The Foundation


1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s


Historic Charleston Foundation is incorporated as an educational, not-for-profit preservation organization. Frances R. Edmunds becomes the Foundation’s first employee in 1948 and later serves as its first executive director, shaping groundbreaking preservation initiatives and leading the organization for nearly 40 years until her retirement in 1985. Mrs. Edmunds, who died in 2010, left a legacy both for Charleston and the preservation community far beyond.


The first Festival of Houses is established to generate revenue for the new preservation organization and to educate the public about Charleston’s architectural heritage and the benefits of preservation. The Festival later develops into one of America’s oldest and most prestigious heritage tour programs, incorporating 150 historic properties and over 600 volunteers over the month-long tour season each year. Proceeds support the Foundation’s preservation initiatives.


Historic Charleston Foundation leads efforts to save the Bennett Rice Mill on Charleston’s eastern waterfront after it is condemned as a fire hazard and threatened with demolition. Hurricane Donna will destroy all but the façade in 1960. In the wake of Hurricane Hugo, the Foundation will establish the Building Crafts Training Program and the façade will become the training ground for a new generation of skilled craftspeople and artisans qualified to rebuild and restore the city’s architectural heritage.


Using proceeds from annual Festivals , the Foundation partners with the Daughters of the American Revolution to restore the pediment of the Old Exchange Building, c. 1771,  and coordinates with The Charleston Museum to pay off the mortgage on the Heyward-Washington House, c. 1772, so it can continue operations as a historic house museum.


The Foundation purchases the Nathaniel Russell House, c. 1808, one of the nation’s finest examples of early 19th century neoclassical architecture. The house opens to the public as a museum a year later.  Approximately 55,000 visitors each year experience the grandeur of the property’s spacious gardens, notable free-standing staircase, ornate interior details, oval dining and drawing rooms.  Recognizing the dwelling’s potential as an exhibition space, the Foundation began procuring furnishings and decorative art by loan and purchase.  The collection includes some of the most significant examples of 18th and 19th century decorative and fine arts from America and abroad, including period furnishings crafted by early Charleston artisans.


Historic Charleston Foundation establishes the nation’s first Revolving Fund to rehabilitate the Ansonborough neighborhood. By buying a property, stabilizing it, selling it to a preservation-minded buyer, then reinvesting the proceeds to purchase another house in the neighborhood, the Foundation establishes a pioneering urban renewal and preservation initiative that continues to serve as a national model. By 1976, the Foundation has saved a six-block neighborhood, including 60 buildings, several of which were donated by generous supporters who recognized the Foundation’s ability to rehabilitate and preserve important historic structures.


After noteworthy losses to Charleston’s stock of historic buildings, the Foundation sponsors a zoning study that leads to a significant revision of the city’s 1931 zoning ordinance. The Old and Historic District triples in size with the inclusion of neighborhoods like Ansonborough and Harleston Village that lie north of Broad Street.


Frances R. Edmunds receives the coveted Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in recognition of Historic Charleston Foundation’s innovative and far-reaching preservation efforts.


Historic Charleston Foundation plays a key role in the development of the city’s Historic Preservation Plan of 1974. At the core of this plan is the most elaborate inventory (2,288 buildings) of historic structures in Charleston ever undertaken and an evaluation of their architectural importance and preservation potential. One of the most significant changes to result from this plan is the Foundation’s height ordinance passed in 1978 to protect the integrity of historic streetscapes south of Calhoun Street.


Establishing the Historic Charleston Reproductions program, the Foundation furthers the knowledge and appreciation of Charleston’s decorative arts heritage. This program will become one of the most successful in the nation, producing income from royalties and retail sales that support the Foundation’s preservation mission.


The Foundation plays a pivotal role in negotiating and raising funds for the eventual acquisition of Drayton Hall by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Drayton Hall is considered to be the finest example of Georgian Palladian architecture in America.


As a part of its educational mission, the Foundation operates the Edmondston-Alston House at 21 East Battery as a museum house. Middleton Place later assumes control of its operation.


The Nathaniel Russell House, 51 Meeting Street, is designated a National Historic Landmark. Also, the Historic Charleston Foundation Reproductions Shop opens at the corner of Broad and King Streets.


Adding to its growing collection of objects related to Charleston’s rich cultural heritage, the Foundation purchases the George Romney portrait of Mary Rutledge Smith, which remains on display in the Nathaniel Russell House.


The Foundation targets two uptown neighborhoods, Radcliffeborough and Elliottborough, for stabilization and a program of home ownership for low- to moderate-income families. The first property purchased by Historic Charleston Foundation under the Home Ownership Program is 36 Mary Street. A year later, the Foundation will purchase its first properties in Radcliffeborough.


