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Lowndes Grove

Charleston, South Carolina

Built in 1786, for the widowed George Abbott Hall (1737-1791) on the Ashley River in Charleston. This beautiful two-story plantation house holds the somewhat dubious honor of being the site of some of the most prominent duels of the late 18th and 19th century, including between Generals Christopher Gadsden (1724-1805) and Robert Howe (1732-1786). It is still a private house, but also a weddings and events venue.
In 1769, John Gibbes (1733-1780) acquired 232 acres of land overlooking the Ashley River. There, he built a manor house and named the estate Orange Grove, in reference to the Seville oranges he (unsuccessfully) planted there. Gibbes and his wife, Margaret Anne Stevens (b.1739), were enthusiastic horticulturists and their garden included both a greenhouse and a pineapple pit, as well as a wide variety of exotic plants.

As the Revolution spread across America, Gibbes was branded an "arch-rebel" by the British. When their armies approached Charleston in 1779, Gibbes fled with his family to his brother's plantation on the Stono River. His house was subsequently requisitioned by the British and one of the Hessian officers stationed there paid it high complement when he declared it to have "one of the most beautiful pleasure gardens in the world". But, when the British soldiers withdrew, they ransacked the house before setting fire to it. In the front drive, they made a bonfire and threw everything on it that was of no use.

The house remained a ruin and rather than rebuild it, Gibbes bought Fenwick Hall. he sold Orange Grove to the husband of one of his nieces, George Abbott Hall (1737-1791). In 1786, Hall built a new manor house surrounded by oaks near to the ruins of the old one. But, just five years later he was dead and the plantation was sold by his brother-in-law, Governor John Mathewes (1744-1802), to John Beaufin Irving (1765-1813).

Irving referred to the house as The Grove, dividing his time between there and Jamaica, where he managed Ironshore - his family's sugar plantation. It provided him with an elegant home where he kept his racehorses, but as a farm it ran at a loss of some £200 a year. In 1796, his brother, Jacob Aemilius Irving (1767-1816) - then living at Corbett House - sold this "very worthless place" on his brother's behalf to Captain Joseph Vesey (1747-1835), for "£800 down and his bond for £400 more, payable in one year".

It is thought that Captain Vesey bought the house as a present for his beautiful, Malayan, common-law wife (they were unable to be married properly on account of her dark skin) who went by the unlikely name of Mary/May/Mai Clodner. They were not inconspicuous: 

"Living as they did in a major Atlantic port, white Charlestonians were accustomed to unusual sights, but the family at the Grove - a former sea captain from Bermuda, his East Indian mistress, a giant, imperious domestic slave (Denmark Vesey, famous for the uprising at Irishtown), and an Euro-Indian child church records would later describe as "a free person of color" - comprised as exotic a household as that of Edmund Dantes."

By 1802, Mary was dead and the following year The Grove was sold to a close relative by marriage of the Irving family, William Jones Lowndes (1782-1822), for whom it is named today. A son of the 32nd Governor of South Carolina, Lowndes represented the state in Congress and was considered a candidate for the presidency before his untimely death. 

Lowndes and his wife, Elizabeth Brewton Pinckney (1781-1857) - whose well-known father, Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828) built the Middleton-Pinckney House in Charleston - divided their time between Horseshoe Plantation in Colleton County and The Grove, which they used as a summer home.

In 1831, nine years after Lowndes' death, his widow sold the house to Arthur Gordon Rose (1793-1880) - soon to become the well-known President of the Bank of Charleston. Like the Lowndes', Arthur Rose and his three consecutive wives used The Grove as a summer home and not before long it became known as Rose's Farm or Rose's Garden

In 1881, one year after Rose's death, his heirs sold the plantation for $12,000 to Captain Frederick Wilhelm Wagener (1832-1921). In 1917, shortly before his death, Captain Wagener sold the property to an Italian-American entrepreneur from Florida, James Sottile (1887-1964), who developed the most part of the land into streets and building lots, and died as one of the fifty wealthiest men in America.

The house was afterwards donated to the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1978, Lowndes Grove was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 2000, it was purchased by Alexander and Tina Opoulos for $1.9 million who sold it on to Patrick Properties in 2008 for $6.9 million. Today, it is used for glamorous wedding receptions and parties.  




Image Courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey; Library of Congress HABS SC,10-CHAR,152-1; He Shall Go Out Free: The lives of Denmark Vesey (2004) Douglas R. Egerton's book