Calhoun Mansion

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Visit a Unique Slice of History in Charleston, South Carolina! There may be no better symbol of America’s “Gilded Age” than the Calhoun Mansion, right here in Charleston, South Carolina.

You history buffs who can’t get enough of Americana know exactly what the Gilded Age was. A term coined by Mark Twain, it referred to the period of post-Civil War reconstruction that saw broad disparity between rich and poor. But the contrast between the wealthy industrialists and the poor soon saw blurred as bridged began to from between America’s gaps—and there may be no better emblem of that than the Calhoun Mansion.

The “Handsomest and Most Complete Private Residence in the South”

Before it gained its modern name, the Calhoun Mansion was actually created for George Walton Williams on a plot of land that goes back to the days of George Washington—who did indeed visit the area in 1791.

George W. Williams was a businessman who doubled as a pioneer philanthropist. In his private residence, he saw more than just an opportunity to live in luxury: he saw a real chance to create a symbol of Charleston, South Carolina’s rebuilding after the Civil War.

Construction of the mansion was a monumental effort, requiring:

  • Hundreds of local artisans and craftsmen who were otherwise “unemployable” during the Gilded Age
  • $200,000 in 1876 dollars to fund—something like $4 million in today’s dollars
  • Five total years of construction to complete

At a time when the rich controlled much more than the poor, the home that became the Calhoun Mansion was essentially a “public works” project before the era of public works projects. And there’s no mistaking the result. The Calhoun Mansion remains one of the classic symbols of Charleston resilience to the destruction of the Civil War.

The Calhoun Mansion’s Journey to Today

The Calhoun Mansion gained its famous name when Williams died and left the home to Patrick Calhoun, grandson of former Vice President John C. Calhoun. By 1914, the mansion saw regular use as a hotel. But over time, the mansion’s status as a symbol fell into disrepair. Finally, the mansion was purchased by a Charleston native in a private transaction, and has since seen 25 years and some $5,000,000 of renovation and repair.

There aren’t many homes in the United States that can trace their lots back to George Washington, or their origins to the Civil War. There are even fewer that still stand as something of a living museum of the Gilded Age, transporting visitors back to the time of Mark Twain and the architecture of the Victorian era. The Calhoun Mansion on Meeting Street, however, stands as a symbol of Charleston’s past.

Today, the mansion stands as proud as ever, and remains open to the public. In fact, it remains one of the treasured sites for many of those who take a Charleston, SC carriage ride through the Charleston historic district.

Book your carriage tour with Charleston Carriage Works today. Although our tours rotate through different parts of Charleston’s large historic district—depending on a lottery system managed by the city—you’ll be able to see amazing sites and learn more about the history of Charleston no matter what route you take.