The Essential Charleston - History, Heritage, Fun Heritage Passport - Learn More

Charleston, South Carolina is a place where history and heritage are still very much a part of everyday life. Inside a city that seems untouched by the ravages of time is a 300-year-old culture of Europeans and Africans that permeates the city's architecture, the visual arts, and its customs.

For the past three centuries Charleston has survived wars, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes - and through it all, retained both her beauty and her dignity. Today Charleston stands as a model of historic preservation, restoration and artistic expression. The Old and Historic District, which traces its origins to the 1670s, contains some 3,000 historic buildings. This is no accident. Instead, it is the result of the ongoing and dedicated efforts of people working together to preserve Charleston's distinctive character.

While over 12,000 buildings in South Carolina have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, fewer than 80 have been designated by the US Department of the Interior as National Historic Landmarks - the highest possible designation for a historic site. Charleston's Old and Historic district is a National Historic Landmark, as are most of the individual member properties of the Charleston Heritage Federation. We recommend that you make a point of discovering all of them …they truly are "The Essential Charleston."

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Federation Members Charleston Heritage Federation - Charleston's Essential Cultural Sites

Historic Houses

Edmondston-Alston House

A house museum of the Middleton Place Foundation, the Edmondston-Alston House overlooks the Cooper River much as the family related plantation at Middleton Place overlooks the Ashley. It was built by Scottish merchant Charles Edmondston in 1825 and remodeled in1838 by rice planter Charles Alston in the then popular Greek Revival style. The handsome interiors with interesting and elegant architectural details are enhanced by the 19th-century family furnishings of the highest quality and impeccable provenance that have been in place for over 170 years. In 1861, General Pierre G. T. Beauregard watched the bombardment of Fort Sumter from the second-floor piazza. Later the same year, General Robert E. Lee took refuge in the Alstons' house when a raging city-wide fire threatened his hotel.

Location: 21 East Battery
Phone: (843) 722-7171
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4:30pm; Sunday and Monday 1:30pm-4:30pm; Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day

Nathaniel Russell House

Since 1808, visitors have admired the grand Federal townhouse of Charleston merchant Nathaniel Russell. Set amid spacious formal gardens, the Nathaniel Russell House is a National Historic Landmark and is widely recognized as one of America's most important neoclassical dwellings. The graceful interior with elaborate plasterwork ornamentation, geometrically shaped rooms and a magnificent free-flying staircase are among the most exuberant ever created in early America. Today the Nathaniel Russell House interprets the lives of the Russell family, as well as the African American slaves and artisans who were responsible for maintaining one of the South's grandest antebellum townhouses.

Location: 51 Meeting Street
Phone: (843) 724-8481
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

The Aiken-Rhett House

The Aiken_Rhett House stands alone as the most intact townhouse complex showcasing urban life in antebellum Charleston. Built in 1818 and expanded by Governor and Mrs. William Aiken Jr. in the 1830's and 1850's, the house has survived virtually unaltered since 1858. As an intact "townhouse complex," the house speaks powerfully about the interconnections among all members of the household. Original outbuildings include the kitchen, stable, coach house and living quarters once occupied by enslaved African Americans.

Location: 48 Elizabeth Street
Phone: (843) 723-1159
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday 2pm-5pm; Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Joseph Manigault House

"Charleston's Huguenot House" - The Joseph Manigault House, built in 1803, is a premier example of Adam-style or Federal architecture. Designed by gentleman architect Gabriel Manigault for his brother Joseph, the house is one of the most distinguished in the city, capturing the lifestyle of a wealthy, rice-planting family. The interior reflects an outstanding collection of American, English and French furnishings of the period. A charming Gate Temple is the focus of the period Garden.

Location: 350 Meeting St.
Phone: (843) 722-2996
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday 1-5pm; Closed on New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, 1/2 day Christmas Eve, Christmas Day.

Heyward Washington House

"Charleston's Revolutionary War House" - Built in 1772, The Heyward-Washington House was the town-home of Thomas Heyward, Jr., Revolutionary patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was also George Washington's temporary residence during his Southern Tour of 1791. Furnished with magnificent Charleston-made furniture, the collection includes the priceless Holmes Bookcase, considered to be the finest example of American-made furniture in existence today. The exquisite formal garden is comprised of plants available to Charlestonians during that period. Located in the original walled portion of the city, the neighborhood was used by Dubose Heyward as the setting for Porgy and Bess.

Location: 87 Church St.
Phone: (843) 722-2996
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday 1pm-5pm; Closed New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, 1/2 Christmas Eve, Christmas Day.


Middleton Place

With more than a three hundred year history of family stewardship, Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark, was home to Henry Middleton, a President of the First Continental Congress and his son, Arthur, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. The Gardens, America's "oldest, most interesting and most important," are now 270 years old. The House Museum tells the Middletons' story through its extraordinary collection of family furniture, portraits, silver, jewelry, rare documents and books. In the Plantation Stableyards, interactive exhibits, costumed interpreters and heritage breed livestock bring to life the enslaved African American world, as do the Plantation Chapel, Slave Cemetery, Demonstration Rice Field and Eliza's House. There are also Carriage tours, the Middleton Place Restaurant, the Museum Shop and the Garden Market.

