Historic Charleston Foundation Offers
The Elizabeth Williams House, c. 1790
35 Legare Street
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: HELEN GEER, President and Broker in Charge of William Means Real Estate, 843.577-6651, firstname.lastname@example.org
Historic Charleston Foundation announces that 35 Legare Street, the Elizabeth Williams House, formerly the Rebecca Screven House, is for sale. This historic single house is located on a prime section of Legare Street, south of Tradd Street. The property was mentioned in the will of Rebecca Screven in 1828, but recent discoveries indicate that the house may have been constructed in the late 1700s. The property was modified in the 1870s to include bay windows and a unique pressed tin mansard roof.
The property consists of a three story wood frame main house and a two story brick dependency, which has a slate roof. Approximate total square footage is 3,888. The property has a Loutrel Briggs garden dating from 1961. This property is one of a small and rapidly dwindling number of Charleston houses with extraordinary surviving historic fabric.
The Foundation purchased this property through its Frances Edmunds Revolving Fund. The Foundation expects the new owner to thoroughly rehabilitate the house according to strict historic rehabilitation standards. The property must be used as a single family residence. The property will be sold in an “as is” condition with restrictive covenants attached.
View the listing for the Elizabeth Williams House on the William Means website. Photography by Rick McKee.
History of the Elizabeth Williams House, 35 Legare Street, c. 1790
Research by Shannon Devlin, Historic Charleston Foundation Preservation Intern
Early History of the Property and House
The St. Julien family was one of the 81 original Huguenot families to arrive in South Carolina in 1685 as a result of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Peter de St. Julien purchased the property encompassing the 35 Legare Street lot, then known as the Grand Modell lotts #226 and #227, sometime after 1694. These lots not only encompassed the current parcel at 35 Legare, they also included the land along Legare Street until it butted with Tradd Street and stretched more than half way to current-day Lenwood Boulevard.
The merchant Peter de St. Julien married Elizabeth Le Serrurier, another French Huguenot refugee in Charles Town, around 1690. While it is unknown how Peter (Pierre prior to immigration) used the lots during his ownership, it is known that upon his death in 1719 he willed the property to his children. He writes in his will, “I give to my two sons Paul and Henry, a lot and a third of a lot which I own by the side of White Point, in the city of Charles Town, the said lots joining Mr. de La Consiliere bounding on Mr. Legare, which lot and third of a lot they are to part amicably between themselves.”
Prior to 1771, Paul and Henry split the land between various descendants. It was divided among St. Julien heirs including Ravenels, Marions, and Moultries. However, the lot where 35 Legare is located was willed to Elizabeth Damaris de St. Julien. She married William Moultrie in 1749, and they retained ownership of the Legare Street plot until 1771.
An interesting theme interwoven with ownership of 35 Legare Street is the presence of independent, land-owning women. Six women have owned and operated the property for 167 of its 320 years. While it was not rare for women to own land in Charleston’s early history, it was also not typical. There are three women whose ownerships of the property are of particular note: Elizabeth Damaris Moultrie, Elizabeth Williams, and Rebecca Screven.
Elizabeth Damaris de St. Julien Moultrie was willed the property as part of her inheritance in the St. Julien family. It is unknown if she was willed the property from her father Peter de St. Julien or if it came from Paul or Henry de St. Julien. In any case, she maintained control of the property from around the 1750s until she and William Moultrie sold the property in 1771. In the conveyance deed she was consistently mentioned in partnership with Moultrie instead of Moultrie being listed as the sole conveyor.
In 1772, Elizabeth Williams purchased the lot from Benjamin Huger. Williams is the likely builder of the current house. She is confirmed through city directories as residing on Legare Street in 1790 and 1794. This documentation as well as architectural details in the house supports the conclusion that it was completed before 1790. The stringer details and turned balusters on the staircase are frequently present in Georgian structures. Some of the doors in the house, as well as their hardware, also date from the period.
The little surviving information about Elizabeth Williams speaks to her independence and strength. Elizabeth was married to Joseph Williams (1703-1768), and the couple had two daughters, Sarah Scott and Rebecca Screven. Following Joseph’s death, it appears that Elizabeth, as head of the household, purchased the Legare Street property and subsequently erected a substantial house.
Elizabeth apparently passed her independent character to her daughter, Rebecca Screven. Screven was willed the property in 1796 following her mother’s “long and painful death,” as indicated on Elizabeth’s gravestone, at age 70. Interestingly, Screven was recorded as living on Lynch Street in the city directories year after year, yet upon her death in 1836, her will lists the house at 35 Legare Street as her home. It is possible that the 35 Legare Street property served as a rental unit. In any case, the property remained in Rebecca’s name until her death in 1836, and it was listed in her will as her house.
1836 R. C. Geyer, executor of Rebecca Screven following her death, conveys the property to Mary Jane Fraser.
1839 Alonzo J. White purchases the property.
1849 Richard Roper purchases the property.
1853 Charles B. Cochran purchases the property.
1872 James Gibbes purchases the property.
1879 Louisa McCord (later Smythe) purchases the property.
1886 The structure survives the great earthquake of 1886.
1926 Fredrick Traut purchases the property.
1951 Henry B. Smythe purchases the property.
1961 The Smythes hire Loutrel Briggs to plan the grounds.
1982 Salley B. Davidson purchases the property.
1984 An exterior preservation easement is donated to Historic Charleston Foundation as a tool for preserving the historic fabric of the house.
2014 Historic Charleston Foundation purchases the property through the Frances R. Edmunds Revolving Fund with plans to sell it to a preservation-minded buyer.
Loutrel Briggs Garden
As James Cothran recognized in his book Charleston Gardens and the Landscape Legacy of Loutrel Briggs, the city “has a rich garden tradition dating back to colonial times.” Cothran further writes that “the gardens Briggs designed in Charleston throughout his career are appropriate to the climate, architecture, historic setting, and lifestyle of the city. Briggs’ gardens reflect a wonderful sense of scale, combining house and garden into a unified whole.”
In 1961, during the mature stage of the renowned landscape architect’s career, the Smythes commissioned Briggs to design the garden adjacent to the house at 35 Legare Street. The symmetrical and intricate brick hardscaping is still present. As evidenced in the original drawing, the space respected historic tradition. As was his goal with each design, Briggs cultivated a strong connection between the garden and the historic house. According to Cothran, Briggs “relied on basic principles of good design such as proportion, repetition, unity, and scale.” The early architecture of the Elizabeth Williams House, c. 1790, is enhanced by the sensitive and stately garden envisioned by the talented and celebrated Briggs in his plan.