and forging a fence and gates that Simmons designed before he died. "We still have stuff to do," Coulter says.

But both Coulter, Gilliam and others also are taking time to savor what they've already done.

"This is what he would want," Gilliam says of her father. "He would be pleased with everything."

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or at