Fenwick Hall Plantation, Johns Island South Carolina
Set along the banks of the Stono River and featuring an oak allee on the land side, Fenwick Hall is one of the earliest surviving eighteenth-century brick plantation houses in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Fenwick Hall was constructed when plantation agriculture, specifically rice cultivation, boomed and merchants grew wealthy on extensive trade with Great Britain. Tradition holds that the earliest portion of Fenwick was built for merchant John Fenwick on the location of a previous log plantation house.
John Fenwick came to South Carolina from England in the early eighteenth century. A noteworthy citizen in his own right, Fenwick fought against the Spanish and French attacks on Charles Towne in 1706, led troops as a garrison commander during the 1715 Yemassee War, was an influential political leader, and prospered in the rice trade. While he grew rice on his Black River land, north of Georgetown, South Carolina, Fenwick Hall served as his plantation residence. Often traveling between Charles Towne and Britain, John Fenwick remained connected to his English family. Near the end of his life, he left Fenwick Hall in the hands of his son, Edward, and returned to England.
When John died in 1747, Edward Fenwick took formal ownership of Fenwick Hall. Like his father before him, Edward traveled between South Carolina and England, maintaining familial ties. He married Mary Drayton, daughter of Thomas Drayton of Magnolia Plantation, connecting two influential families in the burgeoning colony. While he prospered as a rice planter, Edward was also instrumental in making Fenwick Hall famous for horse racing and breeding. He was the founder of the James Island Stud and influential in the beginnings of horse breeding in the American colonies. He selected horses on his travels to England and in doing so introduced the bloodlines of successful English racehorses into America which would eventually make their way to Kentucky and Virginia.
Edward’s venture into the stud business is connected to the evolution of the Fenwick Hall property. He commissioned the east and west flanker buildings in 1750.5 These two structures served as a carriage house and stables for his breeding and racing business. While several sources credit Edward with the addition of the octagonal wing, its Federal design indicates it was constructed later.
Following Edward’s death, ownership of Fenwick Hall passed to his son, Edward Jr., in 1775. Edward Jr. continued horse breeding on John’s Island. His open sympathies with the British during the American Revolution became the source of financial hardship at the war’s end. British General Sir Henry Clinton, who led the siege against Charleston in 1780, used Fenwick Hall as his headquarters, presumably at Edward’s invitation. Edward participated in a formal congratulation to General Cornwallis on his victory at Camden which subsequently caused his holdings, including Fenwick Hall, to be listed in the Forfeiture Act of 1782. Fenwick Hall was eventually removed from the list of properties enumerated in the Forfeiture Act, likely thanks to Edward’s relaying of valuable information regarding British plans to American General Nathaniel Greene. In 1787 Edward was forced, through financial and legal woes, to sell Fenwick to his cousin John Gibbes.
John Gibbes is likely responsible for the construction of the two-story octagonal wing added after his purchase of Fenwick Hall in 1787. The wing includes four rooms and a central staircase. Gibbes also added a portico to the south façade of the original structure at this time. In 1803, Gibbes sold the plantation to Joseph Jenkins. Following Jenkins, ownership changed hands several times prior to the Civil War.
Dr. Daniel Jenkins Townsend of Edisto Island owned Fenwick Hall during the Civil War and his son James Swinton Townsend was born at Fenwick. Fenwick survived the war by serving as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops. Following the end of the war, Fenwick passed through several owners until it was eventually boarded up in the early twentieth century.
In the 1930s, Victor and Marjorie Morawetz of New York acquired Fenwick Hall and initiated the first major restoration of the property since its construction. The building restoration was overseen by noted Charleston architecture firm Simmons and Lapham. Albert Simons was a leading figure in Charleston’s preservation movement in the early to mid-twentieth century and was responsible for early public housing projects and the construction of numerous other structures within the city. Simons’ restoration work completed at Fenwick Hall featured many Colonial Revival elements. Many original features, among them the southern exterior door surround, were reconstructed during this time. Reconstructed nineover- nine sash windows replaced the existing two-over-two lights, introduced in the late nineteenth century. Colonial Revival style paneled shutters were installed during this time; however they were later removed as exterior shutters were not part of Fenwick’s original design. Non-original elements, such as the Neoclassical portico added by John Gibbes, were removed by Simons. The Phase III west rectangular addition was also added during this period to accommodate a modern kitchen. Fenwick Hall remained a private residence through the 1970s and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
In 1980, Fenwick Hall became a private drug and alcohol recovery center under the name Fenwick Hall Hospital. The historic design as a private residence presented challenges for the new commercial use. The interior was altered to accommodate patient and staffing needs; bathrooms, partition walls, and mechanical modifications are notable changes from this period. Unique, but compromising design solutions, such as shower facilities built into the volume provided by thick exterior masonry walls at window and door openings, typify the alterations made during this period of Fenwick Hall’s history. Recreational facilities including basketball and tennis courts were also added during this time. The hospital closed in 1995 and Fenwick Hall sat empty until its purchase in 2000. Fenwick Hall has since returned to private residential use.
Fenwick Hall reveals nearly three hundred years of Charleston and American history. Though the plantation’s acreage has diminished, the landscape populated with additional buildings, and modifications made to the building over time, Fenwick Hall serves as one of the most significant architectural connections to plantation life during Charleston’s eighteen-century golden age.