Robert William Roper House

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Robert William Roper House
Robert William Roper House (Charleston).jpg
Robert William Roper House
Robert William Roper House is located in South Carolina
Robert William Roper House
Robert William Roper House is located in the US
Robert William Roper House
Location 9 E. Battery St., Charleston, South Carolina
Coordinates 32°46′15″N 79°55′43″W / 32.77083°N 79.92861°W / 32.77083; -79.92861Coordinates: 32°46′15″N 79°55′43″W / 32.77083°N 79.92861°W / 32.77083; -79.92861
Built 1838
Architect Unknown. Possibly Edward B. White or Charles Friedrich Reichardt
Architectural style Greek Revival
Part of Charleston Historic District (#66000964)
NRHP reference # 73001692
Significant dates
Added to NRHP November 7, 1973[1]
Designated NHL November 7, 1973[2]
Designated NHLDCP October 9, 1960

The Robert William Roper House is a historic house at 9 East Battery in Charleston, South Carolina. It was built on land purchased in May 1838 by Robert W. Roper, a prominent cotton planter. The house is an outstanding example of early 19th Century Greek Revival architecture, built on a monumental scale. Although there are now two houses between the Roper House and White Point Garden to the south, at the time of its construction nothing stood between the house and the harbor beyond. It is said that Mr. Roper "had wanted his house to be the first and most prominent to be seen as visitors approached Charleston by sea."[3]

The Roper House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.[2] That same year, the authors of the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places described the house as "exceptional...well-proportioned and architecturally be preserved and protected in situ at all costs."[4]

Chain of ownership[edit]

1838–1851 (Robert Roper era)[edit]

In 1836, the city of Charleston completed a new sea wall at the southeastern tip of the city, and contemplated building a park along South Bay Street extending north along East Bay Street. Short of funds, the city decided instead to subdivide the East Bay land into nine lots and sell them to pay for a smaller park along the South Battery. [5] In May 1838, Robert W. Roper bought "Lot 5" and "Lot 6" (each with fifty feet of frontage along East Bay Street), the deed containing one restriction: "...that no house less than three stories high shall be erected thereon." [6] In August 1839, having built his house tight to the north property line, Roper bought an additional eleven feet of frontage (part of "Lot 7") from his northerly neighbor, Isaac E. Holmes, an acquisition that allowed Roper to run a driveway around the north side of his house to the two-story carriage house at the back of the lot. [7] Roper died in 1845 and in April 1848, title to the house (including all 111 feet of East Bay frontage) was transferred to Roper's wife, Martha Rutledge Roper. [8] Mrs. Roper sold the house in 1851 to Mary Coachman Allston.[9]

1851–1874 (Allston-Ravenel era)[edit]

After Robert Roper bought part of "Lot 7" in 1839, the remainder of the lot fell into foreclosure and was sold at auction in 1842 to William Ravenel, a shipping merchant. [10] Ravenel built a house in 1845, its colonnade nearly as grand as Roper's, featuring four monumental columns crowned with Grecian capitals modeled after the Tower of the Winds in Athens. Because the lot was narrow, Ravenel (or his architect) ingeniously ran a driveway through the ground floor of the house, with "...the carriage entrance, running under the drawing-room." [11] Nevertheless, Ravenel must have coveted Roper's slice of "Lot 7" and got a chance to get it when Mary Allston died. Her will was proved in July 1859, after which her executors sold Roper House to Ravenel. [12] The two houses remained in common ownership through the Civil War years, but when Ravenel sold Roper House in 1874 to Rudolph Siegling, [13] he reconfigured the property lines, retaining all of "Lot 7" and part of "Lot 6." Once again, Roper House sat tight to its northern property line, forcing Siegling to run a driveway across the south lawn, a conundrum eventually solved when the property was extended to create a service entrance at Church Street.

