The John Rutledge House

The month of July is associated with the founding of our nation, and my next several diary posts will highlight the Charleston homes of some of our founding fathers. I start with John Rutledge and his home at 116 Broad Street. Built around 1763 for his bride, you have to imagine it without (1) the top floor and (2) all the cast ironwork, both of which were additions by later owners to the structure. In 1763 it would have been recognizable as a fine Georgian-style house, embodying the principles of balance and harmony as essential to that period.

116 Broad Street was built for John’s bride, Elizabeth Grimke, and it speaks of his love and high regard for her. They had ten children and were married for approximately 30 years until Elizabeth’s death in 1792.

John Rutledge was an attorney when he built this house. Like many sons of the wealthy in Charles Town and surrounding plantations, John completed his law education in England. Shortly after 116 Broad Street was completed, John entered politics. When the rumblings of dissatisfaction with English rule grew louder, John, along with others in Charles Town, used his education, his speaking and writing gifts, and his passion to help form a new nation.

The list of offices he held is numerous. John Rutledge was the President of the interim South Carolina government in 1766; that office morphed into Governor. He was South Carolina’s Governor twice – both times in the midst of war with England. He was a member of the Continental Congress, and he drafted part of the United States Constitution – on the second floor of 116 Broad Street. Later he signed the Constitution. He was Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court; he was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He served his state and his country well.

When I look at 116 Broad Street today, it strikes me that this house finally reflects the man John Rutledge became. The house was solid, fine and balanced when John built it in 1763; now with modifications to the exterior by later owners such as the addition of the third floor and the magnificent cast ironwork on the front, 116 Broad has become a tall, grand and stately building, one as important and dignified as John Rutledge was as one of our country’s founding fathers and through continued service to South Carolina and the United States throughout the remainder of his life.

Walk by 116 Broad Street, stop and linger. Right now the plumbago blooms profusely as its blue flowers embrace the teal-painted cast ironwork by the marble stairs. From the front view, walk to bottom of the stairs to your right, look behind the gate and notice the 1850’s ironwork that incorporates the eagle and the palmetto tree. What a fitting tribute to John Rutledge – the eagle is the national emblem of the United States and the palmetto tree is the South Carolina state tree.