Location: 4300 Ashley River Road (Hwy. 61)
Phone: (843) 556-6020 or 1-800-782-3608
Hours: Open 9am daily; Closed on Christmas Day.

Drayton Hall

Drayton Hall is nationally known for its exceptional guided tours. Circa 1738, it is the oldest unrestored plantation house in America that is open to the public. Never modernized with electric lighting, plumbing, or central heating or air conditioning, the main house is unfurnished, allowing the beauty of the original architectural details to become the focus for visitors. An unforgettable Lowcountry experience, Drayton Hall offers professionally guided house tours; self-guided walks of the scenic Ashley River and historic landscape; "Connections," an African-American history program; quiet reflection at the 18th-century African-American cemetery; and a popular museum shop with merchandise for all ages.

Location: 3380 Ashley River Road (hwy. 61)
Phone: (843) 769-2600
Hours: Open Monday - Saturday 9:00am to 5:00pm (front gate closes at 3:30pm) House tours start on the half hour at 9:30am to 3:30pm; Connection Programs at 11:00am and 2:00pm; Museum Shop open 9:00am to 4:45pm. Open Sundays 11:00am to 5:00pm (front gate closes at 3:30pm) House tours start on the half hour at 11:30am to 3:30pm; Connection Programs at 12:00pm and 2:00pm; Museum Shop open 11:00am to 4:45pm.


Gibbes Museum

Experience Charleston's history through art! Located in the historic district along Charleston's Museum Mile, the Gibbes houses a premier collection of art, principally American works with a Charleston or Southern connection and presents special exhibitions throughout the year. Come face to face with stories of the South Carolina Lowcountry as seen through painting, miniature portraiture, sculpture, photographs and more. Complimentary audio tour using your own cell phone is provided with paid admission. Docent led tours are offered every Friday at 2:30 pm.

Location: 135 Meeting Street
Phone: (843) 722-2706
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5pm; Wednesday until 8pm; Sunday 1pm-5pm; Closed Monday and major holidays.

The Charleston Museum

America's First Museum, founded in 1773. Its mission is to preserve and interpret the cultural and natural history of Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry. We invite you to explore this rich, varied history at the Museum and its two National Historic Landmark houses. All are located downtown, in America's Most Historic City.

Exhibitions feature objects from our extensive cultural, historic and natural history collections and introduce you to the rich heritage of the Lowcountry, whose social and architectural legacy is reflected in our two premier historic houses. Whether you have an interest in early Southern furniture, historic textiles or the Civil War, The Charleston Museum has something for everyone in your family.

Location: 360 Meeting Street
Phone: (843) 722-2996
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm; Sunday 1-5pm; Closed New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, 1/2 day Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

Annual Events & Heritage Organizations

Historic Charleston Foundation
Festival of Houses & Gardens

Each year from mid-March to mid-April, Historic Charleston Foundation offer tours that provide guests a rare opportunity to go inside private houses and gardens of some of America's most beautiful historic residences, some dating to the 18th century. Set amid the historic ambience of the city's Old & Historic District, this series of award-winning tours showcases Charleston's distinctive architecture, history, gardens and culture.

Location: Museum Shop 108 Meeting Street; Reproductions Shop 105 Broad Street
Phone: (843) 722-3405; For Brochure (843) 722-3405

Charleston International
Antiques Show

Founded in 1670, Charleston quickly rose to prominence as the colonies' most significant seaport, importing the finest in 18th and 19th century material culture. Today the city's legacy of Continental, European and Asian influences can still be found in its alluring architecture and decorative arts. Because of this unique heritage, Charleston's annual antiques show has attracted the attention of connoisseurs around the world. Exhibitors will showcase a spectrum of period furnishings, decorative pieces and fine art from the late 17th to 20th centuries, including vintage jewelry, oriental rugs, ceramics, architectural elements, garden furniture, porcelains, needlework and silver.

Location: 108 Meeting Street
Phone: (800) 926-2520

Charleston Library Society

For over two-and-a-half centuries, the Charleston Library Society has been a cornerstone of intellectual and cultural life in Charleston. Treasures in the collection include letters by George Washington, John Marshall, and John C. Calhoun; and extensive collection of newspapers and maps; and DuBose Heyward's original manuscript copy of Porgy. Today it is a center of scholarly research, a modern lending library, and an oasis of calm in the middle of Downtown Charleston.

The library is open to the public, and all are invited to join. A full schedule of lectures, classes, concerts, and other programs run throughout the year. Check out our latest cultural offerings, become a member, or browse our historic catalogue.

Location: 164 King Street
Phone: (843) 723-9912
Hours: Monday-Friday (Sept-June) 9:30am-5:30pm; Friday (July-August) 9:30am-2:00pm; Saturday 9:30am-2:00pm; Closed Sundays

Preservation Society of Charleston
Annual Fall Tours of Homes & Gardens

During September and October, the Society offers its annual Fall Tours of Homes and Gardens. Private homes and intimate gardens are featured and opened exclusively during this five-week event. Society members receive a 10% discount on tour tickets.