In the summer of 1864, during the Civil War, Maj. Edward Manigault made an entry in his diary: "The Roper House has had the architectural projection of the porch blown away by a shell."[14] After two years of shelling by Union troops, the houses along East Battery stood vacant. In February 1865, near the end of the war, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman (having completed his March to the Sea ending at Savannah) crossed into South Carolina. On the evening of February 17, Confederate troops began to evacuate the city, destroying artillery too heavy to move, including a large Blakely canon at the corner of South Battery and East Battery. According to one writer, as a result of the blast "...a six-foot-long, 2,000-pound piece of the Blakeley's tube came to rest in the attic [of Roper House], where it remains to this day." [15]

1874–1929 (Siegling Family era)[edit]

Rudolph Siegling bought Roper House in August 1874, but one year later was still living at 189 King Street. [16] He may have been renovating prior to taking occupancy, but in the 1878 Charleston Directory, he was living at Roper House, and by the time of the 1880 census, he was living there with his mother, his sister Elizabeth and his brother-in-law, John Horlbeck, a member of a family of architects and masons. Siegling, the son of the Prussian-born music publisher Johann Siegling, was himself a successful lawyer and publisher of Charleston's The News & Courier. By 1874, Roper House was in need of a renovation and Siegling had the wherewithal to pay for one.

From at least 1851 until 1874, a masonry wall, with rusticated piers and balusters, separated the Roper House garden from East Battery. Sometime after his purchase, but before 1886, Siegling replaced the wall with an iron fence, and replaced the war-damaged neoclassical porch with an Italianate doorway. Siegling also modified two tripartite windows on the north facade, blocking up the flanking windows, and replacing the 6 part sash of the central windows with the then more fashionable 2 part style of sash. It is reasonable to infer that prior to Siegling's occupancy, all of Roper House's windows were the 6 part sash used ubiquitously in 1838.

On August 31, 1886, during Siegling's tenure at Roper House, Charleston was struck by a powerful earthquake resulting in sixty deaths, and tremendous damage to the city's structures. Next door, the portico of William Ravenel's house collapsed, but Roper House suffered minor damage — the east and north facades cracked, requiring patching and anchorage, but the monumental portico escaped unscathed; the Charleston city engineer pronounced it to be in "good" condition. In the years after the earthquake, Siegling demolished the old carriage house, and replaced it with a rear wing to the main house, faithfully reproducing Roper House's neoclassical bracketed cornice and balustrade. The new wing included a kitchen and a sixty-foot long ballroom.[17] The house as altered by Siegling is very much the house as it exists today.

1929–1952 (Solomon Guggenheim era)[edit]

Solomon Guggenheim, heir to a copper mining fortune, but better known for having established the Guggenheim Museum, bought Roper House in late 1929 or early 1930 from Rudolph Siegling's daughter-in-law, Lucille L. Siegling. [18] Guggenheim's used the house as an occasional winter getaway, and his principal contribution to the appearance of the house was to maintain it well for two decades. He also converted Rudolph Siegling's ballroom to extra bedrooms. [19] Guggenheim died in 1949 and his heirs sold the house three years later.

1952–1968 (Drayton Hastie era)[edit]

In 1952, Mr. and Mrs. J. Drayton Hastie, owners of Magnolia Gardens, bought Roper House, making an apartment for themselves on the upper floor, and another for Hastie's recently widowed mother, Mrs. C. Norwood Hastie, on the main floor. Beginning in 1953, Mrs. Hastie's elegant apartment was a regular feature on the annual house tours conducted by the Historic Charleston Foundation, and was photographed in 1956 by Samuel and Narcissa Chamberlain for their book Southern Interiors of Charleston, South Carolina. In 1968, Drayton Hastie sold the house to Richard Jenrette but reserved a life tenancy on the main floor for his mother. Mrs. Hastie continued to live at Roper House until her death in 1981.[20]

1968–2018 (Richard H. Jenrette era)[edit]

Richard Jenrette, a New York financier, well-known preservationist and collector of significant historic houses, bought Roper House in 1968, and took full possession in 1981 at the end of Mrs. Hastie's life tenancy. Over the next two years, he engaged the decorative painter Robert Jackson to marbleize the walls, installed blue and gold curtains, put down Scalamandré carpeting, furnished the principal rooms with a suite of Duncan Phyfe furniture, and hung portraits of George Washington and Andrew Jackson over the mantels. [21] Kenneth and Martha Severens, writing in The Magazine Antiques, described it as " exemplary restoration..."[22] Mr. Jenrette wrote two books about his half-century tenure at Roper House: Adventures with Old Houses (2005) and Columns by the Sea (2013). Jenrette died at Roper House on April 22, 2018.

