Our Charleston, SC Hotel's History
History of our Historic Charleston Hotel
“Southern hospitality at its finest. Loved every minute
.” - Guest testimonial
As told by Drayton Hastie, owner of the 1843 Battery Carriage House Inn
Our history begins on June 7, 1843, when the property where our hotel in Charleston now sits was purchased by Samuel N. Stevens for $4,500. Stevens was a wealthy factor who acted as the commercial agent for plantation owners, lending funds required to plant crops and aiding in the sale of the crops. These East Bay and Battery Park homes in Charleston, SC reflect the prosperity that was prevalent in South Carolina during this era.
The original 1843 house differed from its current version, which is adjacent to our waterfront hotel in Charelston, SC. The original Charleston home was a typical neoclassical structure, pictured in early prints of the Battery houses. One such print is located downstairs at the inn.
It was essentially a large Charleston “single” house: one room deep with a hall behind the rooms on each floor, but with the length of the house facing the sea instead of the street, as is the custom. This allowed for more light and air. There was also no fourth floor or mansard roof.
The house’s position on the street made the location of the front door a tricky issue. The French windows of the living room open directly to the porch and can serve as entrances, but more normal doors were put at either end of the porches. The porch was converted to a small kitchen in the 1850s, when the kitchens below were abandoned. The normal place to put a formal entrance would be the center of the house, but this would have divided the large single room into two rooms. Thus it is on the side.
In 1859, Stevens sold 20 South Battery to factor John F. Blacklock, who moved from his well-known house at 18 Bull Street to the Battery. As luck would have it, the Civil War soon began and he abandoned the house. He then sold it in 1870 to Col. Lathers, another “money man.”
The main home and carriage house (now our historic Charleston hotels) never belonged to a planter and — contrary to popular belief — many of the large houses in Charleston belonged to merchants and financial services men, not planters.
The house was battered during the Siege of Charleston, at that time the longest bombardment of a civilian population in the history of warfare. After the War, wealth had disappeared from Charleston. Blacklock and other Southern merchants and factors were broke. It is amazing that there was anyone at all to buy the property. The purchaser was a Southerner born in Georgetown, SC, but also a Yankee Colonel.
Col. Lathers also had been a factor and represented numerous Northern cotton mills. He married into a wealthy New York banking family, opposed the War, and served in the Union Army. After the War, he wanted to help out his home state, and he tried to provide capital and other assistance to revive the economy.
He bought 20 South Battery and hired John Henry Devereaux, a well-known Charleston architect, to renovate the house in the New York fashion of the time, known generally as Second Empire. A mansard roof was added, which housed a library. A new ballroom was also constructed. It was not designed for dancing, but instead became a conference room. Lathers had US senators, the governor of New York, and NYC financiers come down to look over the situation and meet with locals. As Charleston did not consider itself reconciled to the Union until after 1900, it was too early for local Southerners to do business with the North. This attitude is one of the main reasons that Charleston, despite its harbor and many geographic advantages, languished while a little rail crossroads like Atlanta grew prosperous. Charlestonians eventually told Lathers he was unwelcome so he took his Yankee blood money with him and left.
After spending a couple of years renovating the house, Lathers found a buyer in 1874 — Andrew Simonds, who was another money man and my great-great grandfather. His mother was a member of the Calhoun clan and his wife Sarah was a Calhoun too; his first cousin. The Calhouns had settled in the South Carolina “up-country” and because of their commercial interests, endeavored to prosper after the War. Conversely, my unfortunate and formerly very wealthy great-great grandfather of the same generation, John Grimke Drayton, languished after losing all of his properties as a result of the War. He spent the rest of his life on his few remaining acres digging in the soil and creating Magnolia Gardens.
Andrew Simonds promptly founded the First National Bank of South Carolina and even engaged in the hated but essential post-war fertilizer business by founding the Imperial Fertilizer Company. The impoverished plantation owners could raise tax money by digging phosphate, which was turned into fertilizer. This unfortunately was accomplished by strip-mining Lowcountry plantations, such as Magnolia Gardens. If you visit Magnolia, you can still see the devastation caused by strip-mining. With the fertilizer company and bank, Simonds added a fleet of ships to trade from the wharfs of Charleston.
But all his new wealth didn’t make him happy or save him from the normal miseries of life. Infected by the Charleston water as we say, oldest son Andrew Simonds Jr. was a dilettante and a drunk. His boisterous life of hunting, fishing and partying came to an end in a Baltimore sanatorium. The famous and lovely Daisy Breaux was his wife (for her view of things, see “The Autobiography of a Chameleon,” 1930). As their wedding present, grandfather Simonds allowed them to build the Villa Margarita just down the street, where she created an indoor “Roman courtyard” with a pool that witnessed many a festive toga party.
As a child, my grandmother climbed on the roof of the ballroom — which was used as an art gallery by grandfather Andrew Simonds, who collected mostly dark European reproductions — and fell through the glass skylight. It would have killed her had she not fallen into one of the large chandeliers, which luckily held her weight. She was thus rescued by a very nervous nanny. The family lived here until 1912.
Among the most notable owners of 20 South Battery during the 20th century are the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings (now the Preservation Society of Charleston), which was formed in the Ballroom in 1920. This is the oldest preservation society in the country, marking the beginning of the preservation effort in Charleston and the rest of the US.
The Pringles, who owned the home during the society’s founding, converted the rear out building into a “motorcourt” during the ‘20s and set up Burma Shave-style signs on the major roads coming into Charleston. What is now the “Battery Carriage House Inn” was then “Pringle Court.”
In the 1940s, charging by the hour brought in more money than nightly rentals. Charleston was then a Navy town, full of hard drinking, gambling and prostitution. The Market area, now a clutter of tourist shops, was then a hotspot filled with nightclubs and strippers. While the young Jack Kennedy cavorted with his women friends at the luxurious Fort Sumter Hotel, less illustrious customers were brought to the Battery Park hotel in Charleston, SC by Market Street’s women of the evening.
By the 1960s, respectability had returned, as Navy entertainments moved closer to the Navy Base in North Charleston. The rooms at 20 South Battery were then converted to small apartments and rented to college students. By the ‘80s, it returned to a hotel and has been that way ever since.