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William Enston Home

William Enston Home, King St, Charleston, SC, National Register

Photo: William Enston Home, ca. 1884-1888, general view looking to houses (nos. 32-35) on St. Augustine Court, looking from the west, 900 King Street, Charleston, Charleston County, SC. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Photographed by Jack E. Boucher, 1995, Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS SC-686],, accessed September, 2014.

The William Enston Home was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1993. [1] Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the HABS documentation (, accessed September, 2014). Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group. The William Enston Home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

The William Enston Home (900 King Street) consists of twenty-nine structures on 12.1 landscaped acres. Buildings include the twenty-four residential cottages, Memorial Hall, Infirmary (Superintendent's House), Water Tower, Entrance Gate, and Engine House. All buildings (excepting the stone Entrance Gate) are of red brick, and all (excepting the Richardsonian Romanesque Gate and the bungalow-style Infirmary) feature a mixture of Romanesque and Queen Anne style elements.

The William Enston Home is an early example of benevolent, philanthropic housing for the elderly. Funded by a bequest of 1859, the complex was built between 1884 and 1888, with additional structures put up in 1893, 1927, and 1933. With its neat rows of detached, double cottages set amid spacious, landscaped grounds, the Home provides an unusual and well-preserved example of nineteenth century picturesque, suburban planning concepts adapted to this type of institutional function. On the local level, the Romanesque Revival is rare in Charleston, a cityscape dominated by its antebellum past, and the Enston Home provides one of the pre-eminent examples.

The population of the United States was rising dramatically by the mid-nineteenth century. One fast-growing category was that for Americans over the age of 50: in 1850 the U.S. Census recorded 2,068,332 Americans over age 50, or 8.9 percent of the population; by 1880 these numbers had jumped to 5,938,995, or 11.8 percent. In his book Growing Old in America, David Hackett Fischer describes how while the relative number of elderly Americans increased, their social and economic status declined considerably. Put another way, as lifespan lengthened, length of employment decreased: "forced retirement had become common, but pensions remained rare." By the century's end, the feeding and housing of these elderly indigents had become a cause for widespread concern, and during the first decade of the 20th century, programs such as Massachusetts' first Public Commission on Aging and the first federal old-age pension bill (both 1909) began dealing with the problem on state-wide and national levels.

The William Enston Home in Charleston, South Carolina, is a living reminder of earlier, private efforts aimed at caring for these elderly poor. In his 1859 will, English-born businessman William Enston left the bulk of his large estate to his adopted city of Charleston. His stated purpose was to establish a benevolent home for the city's aged and infirm residents, a place designed, in his words, "to make old age comfortable." The only restrictions Enston imposed upon the home's future residents were that they be at least 45 years of age (unless suffering from "some great infirmity"), of "good, honest character ... decent," and not insane. He went on to specify that the home should consist of "neat and convenient" two-story brick cottages, set on at least eight acres of ground, with private kitchens and gardens for the occupants' use. At the turn of the century one newspaper reported that at the Enston Home, unlike "the usual poorhouses or homes .. . men and women of refinement can lead almost exclusive lives, can receive their friends and entertain them simply, as in their own homes, and always amid refined and agreeable surroundings."

To understand the significance of the Enston Home, one must place it within the broader context of low-income and philanthropic housing as these were available in nineteenth century America. At the time of Enston's death in 1860 there existed three options for those Americans who could not maintain their own homes, rely on their families, or afford to pay free-market rents. These were the so-called "seven percent philanthropy," private benevolent homes and societies, and the city or county almshouse.

"Five percent" or "seven percent" philanthropy refers to a practice begun by British social activists and philanthropists in the 1830s and 1840s. In essence, it involved persuading investors to finance low-income housing projects, from which they could expect to reap a modest profit—a 5 to 7 percent net return being the minimum for which most investors were willing to become involved. By the 1850s the "seven percent solution" had spread to America, where its best-known proponent, working in the 1880s, was Brooklyn's Alfred T. White. By the 1870s and 1880s American journals like the Sanitary Engineer were running articles and competitions related to model tenement design and seven percent philanthropy. Architecturally, this type of aid most often resulted in new or remodeled multi-story tenement or dormitory buildings. Located in densely populated urban areas, these projects were mainly directed at low-income workers and their families, and so they did not apply to the poorest of the poor, the category into which the unemployed elderly most often fell. A related development was the company towns, like Oakgrove, Connecticut (1865), and Pullman, Illinois (1879-95), where skilled workers could rent cottages or row houses from their employers at relatively low rates; such arrangements were offered to satisfy worker desires for individual homes and to develop company loyalty.

