The Garden Club of Charleston & The Charleston Museum

An Historic Partnership

One beneficial effort that will not be cancelled this year due to the pandemic is the decorating of the Joseph Manigault House for the holidays. We are so grateful to the ladies of The Garden Club of Charleston for creating the beautiful holiday arrangements that enhance an important Charleston historic site.

In addition to the annual holiday decorating, the Garden Club has maintained the gardens at the Heyward-Washington House and the Joseph Manigault House for decades and, in recent years, the courtyard outside the Laura Bragg Boardroom. The Garden Club of Charleston was formed in 1922, around the time the preservation movement was becoming active in Charleston.  Seven years later the Museum acquired the Heyward-Washington House, the state’s first historic house museum, and, in 1933, it obtained the Joseph Manigault House.  Although portions of the grounds of both historic houses were dedicated as workyards where enslaved people grew food crops, managed livestock, and slaughtered animals for food, formal ornamental gardens were also part of the landscape.

The exact configuration of the Heyward-Washington House garden is unknown. In the 1930s, Museum staff member Emma Richardson based the design on other period gardens using plants that were readily available in Charleston in 1791 when President George Washington stayed in the house during his visit. In the early 1960s, the Garden Club restored the garden that Richardson had implemented, and their work earned a James Paschal Award for restoration in 1968.

The Garden Club took particular interest in the Joseph Manigault House garden in 1941. On December 3, 1941, just four days prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which would bring the U.S. into the Second World War, Club members met in the Joseph Manigault House and voted to allocate funds from their spring tours to the restoration of its garden. Little could be accomplished during this time since the house was used as a USO facility during the war. With the coming of peace, the Garden Club designated the garden a “Project for Restoration” in 1947. Fortunately, an accurate representation of the Manigault House garden design was made possible thanks to a rendering done by Charlotte Manigault, Joseph’s wife. Over the next two years, members tackled the overgrown yard, creating the beautiful period garden that they have maintained ever since.

Around this same time, the Garden Club began decorating the house for the holidays, primarily using plants and décor appropriate to the nineteenth century. This project is done in cooperation with Museum staff and within the bounds of the historical integrity of the house.

The Garden Club’s Joseph Manigault House and Heyward-Washington House Garden Committees, along with the Boardroom Courtyard Committee, through their dedicated efforts save the Museum thousands of dollars each year and hundreds of staff hours. The Charleston Museum has been extremely fortunate to have the partnership of the wonderful group of ladies that comprise The Garden Club of Charleston. We are absolutely indebted to them for the many hours they spend, much of it in heat and humidity, to care for these important Museum treasures, which are viewed by nearly 50,000 people each year.