Gallery of site plans[edit]


The architect of Roper House is unknown and is likely to remain so, as no documentation has been found for nearly two centuries. In 1973, the authors of the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places speculated that Edward B. White was the Architect, an idea first proposed by the historian Samuel Gaillard Stoney in 1953. Stoney called Roper House a "...distinguished piece of classic revival designing," adding that "...who Robert William Roper had for architect is not now known, but the versatile and able Edward Brickell White, who designed many of the city's finest buildings...had just begun to practice in Charleston. There is a high likelihood of his being the architect." [23]

Other candidates have been proposed: Kenneth and Martha Severens wrote in 1990 that, "circumstantial and stylistic evidence suggest that Charles F. Reichardt may have been the architect...the most persuasive argument for Reichardt as the architect of the Roper House is stylistic: the colossal five-columned piazza along the south side reflects similarly monumental colonnades on Reichardt's Meeting Street Theater, Charleston Hotel and Guard House..."[24]

Further reading[edit]

  • Columns by the Sea, Richard H. Jenrette, New York, NY: Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, 2013, ISBN 9780982573716.
  • Adventures with Old Houses, Richard H. Jenrette, Charleston, SC: Wyrick & Co., 2000, ISBN 0941711463.
  • Kenneth and Martha Severens, "The Robert William Roper House, Charleston, South Carolina," The Magazine Antiques, May 1990.
  • Vance Muse, "The Man who Loves Houses," House & Garden, August 1986.
  • Southern Interiors of Charleston, South Carolina, Samuel Chamberlain and Narcissa G. Chamberlain, New York: Hastings House, 1956, pages 112–114.
  • The Dwelling Houses of Charleston South Carolina, Alice R. Huger Smith and D. E. Huger Smith, Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott, 1917, pages 182-184.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b "Robert William Roper House". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  3. ^ Richard Hampton Jenrette. Adventures with Old Houses (Charleston, SC: Gibbs Smith, 2005), page 67.
  4. ^ Tray Stephenson and Bernard Kearse (April 20, 1973). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Robert William Roper House" (pdf). National Park Service.  and Accompanying one photo, exterior, undated (32 KB)
  5. ^ Kenneth and Martha Severens, "The Robert William Roper House, Charleston, South Carolina," The Magazine Antiques, May 1990.
  6. ^ Charleston County Register, Deed Book U-10, page 306 and page 312.
  7. ^ Charleston County Register, Deed Book Y-10, page 177.
  8. ^ Charleston County Register, Deed Book Z-11, page 561.
  9. ^ Charleston County Register, Deed Book M-12, page 358.
  10. ^ Charleston County Register, Deed Book H-11, page 445.
  11. ^ Alice R. Huger Smith and D. E. Huger Smith. The Dwelling Houses of Charleston South Carolina (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1917, pages 182-183).
  12. ^ Charleston County Register, Deed Book L-14, page 145.
  13. ^ Charleston County Register, Deed Book Q-16, page 317.
  14. ^ Mauriel Phillip Joslyn. Immortal Captives: The Story of 600 Confederate Officers (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2010).
  15. ^ Chris W. Phelps. The Bombardment of Charleston, 1863–1865 (Gretna LA: Pelican Publishing, 2002), page 137.
  16. ^ Charleston City Directory, 1875.
  17. ^ Richard Hampton Jenrette. Adventures with Old Houses (Charleston, SC: Gibbs Smith, 2005), page 74.
  18. ^ Charleston County Register, Deed Book E-35, page 117.
  19. ^ Richard Hampton Jenrette. Adventures with Old Houses (Charleston SC: Gibbs Smith, 2005), page 74.
  20. ^ Richard H. Jenrette. Adventures with Old Houses, (Charleston, SC: Gibbs Smith, 2005), pages 67–69.
  21. ^ Richard H. Jenrette. Adventures with Old Houses, (Charleston, SC: Gibbs Smith, 2005), page 70.
  22. ^ Kenneth and Martha Severens, "The Robert William Roper House, Charleston, South Carolina," The Magazine Antiques, May 1990.
  23. ^ Samuel Gaillard Stoney. Charleston's Historic Houses, 1953 Tours of Private Homes (Charleston, SC: Historic Charleston Foundation, 1953), page 48.
  24. ^ Kenneth and Martha Severens, "The Robert William Roper House, Charleston, South Carolina," The Magazine Antiques, May 1990.

External links[edit]