The Glorious Wentworth Mansion

One of the best perks of being a member of the Charleston Tour Association is that once a month, all members get to attend a lecture/event at either a restaurant, historic house, museum, hotel, etc. to help further our tour guide education. There’s always something new to learn and I never tire of listening to fascinating historical facts about the Holy City. I have had the pleasure of visiting practically all of the best things to see and do in Charleston so I can better assist my tour guests when they ask for all kinds of recommendations. Well, last week, I was thrilled to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the incomparable Wentworth Mansion, located at 149 Wentworth Street at the corner of Smith Street. The Wentworth Mansion has been a special part of Charleston for over 20 years, offering so much more than a dream address. And, what makes this unique hotel so remarkable is the history combined with the painstaking detail to create such an oasis of Southern Charm smack dab in the middle of one of the most prestigious neighborhoods. It’s truly one in a million.
 
Before it was the #1 hotel in Charleston as voted by Travel + Leisure readers this year, it was the residence of quite a gentleman — Francis Silas Rodgers (1841-1911). As a cotton merchant and cotton factor who had amassed great wealth, he set out to build a house for himself that would also have plenty of room for his 13 children and grandchildren. In May of 1881, he acquired a large lot at the southeast corner of Smith and Wentworth Streets. In order that the property would be a perfect rectangle, he attempted to buy a small house adjoining, but the owner refused to sell, whereupon he bought an additional lot to the east and built a wall fourteen feet and a stable housing six horses, enclosing on three sides of the property he was unable to obtain.

Mr. Rodgers employed Daniel G. Wayne as the architect for the four-story 24,000 square foot mansion. The exterior is Second Empire Style and is finished in Philadelphia pressed brick with window heads and quoins in stone. An interesting detail is the replica of a cotton plant, emblematic of Mr. Rodgers’ business, which can be seen on the front of the building under the dining room window.

Atop the mansard roof, which is surrounded with a cast iron railing, is a large cupola which afforded the Rodgers family a panoramic view of the city. The entire home had its own water supply, consisting of an artesian well in the garden, with a windmill. There was also a small gas plant on the property to supply the dwelling with an independent light system. The carriage house directly to the rear of the stables provided space for a buggy, Victoria, and landau. Two rooms above the carriage house were used by the stable workers.

It’s not quite known when construction began, but the building was completed by the summer of 1886, as there is evidence of repairs of damage caused by the great earthquake of August, 1886. The cost of the house has been estimated at more than $200,000 in the 1880s. A leading Charleston contractor has said that it would be impossible today to build an exact replica because many of the materials found within the home are unobtainable, as are the services of artisans to do the work.
 
The entrance hallway, which runs from the front of the building to the rear, is paved with beautiful colored English tiles. On the right of the hallway are double parlor doors with carved plaster ceilings and two magnificent matching Austrian imported crystal chandeliers. The handsomely crafted carved mantels are the work of Emile T. Viett, a noted marble and stone worker of the day, who carved them on site. There is an abundance of hand-carved mahogany woodwork in the two parlors.
 
On the east side of the hallway was a library, a large staircase in oak, and a dining room. On the second floor and third floors were bedrooms and a school room where the Rodgers’ children studied under a tutor. The top story had a billiard room.
 
A three-story servants’ quarters made up the east wing of the house. The Rodgers heirs sold the house in 1920 to the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association, which then sold it to the Atlantic Coast Life Insurance Company on May 31, 1940. The home was later sold in 1996 to Richard Widman, the President of Charming Inns Inc. The changes consist of partitions strategically placed, the enclosure of the first, second and third floor balconies, the installation of air conditioning (thank goodness!) and the elevator in the early 1940s.
 
The magnificent mansion has been completely renovated and is presently open for guests from around the world. This remarkable edifice offers Southern charm and professional service unsurpassed in historic downtown Charleston. Amenities available for guests’ enjoyment include a daily full service breakfast at Circa 1886, afternoon tea, and wine and hors d’oeuvres. The Wentworth Mansion has 21 guest rooms which feature king beds, intricate architectural details, antiques, fireplaces, and whirlpool baths. The cupola, (my favorite feature!), overlooks exquisitely manicured gardens within the city estate. Twenty-four hour concierge service is available for guests, assisting with the area’s other premier restaurant reservations, tours, and a wide variety of entertainment.
 
If you are fortunate enough to be a guest at this wonderful mansion, do not forget to capture the Holy City’s sunset from on high.
 
If you’re a guest of my Outer Banks Film Locations tour and wish to drive by this stunning hotel, just ask me and I’m happy to include an extended tour at the end. I’ll even include a few of the characters on Bravo’s Southern Charm and show you where they live(d) just a stone’s throw away.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Bryan

    Absolutely STUNNING blog and photos! I’m impressed!

    1. Jill Paris

      Thanks, Bryan. Your Director of Sales was giving me a private tour when I captured these! She mentioned how much they encourage tour guides to post photos. That view from the cupola is fantastic!! See you soon.

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