Private benevolent homes, for the most part, were church-run affairs, limited to the elderly members of a particular religious faith or congregation. According to Amos Warner in his 1894 study American Charities, these places usually charged a fee for their services, "a sum down, which insures care during life." According to Warner, this was "really a life annuity for somewhat less than its money value. One hundred to six hundred dollars is the sum charged, and persons are usually not admitted under sixty years of age. Sometimes the age limit is still higher." The populations housed by these institutions were often small, frequently fewer than twenty persons. In late nineteenth century Charleston such homes included the Caroline Wilkinson Home "for ladies in connection with church of the Holy Communion," the Episcopalian House of Rest, and the St. Philip's Church Home. Other institutions serving comparably limited constituencies were veterans' homes and the geographically or ethnically restricted fraternal organizations, like Charleston's St Andrew's Society (founded in 1730). Discussing these types of agencies, Warner noted that "the provision for aged dependents is ... quite inadequate to the demand." The final and most pervasive of these three housing types were city- or county-run almshouses. Warner described the almshouse as "the fundamental institution in American poor-relief." He went on to say that "its inmates are often the most sodden driftwood from the social wreckage of the time." These were the institutions whose populations had the most in common with that which concerned William Enston—elderly, poor, and from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The earliest almshouses were probably those built in Canterbury, England, by Bishop LeFranc. In the late eleventh century LeFranc founded the Hospital of St. John at Northgate (for the care of aged and infirm men and women), and the Hospital of St. Nicholaus at Harbledown (for lepers). Medieval almshouses generally borrowed their architectural forms from collegiate or monastic precedents—that is, quadrangular buildings enclosing courtyards, with rows of private sleeping cells, a chapel, and a communal dining hall. William Enston was born and raised in Canterbury, and during his youth the town maintained no fewer than eight medieval almshouses. A later example, Jesus Hospital, dating from 1595, was founded in Canterbury by an ancestor of Enston's mother, Sir John Boys. The hospital was funded with still later endowments from other members of the Boys family.

The first American almshouses, like Philadelphia's Bettering House (known locally as the "Pauper's Palace"), date from the mid-eighteenth century. The Charleston Poor House, renamed the Almshouse and eventually the Charleston Home, dates from 1771. It was located at the corner of Mazyck (now Logan) and Magazine streets.

During the Jacksonian era, after 1820, almshouses became a truly pervasive American institution. As the U.S. population swelled with European immigrants, many of them unskilled and impoverished, city and county governments increasingly turned to the almshouse as a solution for dealing with the problems of their poor citizenry. David Rothman, in The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic, notes that between 1820 and 1840 sixty towns in Massachusetts built new almshouses, while several others remodeled existing ones. By 1840, that state alone contained 180 of these institutions.

In American Charities, Warner identified three types or phases of almshouse design. The first almshouses were usually abandoned farm or factory buildings. While smaller communities continued to make do with these converted structures, larger towns and cities soon erected new buildings with the express purpose of housing the local poor. These purpose-built structures, like Boston's 1821 House of Industry, consisted of stark, orderly forms that were reflective of the operations and ideals the building housed. Warner called this type the "imposing edifice," and he quoted one contemporary author who described it as having been conceived "from the outside in ... perfectly symmetrical... planned for the admiration of the passers-by rather than for the comfort of the inhabitants ... generally four or five stories high, regardless of the infirmities of its inmates." The third type was what Warner called the "cottage farm." Dating from "the last quarter of the nineteenth century," this generally consisted of "a group of houses, sometimes connected by passages, permitting the complete separation of the sexes, separate hospital cottages, and a central administration building." The Sanitary Engineer, beginning on December 20, 1883, ran a series of articles by Henry C. Burdett on "cottage hospitals." By this term Burdett was describing small single-building facilities, or groups of huts, tents, or pavilions, set on "tastefully planted" grounds. He reported that there were few such hospitals in America (the exception being in Massachusetts, where there were fifteen examples), and none in Canada. He claimed that the most successful such institution was one opened at Cranleigh, Surrey, England, in 1859. Burdett noted that the first American hospital of this type was probably the House of Mercy, opened in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on January 1, 1875. For his part, Warner cited the "New York City Farm Colony, established on Staten Island as a branch of the Home for the Aged and Infirm."

The Enston Home is an outstanding example of this type of institution, though neither Warner nor Burdett mention it. Worth noting is the fact that while the Home's execution falls within Warner's "last quarter of the nineteenth century," William Enston's conception for a cottage hospital is much earlier, dating back at least to his 1859 will. Most almshouses administered two types of aid: "indoor" and "outdoor." Outdoor assistance, conceived as partial or temporary aid, involved the provision of food (and sometimes fuel) rations to people who lived outside the confines of the almshouse. Although cheaper to provide than indoor relief, outdoor assistance was frowned upon by many because it was thought to rob the poor of initiative and encourage laziness. After about 1850 this type of aid became increasingly rare in the United States.

