Symphony Designer Showhouse Features Antebellum Parsonage
What's known as the great fire of 1838 is recorded as having destroyed more than 1,000 buildings in the heart of Charleston, including most of those in what's now the city's historic Ansonborough neighborhood. The 1846 residence at 50 Hasell Street is among the homes, churches and businesses that literally rose from the ashes within a decade.
According to a detailed history of the property published in The News and Courier in 1970, a dwelling that can be traced to 1779 did occupy the property before the fire. After that devastation, the owner had what amounted to a large vacant lot.
That portion of the lot that bordered on Anson and Hasell Streets was sold to a group of Lutherans who commissioned the noted architect Edward Brickell White to build a new German Evangelical church. The doors opened in 1842.
The remaining land went through a number of owners before it caught the eye of Joel Smith, an Abbeville planter. According to the article, Smith's fine new 2 ½ story home of Charleston brick—now brick and stucco—was raised on a full story basement and topped by a spacious attic. The first floor consisted of two parlors that opened into each other or could be separated by sliding doors. Another large room that once served as the dining room is to the rear. The rooms on both floors were designed to open on to piazzas. They include 2 over 2, full-height windows. A carriage house located in the rear of the property is thought to have once served as the kitchen outbuilding. While it can still be accessed from the parsonage garden, it now is connected to church auxiliary buildings and primarily houses Sunday school classrooms.
Other notable features of the house include an ornate cast iron fence, a Palladian window that looks onto the street and an eye-catching front entrance with etched glass inserts in the handsome panel pocket doors. According to Historic Charleston Foundation experts, the architectural style is transitional Italianate.
But Charleston must have seemed a long commute to the original owner who is said to have kept his ties with Abbeville. He sold the house in 1853 to a prosperous Charleston merchant. While the house subsequently went through a number of owners, the church next door has been home to Lutherans for all but 11 of the last 173 years. The original congregation, which became known as St. Matthews, relocated to Marion Square. In 1878, the church's new owners founded what's now known as the St. Johannes Evangelical Lutheran Church.
It was the purchase of 50 Hasell in 1893 by prominent Charleston attorney J.D.E. Meyer that would eventually cement the connection with the church at 48 Hasell. No doubt family ties with several of the city's Lutheran churches played a role in Mrs. Meyer's decision to sell the house to St. Johannes in 1919.
In the last 95 years, the Hasell Street parsonage has been home to a relatively small number of families, primarily due to the fact that the Rev. I. Ernest Long was pastor of the church for a record 37 years. Mrs. Long continued to live in the house after her husband's death, residing primarily on the first floor, with the second floor serving as an educational facility. Meanwhile, the church bought a house on St. Margaret Street that served as the parsonage for two successive pastors. By the time the Rev. Gary Safrit became the pastor in 1968, the house on Hasell Street—which had withstood a major earthquake and war—had been vacant for a number of years and was in need of major repair. The minister felt so strongly about the need to return the house to its role as a parsonage that he made its restoration a condition of his call. His persuasive leadership resulted in the sale of the St. Margaret Street house, which helped finance the 1969 restoration.
By 1970, the house was once again a showplace and ready for the Historic Charleston Foundation special Ansonborough tour aimed at focusing on revitalizing the historic neighborhood. The Safrits still remember the effect the restoration had on one special visitor who had grown up there. Wilhelmine Meyer Hollings, mother of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, was so determined to see it again that she made her way up the steps with the help of two canes. Once inside, the curving second-floor staircase immediately brought back memories. She told the Safrits she remembered literally running down those steps on her wedding day.
But once again, the years have taken their toll. The property has been vacant for more than five years due to a previous pastor's ownership of a nearby home. The St. Johannes congregation agreed in November to borrow the funds to make the home functional for the long-term use of the church, and, more immediately for conversion to the Charleston Symphony Orchestra League Designer Showhouse. The opportunity to benefit from the work of top designers was the impetus to accelerate such much needed interior work as the remediation of mold, asbestos and lead, the installation of a new heating and air conditioning system, the removal of decades of wall coverings, the repair of cracked walls, the repair and painting the exterior and the installation of a new garden.
The work began paying dividends almost as soon as it began. For example, more than 20 layers of paint weighing more than 200 pounds have been painstakingly removed during the remediation process. Among the revelations are beautifully detailed woodwork and a solid mahogany stair rail. Still showstoppers are two invaluable crystal chandeliers in the two main rooms that were a gift of the Stuhr family after the 1970 renovation. The family made one condition: They must be returned if the parsonage is ever sold.
St. Johannes' goal is to have 50 Hasell Street serve once again as a vibrant part of the life of the congregation, including being available for such church related purposes as a wedding venue. As for the CSOL, the revenue raised from its month-long Designer Showhouse keeps this major community asset alive. This joint event is indeed a "win-win."
Written by Barbara Williams
Symphony Designer Showhouse Preview Party