Historic Charleston Foundation takes a leading role in discussions regarding the development of the hotel-convention complex that will become Charleston Place, an eight-story, 450-room hotel and convention center in the heart of downtown Charleston. The Foundation brings in nationally recognized architects to suggest design changes to make it more compatible with its historic environs. Careful planning and successful completion of this project will re-establish King Street, “Charleston’s weak, sick spine” according to Frances Edmunds, as the city’s most important commercial artery.


Establishing its easement program, Historic Charleston Foundation allows property owners to prevent inappropriate changes to their historic properties while receiving Federal tax deductions. By 2011, the Foundation will protect almost 400 historic properties in Charleston and the Lowcountry through this initiative.  Also in 1982, the Foundation underwrites a tourism management study for the City. The resulting Tourism Management Plan, later adopted by the City in 1994, regulates the size and operation of buses and carriages in the Old and Historic District.


Historic Charleston Foundation directly influences the design of the federal courthouse annex to keep the Hollings Judicial Center more in character with the historic Four Corners of Law on Broad Street.   The Foundation also assists in the restoration of the oldest graveyard in Charleston at the Circular Congregation Church, 150 Meeting Street, the site of Nathaniel Russell’s burial place.


Through its Revolving Fund, Historic Charleston Foundation purchases the William Gibbes House, c. 1772, at 64 South  Battery, to save it from development as an inn or condominiums and to prevent the subdivision of its garden for townhouses. The house will be sold in 1986 to a preservation-minded buyer who donates an easement to ensure its future as a single-family residence.


Historic Charleston Foundation joins with other preservationists to purchase and protect the 18th century home site of S.C. Governor and framer of the U.S. Constitution Charles Pinckney (1757-1824) at Snee Farm. The site will open to the public in 1995 as the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, under the direction of the National Park Service.


A challenge grant prepared by Historic Charleston Foundation provides seed money to establish the Lowcountry Open Land Trust.


The Foundation purchases Mulberry Plantation, c. 1711, an 800-acre plantation on the Cooper River in Berkeley County, thus saving it from development as a golf course and suburban neighborhood. It will be sold in 1988 to a preservation-minded owner who donates the most comprehensive easement ever received by the Foundation.  Also in 1987, Historic Charleston Foundation establishes Charleston Heritage Housing Inc. as a separate non-profit corporation designed to provide affordable housing in uptown boroughs. The organization will be reorganized in 1990 as Charleston Affordable Housing.


Historic Charleston Foundation plays a leading role in the debate to restore the aging County Courthouse, one of the Four Corners of Law. The arrival of Hurricane Hugo in September 1989 accelerates the resolution as the storm extensively damages the structure and allows the Foundation and city consultants to study the building in depth. The Foundation helps to establish the Friends of the Courthouse, which raises $1 million for interior restoration and furnishings and encourages Charleston County to locate a sensitively designed judicial center adjacent to the courthouse to guarantee its viability as a working court of law. 


In the wake of Hurricane Hugo, Historic Charleston Foundation establishes the Architectural Monuments Fund and, in cooperation with others, the Charleston Preservation Disaster Fund, both national fund-raising campaigns to help finance emergency stabilization efforts after the storm. Beneficiaries include several local churches and the Confederate Home.


Hurricane Hugo also prompted Historic Charleston Foundation to bring teams from the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) to Charleston to document historic architecture through measured drawings and photogrammetry. In the event of future natural disasters, buildings can be restored or even reconstructed based on these archival records which are housed in the Library of Congress.  Also in 1990, the Foundation receives by bequest a partial interest in McLeod Plantation, c. 1858, on James Island. The Foundation purchases full title to the property by 1993, saving the plantation, with its complex of antebellum outbuildings and archaeological resources, from future development.  McLeod Plantation will be sold in 2011 to the Charleston County Parks & Recreation Commission subject to protective covenants that will protect the historic buildings in perpetuity.


The Colonial Dames lease the Old Powder Magazine, c. 1712, to Historic Charleston Foundation to ensure its proper restoration. The Foundation will restore and reopen the building to the public in 1997 and will return it to the stewardship of the Colonial Dames in 2003 upon completion of the decade-long renovation.


Historic Charleston Foundation purchases the Aiken-Rhett House, c. 1820, from The Charleston Museum to ensure it will remain a house museum accessible to the public. The site serves as the nation’s most intact example of a 19th century urban townhouse complex with dependency buildings, including slave quarters, stables and privies. The buildings are conserved as they existed in 1858 during the residency of Gov. and Mrs. William Aiken.


The Foundation purchases the historic Captain James Missroon House, c. 1808, at 40 East Bay Street. When restoration is completed in 2001, the building will serve not only as the Foundation’s headquarters, but also as a state-of-the-art preservation and archival center for those interested in restoring historic structures and researching Charleston’s architectural history.