Preservation Society initiatives include the Charleston Master Preservationist Program,, Charleston "Seven to Save", Carolopolis awards, historic markers, and easements.

Visit the Preservation Society's Book and Gift Shop located on the corner of King and Queen Streets for a wide selection of books on local and regional history, culture and architecture, as well as unique Charleston and Lowcountry gifts.

Founded in 1920, the Preservation Society of Charleston is the oldest community-based preservation organization in America. Its mission focuses on preservation advocacy, education and planning.

Location: 147 King Street
Phone: (843) 722-4630; For brochure (843) 722-4630
Fax: (843) 723-4381
Hours: Monda-Saturday 10am-5pm, Some Sundays; Closed New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve.

The Avery Research Center for
African American History & Culture

College of Charleston - The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture is located on the site of the former Avery Normal Institute. Founded in 1865, the Avery Normal Institute was a nationally recognized African-American educational institution that trained young adults in professional careers and leadership roles for nearly 100 years. The Institute closed in 1954, but its graduates carried on its legacy and tradition of community leadership and educational excellence. This was especially apparent in 1978 when Avery graduates organized the Avery Institute of Afro-American History and Culture, a community-based historical society. In 1985, members of the Institute cooperated with the College of Charleston to found the College of Charleston's Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. The Avery Research Center was established to collect, preserve, and make public the unique historical and cultural heritage of African Americans in Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry. The Avery Research Center is governed by an advisory board consisting of members of the Avery Institute, the College of Charleston, and the Charleston community. It is the only research center of its kind in the Southeast.

Location: 125 Bull Street
Phone: (843) 953-7609
Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-5pm; Closed for lunch break 12:30pm-1:30pm; Closed for College of Charleston holidays; Groups five or more and all Saturday tours require appointments.

South Carolina Historical Society

Founded in 1855, the South Carolina Historical Society maintains a vast research library containing genealogical data, books, personal letters, plantation records, photographs and maps and plats in the historic Robert Mills Fireproof Building. Researchers are invited to visit the Historical Society, where, for a modest fee, they can trace their ancestry, learn more about South Carolina history or view the society's collection of original artwork. For the cost of membership, researchers can use the Society's library for free and receive invitations to exclusive house and plantation tours and subscriptions to the South Carolina Historical Magazine and Carologue.

Location: 100 Meeting Street
Phone: (843) 723-3225
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9am-4pm; Saturday 9am-2pm; Closed on all federal holidays, between Christmas and New Year's Day, and for special occasions as noted on the Historical Society's website.

Heritage Passport The Heritage Passport - Your Ticket to Historic Charleston

One Passport, Eight Amazing Sites

The Charleston Heritage Passport is your ticket to Charleston's EIGHT essential historic, architectural and cultural sites. Visit five Remarkable Historic Houses, America's Oldest Landscaped Gardens, America's Oldest Preserved Plantation House and America's First Museum...all for only $52.95 for a 2-day passport, $62.95 for a 3- day passport, and just $72.95 for a 7-day passport!

How To Purchase

Passports are only available at the Charleston Visitor Center, 375 Meeting St. , the North Charleston Visitor Center (at Tanger Outlet Center) and Mt. Pleasant Visitor Center (at Mt. Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park). For more information, please call the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-774-0006 or 843-853-8000.

The Charleston Heritage Passport is available in three versions: a 2-day passport for $52.95, a 3-day passport for $62.95 and a 7-day passport for $72.95. Each provides individual one-time only admission to each of the eight sites. If you are going to be in the Charleston area for 3 or more days we highly recommend the 3 or 7 day passport as it will allow you to see each of these fascinating sites at a much more relaxed pace. Each passport is valid for 2 , 3 or 7 consecutive days. Passports are only available at the Charleston Visitor Center, 375 Meeting St. , the North Charleston Visitor Center (at Tanger Outlet Center) and Mt. Pleasant Visitor Center (at Mt. Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park). For more information, please call the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-774-0006 or 843-853-8000. Please note: passports are not available for sale to groups. They are not valid for special events and may not be combined with any other discounts.

About Us Preserving and Stewarding History - What We Stand For

About The Federation

The Charleston Heritage Federation is comprised of non-governmental 501c3 museums and preservation organizations. The member organizations are devoted to the protection, preservation, and professional stewardship of buildings, sites, objects, and natural places/landscapes significant to the heritage and culture of Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry.

The organization works to enhance communication and cooperation among its members; provide joint marketing opportunities; and to educate the public concerning preservation and interpretation of historic places and museums.

Area Map Treasures of Charleston Map

Downtown Charleston Area

1. Aiken-Rhett House
2. The Charleston Museum
3. Joseph Manigault House
4. Gibbes Museum of Art
5. Heyward Washington House
6. Nathaniel Russell House
7. Edmondston-Alston House

8. Historic Charleston Foundation Festival of Houses & Gardens
9. The Preservation Society of Charleston and its Fall Tours of Homes and Gardens
10. The S.C. Historical Society
11. The Avery Research Center of African American History and Culture
12. Charleston Library Society

Greater Charleston Area

13. Drayton Hall
14. Middleton Place