The Foundation welcomes visitors to explore daily life in one of Charleston’s most exquisite dwellings. Located in Downtown Charleston near High Battery, the Nathaniel Russell House Museum, 51 Meeting Street, is widely recognized as one of America’s most important neoclassical dwellings. Historic Charleston Foundation purchased the National Historic Landmark in 1955, and the house served as the Foundation’s headquarters for 37 years. Today, the interiors are restored to their original 1808 grandeur and surrounded by formal gardens.
Nathaniel Russell was born in Bristol, Rhode Island. He settled in Charleston at the age of 27 in 1765, when Charleston was a bustling seaport. By 1774, Charleston boasted a per capita of wealth nearly four times that of all the American colonies. Russell’s career as a merchant involved the shipment of cargoes to and from New England, the West Indies, South America, Virginia, Great Britain, continental Europe, West Africa and Asia.
While most of his profits came from the exportation of staples, such as Carolina Gold rice, indigo, tobacco and cotton, Russell handled a broad range of imported goods. He also participated in the African slave trade both before and after the American Revolution.
In 1788 Russell married Sarah Hopton (1752-1832), daughter of one of Charleston’s wealthiest pre-Revolutionary era merchants. Two daughters were born to the Russells, Alicia in 1789 and Sarah in 1792. The house remained in the Russell family until 1857 when it was purchased by Governor R.F.W. Allston (1801-1864) and his wife, Adele Petigru (1810-1896). Later, after serving as a school for the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy from 1870-1905, the Russell House was converted back to a private residence. It remained so until 1955, when the Foundation purchased the site and opened the house for public tours.
In 1995, Historic Charleston Foundation embarked on a multi-year study and restoration of the Russell House. Today, the interior finishes and architectural details reflect Nathaniel Russell’s original dwelling, and the house is furnished with an outstanding collection of fine and decorative arts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In recent years, grants and private donations have enabled the curatorial staff to identify and acquire important family items and a significant collection of objects with Charleston provenance. The collection allows the Foundation to interpret Charleston’s merchant elite in the early days of the American Republic.
At the Nathaniel Russell House, visitors learn about the Russell family, as well as the enslaved African Americans who were responsible for maintaining one of the nation’s grandest antebellum townhouses and the relationship of these enslaved domestic servants and the Russell family. An exhibition in the original kitchen house highlights artifacts uncovered during archaeological investigations at the site—pottery sherds, beads, and part of a slave tag. These objects reveal the everyday duties performed by slaves and the spiritual beliefs of the enslaved men and women that maintained the grand townhouse.
Learn more about the collection
Admission and Tours
The Nathaniel Russell House is open, Mon-Sat, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun, 2-5 p.m. (last tour begins at 4:30 p.m.).
Tickets are $10 adults; $5 children 6-16; under six free.
Learn more about Children's Discovery Tours each Wednesday.
Please contact Valerie Perry for more information or to schedule a group tour.
Join Historic Charleston Foundation’s Curator, Brandy S. Culp, on a private and exclusive tour of the Nathaniel Russell House Museum. Each month, Historic Charleston Foundation will feature a new in-depth opportunity to learn about the museum with its Curatorial Tours. Join us for this unique opportunity. Tickets are $45. Reservations are required. Click to Purchase tickets!
January 16 at 2 p.m.: "Conservation in Context: Past, Present and Future Projects": Participants will hear about the science of investigating objects and interiors. Culp will discuss the current furnishings efforts at the museum and will highlight how conservation and research has enlightened our understanding of daily life the Russell household and Charleston as a whole. Learn about recent investigations for window treatment evidence, paint archeology, and the reinstallation of the Russells' best bedchamber.
February 20 at 2 p.m.: "A Sterling Collection": While silver articles were imported to Charleston from the urban centers of Europe and the Americas during the 18th and 19th centuries, a significant community of silversmiths, jewelers, and watchmakers thrived in the southern port city. At the Nathaniel Russell House Museum, you will take an in-depth look at the most significant metalwork in the Foundation's collection and learn more about the retailing of luxury metalwork in Charleston. Culp will also discuss the most successful and notable artisans in early Charleston, and she will also explore the variety of goods these talented craftsmen and astute businessmen retailed.