Historic Charleston Foundation Board of Trustees receives the Trustees Award for Organizational Excellence from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Also, The Buildings of Charleston is published by the University of South Carolina Press for Historic Charleston Foundation.  This award-winning reference book on the city’s historic architecture covers more than 1,100 buildings and includes more than 1,000 illustrations. It assumes the mantle of the venerable This is Charleston by Samuel Gaillard Stoney to become the definitive resource on the sites that make up Charleston’s Old and Historic District. 


Historic Charleston Foundation undertakes a four-year, museum-quality restoration of the Nathaniel Russell House to its 1808 appearance, based on thorough research and using state-of-the-art conservation techniques. The Getty Foundation recognizes the national reputation of the Foundation and the Nathaniel Russell House with a prestigious grant for the project.


Historic Charleston Foundation drafts a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places for nearly 70,000 acres of historic properties and landscapes along the Cooper River.


In cooperation with the Foundation, USC Press publishes Historic Preservation for a Living City written by USC Professor Robert R. Weyeneth. The book captures the Foundation’s first 50 years and charts its path-breaking approach to preservation from early pioneering initiatives to today.


After a 6-year restoration and rehabilitation process, the historic Captain James Missroon House at 40 E. Bay Street was reopened as the headquarters and preservation resource center of the Foundation.


Historic Charleston Foundation was selected as the host for the 2005 Council on Monuments and Sites International Symposium to held in Charleston, convocation of over 200 preservation leaders from around the world.


Historic Charleston Foundation received a prestigious Save America’s Treasures grant, allowing it to restore the exterior of the Aiken-Rhett House, the first step in a multi-year preservation initiative.  In addition, the Foundation’s Edmunds Revolving Fund was revitalized, in large part due to a generous bequest of Elizabeth G. Woodward. 


The Mayor’s Walled City Task Force, under the leadership of Historic Charleston Foundation’s Association Director of Preservation, began conducting archaeological studies on Charleston’s early colonial walls, bastions and redans (c. 1690s).  Charles Town was the only English walled city built in North America.  Portions of the walls of Granville’s Bastion, the “Great Fort,” remain beneath Historic Charleston Foundation’s headquarters building. 


The Foundation celebrated its 60th Anniversary by donating $75,000 to the city of Charleston for a much-needed update to the city’s 1974 Historic Preservation Plan. The result of intensive research, planning and community input, serves as a lasting gift to the community. Historic Charleston Foundation was also selected to re-write Charleston’s Tour Guide Manual, used by licensed city guides.


Historic Charleston Foundation was recognized as one of the state’s most fiscally responsible nonprofit organizations by the S.C. Secretary of State, reflecting its commitment to using donor contributions efficiently and effectively.  In addition, Grandeur Preserved: The House Museums of Historic Charleston Foundation was published in time for the 200th anniversary celebrations for the Nathaniel Russell House.  This book of photographs and text highlights both the Nathaniel Russell and the Aiken-Rhett house museums.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation presented its Preservation Honor Award to the Foundation in recognition of Charleston’s revised Historic Preservation Plan. The city and consultants Page & Turnbull, Inc. were recognized as co-recipients. The plan examines social, economic and cultural issues affecting preservation and offers strategies for defining individual neighborhoods, addressing sprawl, gentrification, disaster management and the need for affordable housing.


The Foundation organizes and hosts a public forum titled, “A Delicate Balance,” to discuss issues regarding future plans for downtown Charleston.  As an outgrowth of the forum, the Mayor assembled the Edwin Gardner Task Force, co-chaired by the Mayor and Historic Charleston Foundation’s Executive Director, Katharine (Kitty) Robinson.  Also, the Foundation joins forces with the City and Habitat for Humanity in an unprecedented partnership to restore a Charleston single house near the old Cooper River Bridge for occupancy while maintaining its historic integrity.


Historic Charleston Foundation is selected to present the loan exhibit at the 2011 Winter Antiques Show in New York. Grandeur Preserved: Masterworks Presented by Historic Charleston Foundation showcases objects from the Foundation’s outstanding collection as well as significant items from other leading Charleston institutions.   Also in 2011, an independent study of the cruise ship industry’s impacts on the city’s economy, environment and quality of life is commissioned. Historic Charleston Foundation commits to lead the community in a transparent and collaborative manner that strengthens relationships among community residents and businesses, the City and its elected officials, the SPA and its board. In June 2011, the Foundation opens the anchor store at the newly renovated City Market, greeting thousands of shoppers with Historic Charleston Foundation’s mission as they step into one of Charleston’s most well known landmarks.


The Foundation celebrates its 65th anniversary by hosting a community day, complete with family friendly activities and free admission. The Foundation is named into the “2012 Top Five Nonprofits of the Year,” by Charleston Magazine.

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Preserve & Protect

Established in 1947, Historic Charleston Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve and protect the historical, architectural and material culture that make up Charleston's rich and irreplaceable heritage. More>

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Historic Charleston Foundation
40 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC 29401

2017 Spring Festival and Antiques Show Ticket Office: 
108 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC 29401

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