Inmates, as recipients of indoor assistance were called, received full-time food and shelter within the almshouse itself. Healthy inmates were expected to work, and all were required to follow strictly enforced codes of behavior. In many cases, inmates were "sold" or rented out by the almshouse to the highest bidder—local farmers and factory owners. Punishments—reduced rations, beatings, solitary confinement—were meted out to those who shirked their assigned duties, or otherwise broke the house rules. The alternative was to be expelled from the building and the town, turned out to face homelessness and starvation, or turned over to the penitentiary.

Almshouse inmates were isolated from the other economic classes of their communities. In some cases they wore uniforms, like prison inmates. The connotations of the term "inmate," for residents of the almshouse, are obvious. As Rothman points out, "incarceration became basic to the system of support ... all across the country institutionalization became as important to the care of the poor as it was to the treatment of the criminal and the insane." In the young, expansionist United States, the poor were thought by most to be responsible for their own poverty. The aim of the almshouse was to rehabilitate them through hard work and discipline, and only then, allow them to return to society.

According to Rothman, the reformatory aspects of institutionalizing the poor were in most cases outweighed by the punitive aspects. Make the almshouse unpleasant enough, the logic went, and the poor would be frightened into independence, forced to think twice about asking for public support. Historian Walter Fraser has noted that conditions in Charleston's almshouse (where solitary confinement and near-starvation diets were standard means of discipline) were such that "the needy poor refused to apply," preferring to go without rather than face the indignities of an institution whose reputation was that of "a place for the punishment of the unworthy."

Since poverty was regarded as a form of social deviancy, it is no surprise that the poor were often locked up and guarded along with convicted criminals and mental patients. Categorization and separation of these groups was more often a matter of administration than of practical reality. In many towns, the workhouse, the insane asylum, and the almshouse were fitted into the same physical structure.

The ideal almshouse was an orderly, regulated correctional institution. The reality, however, was often something otherwise. According to Warner, it was "ordinarily a depressing experience to visit an almshouse." Overcrowding, dilapidation, dirt, and disease were the rule in almshouses all over the country. According to one 1833 report cited by Rothman, the Boston House of Industry packed 623 inmates into its single building — "the aged, decrepit and insane ... abandoned children and expectant, unwed mothers" all crowded together in the same rooms, averaging seven persons to a room." An 1857 report on the conditions uncovered during an inspection tour of almshouses in New York State found that almost all were "badly constructed, ill arranged, ill warmed and ill ventilated." "As receptacles for adult paupers," the report continued, "the committee does not hesitate to record their deliberate opinion that the great mass of poor houses ... are most disgraceful memorials of the public charity. Common domestic animals are usually more humanely provided for than the paupers in some of these institutions." The report provided numerous depressing case studies: in Oswego, New York, for example, seventy-five sick, lame, insane, young, and old indigents were found living in a nine-room facility; in Chatauqua, thirty-two inmates shared a single, unventilated room.

Despite its many shortcomings, the almshouse remained the most common mode of public relief on into the 1890s. Rothman reports that between the 1850s and the 1890s, indoor relief grew to be widely favored over outdoor aid: "Practically every participant in the national conference on charity and correction, as well economists and social critics, voiced their approval" of the almshouse system.

Charleston's Almshouse was relocated in 1856 to a renovated factory building on Columbus Street, between Drake and Court. Here, 200 inmates and 900 outdoor pensioners received support. Both of these numbers dropped considerably over the next few decades, due in part to the expanded presence of private charities like Enston's, and to massive cuts in the Almshouse operating budget. During his administration, Mayor William Ashmead Courtenay slashed that institution's annual budget by more than 60 percent, from almost $25,000 in 1870 to just $8,000 in 1880. A large percentage of the difference came from cutbacks in outdoor relief programs. By 1883, the City Directory reported that the almshouse, "affording comfortable accommodations for about 110 persons," supported eighty-seven inmates and 237 pensioners.

The 1880 Yearbook described the Charleston Almshouse as a "commodious brick building ... a model of orderly arrangement and cleanliness." In spite of this enthusiastic appraisal, the Yearbook went on to suggest that "a beneficial change would be to transfer the whole establishment to a healthy farm within the city limits" — a statement which implies that the current home was somewhat less than healthy, and leaves one wondering just whom the move was intended to benefit most. A sort of sister institution, the Old Folks Home, for African-American indigents, was already operating on a then-remote, fifteen-acre site on the Ashley River, near the present-day Citadel campus. While there were indeed benefits for the inmates of these larger, more remote sites—e.g., less crowding, space for gardens—it is also true that, whatever the intentions underlying them, they also served to remove residents from the center of the city's affairs, out of sight and out of mind.

