Posted: September 12, 2022
Historic Charleston Foundation invests 100% of every donation received at the Nathaniel Russell House in the continued preservation and restoration of this historic site. With your help, we tackle projects chosen by our staff, which help us share the most authentic and accurate history we can.
The Foundation and the Nathaniel Russell House Museum is currently raising funds to replace the floorcloth in the front entryway. Evidence of carpet tacks found during architectural and historical analysis of the entry room indicates there was likely a floorcovering in this space originally. The evidence indicates craftsmen – both free and enslaved – tacked the covering in three-foot strips that ran east to west, a common manor of installation for floorcloths which were popular in high traffic areas like entryways.
The reproduction floorcloth currently in the room was created using a pattern we know was fashionable at the time the house was built. In 2019, researchers discovered a fragment of a floorcloth under modern floorboards during an excavation of the kitchen house. This is the only extant 19th century floorcloth ever found in Charleston, and it likely originated from a larger cloth used in the main house. The new discovery gives us a better idea of what the original entry room floorcloth would have looked like.
After the floorcloth was discovered, it was cleaned by Amelia Jensen, conservator of painted finishes based in Virginia. In 2019, Amelia painstakingly hand-cleaning the fragment of 19th century floorcloth. Susan Buck, conservator and paint analyst (who has been with this project from the beginning) originally recognized the potential of this site and it was she who urged us to push ahead. Susan’s trained eye, wealth of experience as well as her microscopy reports have been an invaluable contribution to this ongoing project. In 2020, the original floorcloth returned to the Nathaniel Russell House and has been stored safely since.
Historic Charleston Foundation’s dedicated team at the Nathaniel Russell House is now using this information to expand and inform our historic interpretation of the House Museum. This year, the Foundation is collaborating with local artist Karl Beckwith Smith, to create a reproduction floorcloth based on the original fragment found in the kitchen house. This new floor covering will not only replace the current one which is showing wear from years of use, but will also present guests with a more accurate representation of the house entryway.
Years in the making, our staff is excited to move forward with this project, but we can’t do it alone. On your next visit to the Russell House, you may be asked if you would like to “donate a dollar” to the Russell House and conservation efforts. Each dollar donated at the Nathaniel Russell House will directly fund this project and the House Museum’s expanded historic interpretation. Stay connected with us for more updates, and stop by the Nathaniel Russell House Museum at 51 Meeting Street to tour the 1808 property. To make a donation to the Foundation or this project specifically (be sure to mention the floorcloth reproduction project), donate at the Nathaniel Russell House Museum or by phone, 843.720.1181.