Constructed between 1857 and 1859, Redcliffe was the homeplace of South Carolina Governor James Henry Hammond and three generations of his descendants. Located in western Aiken County near Beech Island, Redcliffe served as an architectural and horticultural showplace, as well as the center of domestic life for the Hammond family. By 1860 it functioned primarily as a headquarters for Hammond’s extensive cotton plantations, which were sustained by more than three hundred slaves.
Hammond worked closely with contractor William Henry Goodrich to design and build the two-story, frame mansion at Redcliffe. Transitional Greek Revival in style, the house also displays restrained Italianate elements, unusual in South Carolina. Greek Revival features include a series of rectangular frieze-band windows, exterior doors with transoms and sidelights, Doric porch columns, square, two-story paneled corner pilasters, and pedimented windows. An Italianate cupola, or observatory, once capped the mansion’s hipped roof. A spectacular center hall, fifty-three feet long and twenty feet wide, dominates the interior. Much of the interior woodwork, including doors, library shelves, banisters, and mantles, was crafted from local sycamore trees. The grounds were designed by landscape architect Louis Berckmans and include terraced hillsides. One of Redcliffe’s most dramatic features is a long avenue of southern magnolias.
In 1935 John Shaw Billings, a Hammond descendant and an editor of Time and Life magazines, purchased Redcliffe and began extensive restoration. Shortly before his death he donated the property to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. In 1975 Redcliffe State Historic Site was opened to the public as a house museum.