In 1843, ten years after arriving in Charleston, William Enston wrote to a friend:

You know, when a boy, I was always of an ardent, sanguine, nervous temperament, which caused me often to get into scrapes not exactly my own. In this case (moving to Charleston) I was, however, more fortunate. I soon identified myself with the people and entered into all their sympathies. From that time on my march was onward.

Writing in his thirty-fifth year, Enston adopted here a tone one might expect of a much older man, one looking back over a long life. Yet sixteen years prior to founding the home that bears his name, he was already indicating his sense of civic devotion and personal destiny, his history of entering fights "not exactly his own." William's father, Daniel Enston, worked as a cabinet-maker in Canterbury, England. In 1807 he married Sarah Knowles, a direct descendant of Sir John Boys, the founder of Canterbury's Jesus Hospital for "honest persons of good behavior." The document that founded this institution, reprinted in part in the 1889 Proceedings, went on to say that residents of Jesus Hospital "shall be fifty-five years of age at the least, and also lame, blind, or unable to get their living, and for seven years resident of Canterbury." Whatever the actual significance of this heritage to Enston, Charlestonians in the 1880s believed it formative: the Canterbury hospital was thought to be the direct inspiration for William Enston's gift to Charleston.

The eldest of seven children, William Enston was born in Canterbury on May 5, 1808. In 1820 the family emigrated to the United States, to Philadelphia, where Daniel Enston established a shop not far from Independence Hall. Following his father's trade, William apprenticed as a furniture-maker, chair-painter, and gilder. In the evenings he took classes at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute. The Proceedings report that in 1889 a portion of his library—books "of History and Science, and Literature and the Poets" — was being preserved, though it does not say where or by whom, and it has not been possible to locate this collection. Following his mother's death in 1832, William Enston moved south to Charleston. Along with business interests, health concerns are thought to have provided some of his motivation for the move. In Charleston, Enston's first job was an eight month contract with "a French lady who had a furniture store in Meeting Street." Soon after, he opened his own small business on the same street. In 1834 he returned to Philadelphia to marry Hannah Shuttlewood, of Colsterworth, England. The couple returned to set up house on Charleston's Queen Street and to worship at St. Michael's Episcopal Church. About this time Enston moved his business to a small store on the corner of King and Clifford streets. As it prospered and expanded, he diversified his interests and began acquiring real estate both in and outside of Charleston. Among his many properties were a half interest in the Charleston Hotel, numerous lots and buildings in Charleston, Chicago, Cincinnati, and elsewhere, and part ownership in three steamships—the Northerner, the Southerner, and the Isabel, running between Charleston, New York, and Havana. In 1848 he built a large, new building for his original business, now called the Phoenix Furniture Company. This building still stands at the corner of King and Clifford.

While few of Enston's own words survive, an 1846 letter to a friend, published as part of the 1889 Proceedings, provides some insight into his political and philosophical beliefs. As Enston wrote,

I have always been a staunch democrat, and yet... the fact is, I can never become a party man. I never saw a party with all my principles ... this is a government of compromise and concession. The strong must protect the weaker, and the interests of this extended country are so different that nothing but concessions and compromises can keep us together ... I do not believe in war.

Enston went on here to discuss the steamships he had just begun operating, and it becomes clear that his desire for compromise was at least partly driven by business and property interests (including, perhaps, the trade in slaves, in which he himself participated). But he also predicted, correctly, that Charleston would be devastated by war, and here he expressed a genuine affection for the place where his fortune had been made. His call for protection of "the weaker" by the strong is suggestive, and though it is not clear from the context just what he meant by this line, it is tempting to read it as an indication of his developing philanthropic leanings.

Enston died in Charleston of heart disease on March 23, 1860. He was 52 years old and childless. His obituary was published in the Charleston News and Courier on March 24. The contents of his will, until then a closely guarded secret, were revealed at that time. An entry for that same date in the diary of Charleston merchant Jacob Sass Schirmer reported that "the town is all alive on this subject. He (Enston) is thought to have left over a million and if the will is carried out, the City will get in after years the most of it, Provided the Lawyers don't have the first pickings" (South Carolina Historical Magazine, 1960, 163). A News and Courier story dated March 26 reported on the funeral, attended by the mayor, the city council, and a "concourse of citizens." The procession carried Enston's body to Charleston's railway station, where it was put aboard a train and sent back to Philadelphia. According to his wishes, he was buried beside his mother in that city's Laurel Hill Cemetery. On January 20, 1915, the trustees of the Enston Home donated $255 for repairs to Enston's grave site and the establishment of a perpetual maintenance fund.

