By Chris Leigh-Jones, Founder, Luxury Simplified
The Major Peter Bocquet House, located at 95 Broad Street remains one of the most iconic buildings in Charleston SC. Featured on many local websites, including that of the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau, it presents an iconic and beloved Charleston image. From the multiple flickering gas lamps, to its bright terra-cotta lime washed exterior, stucco molding and original ironwork, the building simply oozes heritage, history, home. That said, buildings are seldom occupied throughout their life by a single entity or family and it is in their passing from one to the next, that a building gains its personality, each successive generation adding and subtracting to the whims of family necessity or fashion.
Our business has occupied 95 Broad St. since we first came to Charleston 6 years ago and began our journey of restoring many derelict historic properties downtown. It's now time for us to move on, as the area has developed and our business matured. Our tenure here has been, by all comparisons, brief though we had a major effect on the interior with a complete renovation in 2012. As we prepare to sell this historic dwelling, my thoughts do wander though to some of the other tenants honored to be its keeper through its notable history. Just who were they and what did they add?
Let's start with sometime in the early 18th century. Religious strife in France and the pressures of a conformist Catholic monarchy led to a mass exodus of adherents to the new Protestant faith. These Huguenot found their way to many a developing colony, Charleston being one where their merchant skills were welcomed. By the second and third generation they were an established and major force for development in the new colony. This was the time of Peter Bocquet and his father buying and developing land just outside of the old "walled City." Now those walls were no longer needed as redoubt against the dreaded Spaniards. In the later 1760’s Peter was given a tract of high land on the corner of King and Broad Streets, former farm land free from flooding and just east of the area later to be used by Oglethorpe for his experimental planting aimed at developing the new Georgia Colony based around Savannah. Peter, later Major Peter Bocquet, used the house as his home and also his office explaining the double entry doors that front Broad Street, and internal layout that can easily separate the top three floors from the ground floor salon. Peter bet his fortunes on the rebels in the War of Independence, a shrewd and successful bet at that. His final position being Controller of Seized Lands and Properties. Former possessions of those who lost the same bet and now he was responsible for their dispossession, no doubt making him popular with many a local and murderously unpopular with others. Major Bocquet was responsible for the building and its surviving original interior features - the paneled walls, heart pine doors, fireplaces and roof timbers.
Time passed at Broad Street as the City developed, spreading northward up through the peninsula, as goods flooded in from down river and later by railroad from the surrounding plantations and islands. War came and went without note then came again in the form of The War Between the States. Enter the next significant owner in the form of George Trenholm of Ashley Hall. The same Trenholm reinvented by Margeret Mitchell in “Gone with the Wind” as Rhett Butler. Our Mr Trenholm, as Secretary of the Treasury for the new Confederacy and a significant owner of cotton, ships and shipping in his partnership with Frasier. It is doubtful he ever lived at 95 Broad St. but rather used it as offices, offices he also operated in London and Liverpool throughout the war as Banker to the Confederacy. Those buildings exist to this day still decorated internally in the style of the period. Our Mr Trenholm was a prodigious trader and secessionist. His blockade running operations resulting in major fortune and also a major disaster as the successful North pressed him for unpaid federal import taxes resulting in final bankruptcy. Many a fortune hunter still find themselves seeking the final resting place of unaccounted funds locally knows as Trenholm’s gold. Though bankrupt, he still managed to buy his daughter a large plantation in Georgetown as a dowry a few years after the war. Some mysteries never do lend themselves to the simple explanation.
A series of families and doctors followed in his wake as owners of 95 Broad Street, no doubt using the salon in their practice and ballroom for their libraries and to seek suitable beau’s for their southern daughters. Listen hard enough and those antebellum tunes may still be heard lightly reflecting on the panels and walls.
No reflection on the litany of prior owners should really be complete without a mention of the fearsome Jon Ragsdale, Interior Designer to the great and good of Charleston. Ms. Ragsdale lived in the home for a quarter century and is responsible for saving it from the clutches of a demolition team bent on making way for an expansion of the then downtown Piggly Wiggly supermarket. Under her stewardship of this grand historic home, she is responsible for saving what could be restored and for the historic and notable orange lime wash on the exterior retained to this day.
With a footprint in four centuries, 95 Broad Street is one of the oldest buildings in the continental United States. The building, to our knowledge, has lost its roof three times over the years, lost a piazza, and the rear outbuildings to construction of the Federal Law courthouse. It has gained an extension, three renovations internally and modernization over those same years. Its life has spanned 4 wars in Charleston, insurrection and rebellion, fires, tempest and plague. Owners have come and gone, some with note and others known only by its continued existence. If houses have souls then this has an old soul, a soul unassailed by the passage of time and that now seeks a new owner to serve.
Note: While the past has been written for The Major Peter Bocquet House, it's future and new owner awaits. Have a look behind the doors at 95 Broad Street and imagine this home in Charleston's iconic South of Broad neighborhood for yourself...
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