Historic Structures

William Gibbes House, Charleston South Carolina

Date added: September 14, 2018 Categories: South Carolina House Georgian

The William Gibbes House, built sometime shortly after 1772, and redecorated in 1794, is one of the finest two-story frame residences in America. The grandeur of its classical Georgian elevation is rivalled by the elegance of its very sophisticated Adamesque interiors, featuring richly carved wooden elements, fireplaces and mantles, plaster ceilings, and a dramatic upper floor ballroom, all integrated into the well known Charleston "double-house" floor plan.

The lots upon which the house stands were acquired in 1772, and sometime between then and 1779, the house was completed. The forceful heaviness of the Georgian exterior is typical in feeling of the houses of this style during this period. The contrast we find on the interior is remarkable then with its essentially more delicate and detailed grace. This interior feeling was created by the redecoration of the house in 1794 by Mrs. Sarah Smith who acquired the residence for 25000 pounds, and was eager to make the place as up-to-date as possible. By this date, 1794, ths fashion for so-called Adamesque decoration had passed from England to her former colony and become we11 estab1ished.

The development of Charleston along the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers took place as creeks dried up or were blocked off and land was gradually reclaimed. Although one cannot point at a given time to the exact shoreline of the end of the peninsula, it is well-known that it moved further and further South. The Gibbes House for instance was, in the late 18th century, near the very tip, with the nearby bank providing a river entrance to the house. What we see today as the main facade, from the street called South Battery, may have been the secondary entrance for a time, with a much more formal entry at the north, or land, side. There, the graceful steps overlooked an oval carriage turn-around in a space created by long flanking outbuildings to the north of the house. Unfortunately, that formal composition is lost today since only one of the outbuildings remains and the roadway entrance from the north is blocked by other residences. The floor plan of the house argues against this somewhat, as the entrance hall we wee is certainly placed for maximum effect when entered from the south, rather than under the stair as was the case if entered from the north.

The house passed through the Civil War without injury and passed into the hands in the 20th century of the widow of Washington Roebling, the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge.

In 1928, Mrs. Roebling had the house extended by about seven feet at the north side. While this is clearly visible while standing in the garden, the extra space on the inside has been smoothly integrated into the double-pile Georgian plan.

The double marble stairway at the South entrance was added about 1800, by which time we might assume that the land reclamation in that area had progressed far enough to make that entrance a rival to the other land entrance. Access from South Battery then must have been fairly simple by 1800.