Enston's will, written in his own hand, was dated July 19, 1859. After stipulating that his debts be paid, he named his various heirs and annuitants and recorded the sums that each was to receive. His wife, Hannah, named sole executrix of the will, was to receive not less than $10,000 per annum for the remainder of her life.

Finally, he concluded the will with the following passage:

... at the death of all parties concerned, it is my wish and will that the whole fund shall go to the City of Charleston, for the following purposes and upon the following provisions: To build up a Hospital for Old and Infirm persons. None must be admitted under the age of forty-five (45) years, unless in case of some great infirmity; some lameness, some physical infirmity. I entirely exclude lunacy from the said Hospital; it is more for to make old age comfortable, than for anything else. The necessary qualifications for entrance must be poverty; a good, honest character; the parties must be decent, and the gift of the places must be invested in the hands of twelve Trustees, chosen by Council, and the said Trustees, together with the Mayor of the City, shall determine whether they are proper persons for the charity. There shall always remain in the gift of any of my family, if any be alive, six gifts for six individuals, before anything can be done with my funds. For such a purpose the City of Charleston must furnish not less than eight acres of ground, to erect the said cottages on, for each cottage must have a small garden to busy the occupant. These cottages must be built of brick, in rows, neat and convenient, two stories high, having each two rooms and a kitchen. As I have no time now, there must be made a plan of said Hospital, and submitted to my wife Hannah, for her approval. The lot of ground or its location, must have her approval.

The builders of the Enston Home believed that their benefactor had been inspired by the example of his ancestor, John Boys. In fact, Enston's will does compare on a number of points with the document that established Jesus Hospital in 1595. Both institutions were directed at the elderly poor, while also making provision for lame or infirm persons who did not meet the age requirements. Both lay stress on the character of prospective inmates - their "worthiness" to receive aid. (By the 1850s philanthropists on both sides of the Atlantic had begun distinguishing between the "worthy" and "unworthy" poor; Enston's exclusion of "lunatics" can be understood in this light, motivated by a desire to separate the "worthy" poor, who often shared institutional space with mental patients.) Both bequests stipulated that garden space be provided for inmates' use, and finally, in both cases, a limited number of spaces was to be made available for distressed family members. At the Enston Home, this last provision has been utilized at least once.

Along with his ancestor's example, Enston may also have been aware of recent developments in British and American philanthropic housing. Most such activity, however, was of the "seven percent" variety—i.e., directed at housing workers. In the 1850s, Charleston's elderly poor turned to church-run homes, or to the city almshouse. Enston's intention seems to have been to provide an alternative to these: a comfortable, dignified, non-sectarian, city-run home for the "worthy," elderly poor. In this, his bequest was highly unusual to say the least. Considering its early date, it was quite possibly unique within the South, if not the nation. Enston's will is also remarkable for its attention to particulars of administration and design. Enston demanded "neat and convenient" two-story cottages, built of substantial, long-lasting materials, surrounded by plenty of open, cultivated space. His mention of gardens and rows of dwellings does, in fact, call to mind earlier English almshouses - the sort of structures he would have known from his youth in Canterbury. With their private kitchens and gardens, occupants of the Enston Home would be able to maintain a level of self-sufficiency, and a measure of space, unheard of in the crowded city almshouse. The home finally built in the late 1880s, though stylistically different from anything Enston would likely have imagined, adhered closely to the terms spelled out in his will.

William Enston's estate amounted to something less than the "over a million" presumed in Schirmer's diary. An 1860 probate inventory valued the estate at $583,097.95, an amount which still placed Enston among Charleston's wealthiest citizens. The war diminished the estate considerably—owing to losses from property damage and the cost of repairs, devalued stocks and bonds, and emancipated slaves—but by 1881 it had rebounded to a level of $446,827.48.

Following her husband's death, Hannah Enston moved north to Emilie, Pennsylvania, to be near family, and during the next twenty years of war and reconstruction, little action was taken on her husband's will. The first real movement came in 1880.

In that year, progressive Democratic Mayor William Ashmead Courtenay initiated publication of the City of Charleston Yearbook. Published annually until the 1950s, the Yearbooks provide detailed records of the yearly finances, operations, and activities of all the city's various departments and agencies. An extract of Enston's will and a statement from Courtenay were printed in the Yearbook for 1880. According to Courtenay's statement, there were "no records in the Mayor's office ... for the past twenty one years." He wrote that "I have informed myself generally on the subject, and find the estate is a very large one, and I hope to be able, in a few weeks, through a promised interview with the Executrix of the estate, to give fullest details of this munificent bequest."

