Rutledge Avenue Reality

IMG_2206Perhaps the most exquisitely-detailed i exterior in Charleston can be found at the Isaac Jenkins Mikell house on Rutledge Avenue. Built in 1853 by Mikell, and Edisto Island planter, the house at that time overlooked the Ashley River. This period in antebellum Charleston represented the epitome of the city’s architectural elegance, and Mikell chose to build a massive side-hall single house Roman Revival style, not Greek Revival as is commonly stated. Most noteworthy of the details built into the house is the elegant piazza, with its distinctive column capitals decorated with two rows of Acanthus leaves below rams’ heads. This style has been erroneously called “Tower of the Winds”, which it is not. This style of capital is called the Composite Order, and was patterned after the famous Arch of Septimus Severus in Rome. Rams and Bulls were common motifs in Roman architecture, representing animal sacrifices to the gods. The “Tower of the Winds” comes from a Greek motif near the Acropolis in which the capitals feature a row of acanthus leaves below a row of palm leaves.

The gates to the Mikell house were done by the famous German-born ironsmith Christopher Werner, and are some of the most ornate examples of this talented ironsmith, whose work seems to be forgotten in the recent obsession over the ironwork of modern craftsmen.

Certain trends in conveying Charleston’s history are erroneous and need correcting. One is that the Mikell house is Roman Revival with columns featuring the Composite order, and the other is that the house’s gates were done by the Christopher Werner, who, despite the attention paid to others, was most likely the greatest of all Charleston ironsmiths.

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