Gaillard-Bennett House, c. 1800

60 Montagu Street

Joachim (b. 1625) and Esther Gaillard were among the first 45 Huguenots, or French Calvinists, who immigrated to Carolina after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685. In France they were a middle-class family, but in America they became prosperous, well educated, and active political leaders.

One of their sons, Bartholomew, received four land grants totaling 2,500 acres in St. James Santee parish along the Wambaw Swamp, where he grew indigo and rice.

One of his sons, Theodore (1710-1781), was a justice of the peace in 1756, a period during which a lot was going on in South Carolina. The colony was heading toward a break with England, which was a problem for Loyalist-leaning Theodore. Carolina was exporting more than 20 million pounds of rice annually, in addition to indigo, which was such a valuable commodity in Europe that the English had put a bounty on its exportation. Theodore was at the top of this economic pyramid and was pretty pleased with the status quo.

Theodore married twice: first to Elizabeth Serre, then to Lydia Peyre, and between them he fathered at least nine children, one of whom was Theodore Jr. (1737-1805).  Theodore Jr. married Ellinor Cordes in 1764 and they had 12 children, one of whom was Theodore III (1768-1824), who married Martha Doughty. Theodore was not only an heir of the vast Gaillard plantation holdings, but was a successful factor (merchant who sells on commission) as well and therefore was living on the city?s busy eastern waterfront near the wharves. In contrast to his father, this Theodore was a staunch Patriot and a hero of the American Revolution.

By 1800, long after the drama of the Revolution, Gaillard was ready to move into ?the country,? which is what Harleston Village, Charleston second-oldest suburb, was at the time. He built this large double house with a central hallway and symmetrical rooms on either side on high ground with an English-style basement and a T-shaped floor plan so that every room had a southern exposure to catch the ocean breezes.

About Harleston Village
This western area of the peninsula was originally granted to the first mate of the Carolina, John Coming. Also on that ship was a young woman named Affra Harleston, who had come from a family of means that had been left destitute in the wake of the English Civil War when Oliver Cromwell?s Puritans defeated Charles I and Charles II went into exile. Affra and her brother, Charles, left England; Affra indentured herself to pay for her passage for two years.

She and John fell in love and were married in 1672, upon her release from indentured status. John and Affra had no children, though they often took in orphans and raised several nephews who they sponsored in coming over to the new world. Upon Affra?s death in 1698, she left their vast holdings to the church parish and to two of these nephews: John Harleston and Elias Ball. This neighborhood was part of John Harleston's inheritance.

The neighborhood was laid out in by one of their descendants in 1700. The streets were named for important contemporary men, several of whom were later associated with the Patriot cause: William Pitt, John Rutledge, Thomas Lynch, Christopher Gadsden, Hector Beringer di Beaufain, William Bull and Royal Governor Sir Charles Greville Montagu.

As common sense would dictate, the first houses in this neighborhood were built on high ground. Much of the area, however, was marshy with a number of tidal ponds that were used as lumber and rice mill ponds. Because of this the neighborhood developed slowly throughout the 18th century, with larger, older homes on the north side of the streets, and smaller, late 19th century houses built on the south sides that had been created over time through land fill.

One of these mill owners was Thomas Bennett Sr., who allied his business interests with a marriage into the family of Jonathan Lucas Jr., whose father had introduced the first steam-powered rice mills to South Carolina. Together these men controlled more than 40 percent of rough rice from Lowcountry plantations.

Early 19th Century
During the Depression that followed the War of 1812, Theodore Gaillard sold the house to Gen. Jacob Read, a Revolutionary War hero, for $11,000. Read?s estate subsequently sold it in 1819 to Santee planter James Schoolbred for $20,000.

Schoolbred added the Palladian portico with two tiers of Doric and Corinthian columns and the elegant double entrance steps.

Washington Jefferson Bennett
Following Schoolbred's death in 1851, the property was purchased by Washington Jefferson Bennett (1808-1874), son of Gov. Thomas Bennett. Young Bennett operated both rice and lumber mills powered by windmills just north of the house.

Bennett probably added the cast iron porches on the east and west sides and the curving front wall with cast iron carriage gates on Gadsden Street that lead to the carriage house and dependencies.