Courtenay and Hannah Enston wrote to one another on at least three occasions during the months of April and May 1881. Though Courtenay's opening inquiry of April 4, 1881, no longer survives, Hannah's response to it is found today among a collection of papers in the Charleston Library Society. Titled "To Make Old Age Comfortable": Original Letters and Papers Relating to the Settlement of the Wm. Enston Bequest to the City of Charleston, 1860, Effected with Mrs. Hannah Enston, Executrix, 1881-82, these were gathered, bound, and presented by Courtenay to the Library Society in 1906. The volume begins with a photograph and original autograph of Queen Victoria — an odd opening note intended, most likely, as an allusion to the Enstons' British birth, and to the overall English architectural and institutional character or the Enston Home. Hannah Enston's letter reads as follows:

April 18, 1881

My Dear Sir:

Your favor of the 4 inst. was duly received and since then I have given its contents my most earnest consideration and have concluded that the proposition made by you relative to a settlement during my lifetime of the residuary Estate of my late husband William Enston will meet with my approbations provided of course that all parties interested either as legates or annuitants shall be properly and satisfactorily provided for and due allowance made for the remainder of my life. I am prompted to this course by an earnest wish to see as far as possible the wishes of my late Husband carried out as contained in his will. So though if you will advise with the proper authorities of the City of Charleston and submit to me the plans and course which would to them seem to most meet I will give it prompt and careful consideration and have no doubt that such arrangements may be made so that all will be fully and perfectly satisfied...

I need not remind you that my years are now but few and an early attention to this should be given if we hope to consumate (sic) it, as it will no doubt, owing to the diversity of interests to be considered, require a length of time. Possibly greater that would at first light seem.

I am yours, very Respectfully, Hannah Enston

On May 5, Enston invited the mayor to meet with her at the New York office of her attorney, Kennard Buxton. Whether Courtenay himself made this visit is not certain, but on June 17-20, 1881, Charleston attorney J. P. K. Bryan did meet in Brooklyn with Buxton, Enston, and her agent, Joel Sherwood. In a memo discussing these meetings Bryan wrote, "The counsel of Mrs. Enston [whom Bryan called "Kenneth" Buxton], although stating that Mrs. Enston's desire was to effect a settlement in her lifetime if possible, distinctly refused to make any propositions." Letters between Buxton and Bryan dated between June and December 1881 demonstrate an increasingly frosty and adversarial relationship. Bryan asked repeatedly for full financial disclosure, while Buxton consistently maintained that he had already revealed all available accounts. Bryan tended to inflate the value of the estate (frankly stating his refusal to believe that so much of the stock had become worthless since the war), while Buxton undervalued it (beginning with an estimate of $350,000 to $375,000).

On December 4, Buxton threatened to break off negotiations altogether. An exchange between Courtenay and Buxton (the mayor wrote on December 24; Buxton responded on January 7), though terse, at least addressed the fact that a misunderstanding existed, and in so doing, managed to put things back on track. Finally, on January 18, 1882, Bryan wrote Buxton to say that "the City (was) ready to settle."

A few days later, however, on February 8, Bryan was corresponding with Mrs. Enston's new counsel, Isaac Hayne, of the Charleston law firm Hayne and Ficken. Whether Enston retained Buxton's services after this date is not clear. In any event, no letters from him appear in Courtenay's records after January 18. Enston may have simply decided that her interests could be more expediently served by a Charleston firm. Another explanation may be that she considered Buxton's relationship with the city so precarious that she feared it might jeopardize the entire project.

Bryan's February 8 letter to Hayne proclaimed that "the Committee of the City Council of Charleston charged with the matter of the Enston Estate have considered and unanimously agreed to recommend and urge the adoption of, by the City Council of Charleston, the proposition submitted in writing by you last evening as authorized by Mrs. Enston." A "Scheme for a Settlement of the Estate" was attached to the letter. Contained in it were five main parts, the most pertinent portions of which were: that Enston would hand over to the city a sum of $200,000, to be placed in trust until the death of the last annuitant (which finally occurred in 1932), plus $75,000 in cash and securities, and all remaining real estate (valued at $61,950); that the city furnish for the Home site four acres immediately and four more within the next ten years; and that a twelve-member board of trustees (in accordance with the will) be established to oversee the Home. Enston retained $100,000 for her personal maintenance, an amount which several members of the city council thought excessive, but finally agreed to. The settlement was to take effect March 16, 1882. It was confirmed by the city council of Charleston in an ordinance dated August 8, 1882. This specified that the trust be kept separate from other city funds, so that the money could not be diverted from William Enston's expressed intention for it. To this end it was agreed to turn the twelve-member board of trustees into an independent, self-perpetuating agency, and to hand the endowment over to them. On December 21, 1882, the trustees of the William Enston Home were incorporated by an act passed in the general assembly of the state of South Carolina. Consisting of local business and professional people, this board has, in effect, owned and operated the Home as a quasi-public agency ever since, making annual reports to the mayor of Charleston (an ex-officio member of the board) and the city council.

