When the owners of 7 Gibbes St. recently restored their home that has stood for two centuries, they did something rather unusual.
They got rid of the front door.
It's safe to say that's a rather uncharacteristic move in downtown Charleston, where almost every home on the street has a front door -- even if that front door actually leads to a piazza instead of directly inside.
But architect Glenn Keyes was able to convince Lynnie and Frank Harper this was the right move here.
That's because of the unique history of the home's site, a history long since obscured as the city filled in -- then built on top of -- the marsh on the peninsula's southern and western ends.
This small wood-frame home, originally built around 1800, was oriented toward the Ashley River, which its first owners could survey from a double piazza on its southern elevation.
The home's original design turned its back to Gibbes Street, but much of Gibbes hadn't been developed at the time. (County tax records indicate it's the oldest surviving home on the street).
Sometime during the 19th century, as the neighborhood filled in and the waterfront view gradually disappeared, an earlier owner dressed up the northern faèade along the street by including a series of ornate brackets along the cornice and adding a front door that entered the home just under the stair.
Keyes says it's unclear if those changes were made at the same time. The modest house has undergone a lot of alterations over the years.
While the front door might have looked correct from the street, Lynnie Harper says it was never a very grand entrance. Keyes says the original stair was moved to accommodate it.
Harper remembers her husband's aunt -- Louise Frierson Kerr, who lived in the house during much of the 20th century -- having to explain the door to members of the Poetry Society of Charleston who met in her home.
"She said the door was so old it was made for short people," Harper says with a laugh. "It was a teeny door."
Today, the front door is off the old piazza, part of which has been filled in. The space where the Gibbes Street door opened into has been converted into a small bathroom.
"We were just following the physical evidence," Keyes says. "It's just not a very sophisticated house."
The work also removed some of the screened area on the southern piazza, as well as installing new plumbing, wiring, heating and air systems.
The house stood for more than 200 years, and while contractor Todd Poore tried to salvage what he could, the flooring and other material suffered from rot and had to go. He did manage to restore four fireplaces to working condition.
So while the house today atypically turns its back to the street, those who know its history can appreciate how its recent restoration tells a story of Charleston's 19th century expansion.
And that story can be appreciated by many, not just by those who walk around it to get inside.
Robert Behre may be reached at 937-5771 or by fax at 937-5579. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and his mailing address is 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403.