Gen. Robert E. Lee stayed here for three nights in April 1870 as he returned to Virginia from a visit to his father, Gen. "Light Horse" Harry Lee in Georgia. More than 3,000 Charlestonians greeted Gen. Lee at a ball given in his honor on April 27. Lee gave a great speech on that occasion, a copy of which is in the house. It was one of Lee's last public speeches; he died six months later.

Stewart Restoration
Mr. Steven P. and Dr. Mary Caroline Stewart purchased the property in 2004 and initiated a meticulous, museum-quality restoration.  They again consolidated various pieces of the original property that had been sold off over time, including the kitchen house and stable dependency. A 1960s ranch-style house that had been built on the southeast corner of the property was purchased by the Stewarts upon the homeowner's death. That house was razed and the garden restored to its original dimensions.

Today the property operates on geothermal energy, so there are no exposed wires, gas or electric meters. The main house includes 12 working fireplaces and 36 wells. Gas lanterns are used for external lighting.

Today's garden was designed with assistance by local landscape architect Sheila Wertimer. Its plant materials include two very old crepe myrtles and a date palm on the eastern side. Several tea olives, strategically placed to catch prevailing winds from the north, provide a beautiful scent for seven months out of the year.

The first part of the garden, entering from Montagu Street, uses a repetition of plants to create drama. The boxwood parterres, designed by Mr. Stewart, are best viewed from the cast iron balcony of the main floor. Yoshino cherries, placed behind the benches yield white blooms in spring that mature into pink. The bluestone path repeats that found in front of house.

Following the brick pathway are magnolias, fruiting holly for color in winter, and perennials that provide progressive color throughout the seasons: sago palm, camellias, sweet viburnum, pineapple guava, holly fern and azaleas. Two-tiered fountain serves as focal point.

An area has been created further on and to the left for the birds: a place to rest, raise a family safely, with lots to eat. A double row of magnolias creates an evergreen hedge. Periwinkle ground cover, gardenias, boxwood, rose and azaleas fill in.

The pool house's architecture was inspired by the front portico with Temple of the Winds columns and dentil work. The cabinetry was made from several dying sycamores on the property, and flooring from salvaged pieces of the old front walk. Stand on the millstone, also found on property, and say a few words to appreciate the amplification of the sound. You are directly under the dome that causes that effect.

The keystone featured in the arch over the wall fountain is a fragment found on property.

The gothic carriage house was added in 1850, but is of poor workmanship. Though restored, one can still see its sag and lean. On the west side is a tack house, built upon a flanker of the cookhouse. Details come from a photograph of the building, c. 1920.

Main House
The property's interior plasterwork is among the finest examples of Adamesque (1760-late 18th century) design found in America today. The central ceiling medallion features a feathered pattern, and the cornice moldings Roman urns, acanthus leaves and rosettes. The Stewarts used great care taken in restoring missing pieces with castings of the original pattern.

Many layers of paint were removed to restore original detail of the woodwork throughout the house. Twenty layers of paint were removed on the wainscoting in this hall. A curatorial paint analysis was used to determined original cornice colors.

The dining room features more elaborate plasterwork. The octagonal plaster panel above the fireplace was rediscovered during the Stewarts' restoration. Black highlights in the ceiling cornice were also discovered during paint analysis.

The front drawing room is perhaps the most elaborate of the house. The meticulously restored marine-themed plaque in center of mantel features seashells, sea fans and oyster shells. Similar moldings are found in several other Charleston drawing rooms.

The library and kitchen illustrates the house's "T" shape that allows each room to have a southern exposure. The rooms are the same dimensions as the two front rooms, but oriented differently to maximize light and air. This style is rare in Charleston, but more common in Beaufort where Theodore Gaillard had relatives.

The library features more reserved molding, as does the modern kitchen, and curved wood rather than plaster. Doors throughout the house have been meticulously hand-grained to match the original faux bois finish of mahogany and satinwood inlay.

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The Gailliard-Bennett House can be seen on Charleston Raconteurs' Architectural History & Culture tour by request. Book your tour today!