As previously mentioned, leaders in many cities saw advantages to placing their almshouses outside of the urban center. While the inmates acquired more healthful and abundant living space this way, other citizens were spared daily contact with their poverty, and put at a safe distance from the epidemics which often raged through these places. The builders of the Enston Home may have considered these issues, but there were other, more significant reasons for the selection of the King Street site.

A Bird's Eye View of the City of Charleston, South Carolina, drawn and published by C. Drie in 1872, shows a dense concentration of buildings south of The Lines (present-day Line Street, some seven blocks south of Huger Street and the Enston Home site). North of this was open farm land, punctuated by small villas maintained as get-aways by wealthy Charlestonians. Considering the dense development of its southern end, the city could meet Enston's eight-acre-minimum demand only by choosing a site somewhere along its northern edge. An eight-acre tract, 2 miles north of the city's center, was purchased in August 1882. An article in the Pine Forest Echo dated July 15, 1892, reported that of the various sites considered, the one on King Street was Hannah Enston's favorite. She approved of it officially on July 24, 1882, in a letter to Courtenay.

The 1884 Yearbook included a discussion of the Home's sewage system, wherein it was suggested that this site—while perhaps not the city's most desirable address—was valuable from the standpoint of its potential influence on future urban growth. Moreover, once it was filled and graded, the site would provide a healthful refuge: "It is confidently believed that the avoidance of stagnant water in this large area, and its thorough drainage, will remove all objections to residing in these localities, and as the only growth of the city must be Northward, this work of sanitation will have its influence on the early spread of the city in this direction, as well as making healthy the Home land." The News and Courier used similar terms, praising the Home site for providing an "impetus ... to building in that locality," and concluding that "we may soon expect to find residences planted beyond the present outposts of the William Enston Home" (August 9, 1882).

The sewage system was an important and much-discussed feature of the Home's design. Not until the late 1890s, at the persistent urging of Dr. Henry Horlbeck, did the city council agree to install a municipal sewage system in a small area around Broad Street. By contrast, a decade earlier the trustees of the Enston Home had brought in Rudolph Hering of Philadelphia, one of the country's leading sanitary engineers, to design their system. When completed, this system was the most modern and efficient in the city.

In other areas too, the Home was, when new, among the most advanced architectural developments in Charleston. In a two-page report of 1882, titled Some Suggestions looking to the founding of the Model Village, to be known as the William Enston Home, Mayor Courtenay described the "extent of the proposed village," and the "work first to be done." Courtenay here was already considering the installation of electric lighting, with an on-site power plant if necessary, and centralized steam heating for the cottages, then both new and fairly exotic technologies. Additionally, he called for the Home's streets to be paved with granite blocks. At that time, most of the city's fifty-odd miles of roads were still unpaved or, at best, covered with shells, wood planks, or bricks. Courtenay's report predicted that the Home's roads would "last forever, and always be in perfect order." Of course, unlike the city council, the trustees of the Enston Home had a great deal of money and just one project to spend it on. More surprising than the financial expenditure, though, was the attention to quality and detail that these busy politicians and business people devoted a home for the poor. Still surviving are numerous letters between the trustees and various contractors, negotiating the goods and services to be provided to the Home. His hands full with the administration of the city, Mayor Courtenay still found time to correspond with the builders and the architect concerning roof-framing techniques, the amount of fill to be brought to the site, and the appropriate depth of the artesian well. Even as late as 1888 and 1889, Courtenay exchanged nearly twenty letters with the sculptor Edward Valentine regarding Valentine's commission for a bronze bust of Enston.

