City Directories and History: ASHLEY HALL
Constructed circa 1802-16; various nineteenth-century additions
“Although this building’s exact construction date remains in question, it is known that Patrick Duncan, a wealthy tallow chandler, purchased a lot in 1798 from Daniel Cannon and yet another lot in 1807 to the south from Elizabeth Combe. The purchases were made at the time when the neighborhood was becoming the fashionable suburb of Cannonborough. After his return to England in 1828, Duncan sold the house to James Nicholson for $11,800 in 1829.
In 1836 the property and building passed into the hands of James Reid Pringle, leader of the Unionist Party during the Nullification controversy. In 1845 George A. Trenholm, a noted Charleston merchant and onetime secretary of the treasury of the Confederacy, acquired the property. After the Trenholm tenure, the property was in the hands of Charles Otto Witte. Since 1909 the house has served as the home of Ashley Hall, a private school for girls.
The architecture of the building is be lieved to show the influence of William Jay. The house is entered through the basement portico, which has been glass enclosed to form a conservatory. The exterior of Ashley Hall is stuccoed and is probably original, as most homes such as this one from the Regency era were finished in this manner. The elaborate architectural detail in the Regency style, soaring elliptical stairway, curved walls and doors, round-headed openings, grandiose portico, and rounded balconies are similar to designs in Savannah by William Jay.
The three pointed arch windows in the pediment of the building’s portico, defined by four Ionic columns, and the vaulted ceil-ings of the interior add Gothic motifs also used by Jay’s contemporary, Robert Mills. An 1819 account describes the richness of Patrick Duncan’s garden, but Charles Otto Witte is responsible for the present botanical diversity of the garden as well as the garden building clad with shells.”
Information from: The Buildings of Charleston – J.H. Poston – Author, for the Historic Charleston Foundation, 1997
“Ashley Hall School. Built c. 1816 by Patrick Duncan, this Regency villa was, according to tradition, designed by an English architect. lt is similar to the work of William Jay in Savannah. After 1838, it was the home of James R. Pringle, Speaker of the S.C. House and customs collector. lt was later owned by George A. Trenholm, wealthy shipping merchant, owner of Civil War blockade runners, and Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. From 1870 to 1907, it was the home of Charles O’Witte, the German consul. ln 1909, Miss Mary Vardrine McBee established the school.” (Smith & Smith, Dwelling Houses , pp. 332-333; Charleston Grows , pp. 285-286; Rhett & Steele, pp. 86-87; Ravenel, Architects , p. 115; Stockton, DYKYC, Oct. 17, 1977; Nepveux,George Alfred Trenholm , pp. 7-9; Stoney, This Is Charleston , p. 91) – CCPL
(Ashley Hall School) Constructed ca. 1816, Ashley Hall was once the home of wealthy Charleston merchants. Distinctive architecturally, it has served since 1909 as a preparatory school for girls. James Nicholson owned the property from 1829 to 1838. In 1838 James Pringle bought the house. Pringle was a prominent Unionist during the Nullification controversy and a member of the state legislature from 1808 to 1818. At the time he bought the house, he was the collector of customs for the Port of Charleston. Pringle sold the house to George A. Trenholm in 1845. Trenholm was a wealthy merchant and financier who became Secretary of the Confederate Treasury in 1864. The Classical Revival building was constructed of stuccoed brick painted white and is two stories over a high basement with rusticated masonry. The portico is supported by four giant-order unfluted Ionic columns with Renaissance capitals in Palladian stance upon balustraded pedestals. The pediment is denticulated and has in it triptych Gothic windows. The basement’s front elevation has a central segmented arch flanked to either side by a semicircular arch. Originally open, the arches have been glazed. The portico façade is a deeply-convex apse with second story balconies and wrought iron railings. The water table is sandstone. After decades of use as a private residence, Mary Vardrine McBee found Ashley Hall in 1909, a preparatory school for girls. Listed in the National Register August 30, 1974. (Courtesy of the SC Dept. of Archives and History)
Other sources: Charleston Tax Payers of Charleston, SC in 1860-61, Dwelling Houses of Charleston by Alice R.H. Smith – 1917, Charleston 1861 Census Schedule, and a 1872 Bird’s Eye View of Charleston, S.C. The Hist. Charleston Foundation may also have additional data at: Past Perfect
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