(Charleston). Located at 51 Meeting Street, the Nathaniel Russell House is one of America’s finest examples of neoclassical domestic architecture. Completed in 1808, it was built for Nathaniel Russell (1738–1820), a merchant who arrived in Charleston at the age of twenty-seven and quickly amassed a substantial fortune. The architect is unknown. Evidence indicates that the builder relied on architectural pattern books for elements of the design.
Unlike most of Charleston’s early urban dwellings, the house is set back from the street about thirty feet and has a front garden entrance. It is built of brick, stands three stories tall, and has a low, hipped roof surmounted by a paneled balustrade. A full-height polygonal bay projects from the south elevation. Tall second-story windows set in recessed arches open to a wrought-iron balcony that wraps around the house, overlooking the garden. The lintels, sills, keystones, and impost stripes are white marble, presumably from a source in New England. Masterful Adamsesque styling is evident throughout the interior. A freestanding elliptical stair with a mahogany handrail rises elegantly from the first to the third story. All of the cornices, chair rails, mantels, and window and door frames are embellished with cast plaster or carved wood ornament. The large, gracefully proportioned rooms and superbly executed decorative work make this one of Charleston’s most stunning interiors.
After Russell’s death in 1820, the house remained in the family until it was sold to Governor R. F. W. Allston in 1857. It survived the Civil War intact and had several owners before Historic Charleston Foundation purchased it in 1955. Today it is operated as a house museum. The U.S. Department of the Interior designated the Russell House a National Historic Landmark in 1974.
Lane, Mills. Architecture of the Old South: South Carolina. Savannah, Ga.: Beehive, 1984.
Poston, Jonathan H. The Buildings of Charleston: A Guide to the City’s Architecture. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.