Clearly, the Enston Home was never intended as a typical poorhouse. In fact, from the outset it was planned as a showpiece. On August 9, 1882, the Charleston News and Courier reported that "the grounds ... will be carefully laid out, and the object will be to make the William Enston Home an ornament to the City and an attraction for visitors, while fulfilling every practical use of the trust." "When fully developed," the 1883 Yearbook went on, the Enston Home "promises to be the most attractive charitable foundation in the Union. It will be the aim of the trustees to make it so." To understand why such rhetoric and attentions were lavished on the Enston Home, one should consider Charleston's physical and economic condition in the early 1880s. Charleston had been devastated by the Civil War. In his Short History of Charleston, Robert Rosen describes the city's declining fortunes and shabby appearance during the post-War era—this despite the civic boosterism of the progressive, business-oriented Courtenay administration. Many war-damaged buildings were left unrepaired well into the 1880s. The city's economy too was badly damaged. In trying to rebuild it, Courtenay had made deep cuts in municipal expenditures. These cuts resulted in still greater neglect and decay for the city's streets, sewers, schools, port and railroad facilities, etc. Its buildings flattened, its economy and credit shattered, its confidence stripped, Charleston did not really get back on its feet until the end of the century, when the Navy rebuilt the city's harbor and constructed a major shipyard there, a move that resulted in the creation of thousands of new jobs. In the face of this decline in services and morale, the Enston Home could be taken as proof—an ornament, or a totem—of the city's movement toward recovery. Only a city well on its way to recovery could afford to house its indigents in such style. (In this respect, it might even have been hoped by some city leaders to assuage the fears of nervous investors.) Prominently situated between King Street — Charleston's main inbound artery - and the South Carolina Railway line, the Home could be seen by almost everyone entering or exiting the city by land. Among the papers kept at Memorial Hall are numerous cards and letters—from such places as New York, Boston, Washington, DC, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island—requesting plans or information related to the model village seen during a visit to Charleston.

While the Home's round-arched brick cottages and chapel-like Memorial Hall today look rather quaint, they too should be seen as an emblem of this progressive demonstration. In the 1880s, following the lead of Henry Hobson Richardson's great New England churches and libraries (and his 1884-88 Allegheny County Courthouse), the Romanesque Revival became one of the most popular architectural styles in the country for all variety of government and institutional buildings. In Charleston, where whole neighborhoods leveled by the War (particularly in the area south of Broad Street) were rebuilt to replicate their antebellum forms, the use of this style was extremely rare. Its rarity makes its application at the Enston Home all the more significant, in that it suggested a deliberate turn away from the city's architectural and ideological past.

The Home was forward-looking from a planning standpoint as well. Following the success of Llewellyn Park—Llewellyn Haskell's romantic, landscaped community begun just west of New York City in 1852—the form of American cities began to change. In 1859, the year of Enston's will, Philadelphia attorney S. G. Fisher described the situation in the following terms:

Fresh air, space, trees, flowers, privacy, a convenient and tasteful house, can now be had for the same expense as a narrow and confined dwelling on a pavement, surrounded by brick walls and all the unpleasant sights and sounds of a crowded town. The advantages are so obvious that this villa and cottage life has become quite a passion and is producing a complete revolution in our habits.

Cities had increasingly come to be perceived as overcrowded, disease-infested, and crime-ridden. With the development of American railroads after 1828, it became practical for the first time to commute between a city workplace and a country or suburban home. Many who could afford to now began moving out of the cities. (In this regard, it should be noted that, although they lived 2 miles from downtown, Enston Home residents were connected to the city's horse-drawn, and later electric trolley system; by 1893, the Yearbook reported on the new stone "entrance lodge" for "the accommodation of residents, waiting for the street cars.") One of the most famous and successful of these suburbs was Riverside, Illinois, built outside Chicago in 1868 by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. As they explained the urban exodus in their preliminary report on Riverside, in the minds of great numbers of people ... the advance ... which has occurred in towns has been made at too great a sacrifice of certain advantages which can at present be only enjoyed by going out of them ... It thus becomes evident that the present outward tendency of town populations is not so much an ebb as a higher rise of the same flood, the end of which must be, not as a sacrifice of urban conveniences, but their combination with the special charms and substantial advantages of rural conditions of life ... no great town can exist without great suburbs.

In communities like Riverside, architecture and landscape were carefully integrated to provide gracious, romantically arranged, village-like refuges for a well-heeled clientele. The Enston Home, with its twelve acres sited well outside the city center, its oak-shaded, stone-paved roadways, and its tidy Romanesque buildings, is directly related to picturesque, commuter suburbs like Riverside and Llewellyn Park. In this, it provides Charleston's only example of this type of late nineteenth-century, comprehensive suburban planning. There are two key differences between the Home and these other sites, however. One of these has already been noted, i.e., that the Home's siting was regarded as an impetus to northward development, and that the city was expected to grow around it, which it did. A still more remarkable difference is that the Enston Home was built not for wealthy commuters, but for a population of elderly indigents.

For all the forward thinking involved in its conception and execution, on one quite fundamental level the Enston Home draws on a distant past. Ironically, in this too it was abreast of contemporary developments.

In 1987, twenty-two-year resident Mary Jurs recounted how when she had first visited the Home several years previously, she found the rules too strict. Since that time, according to Jurs, "they relaxed the rules ... I like to be independent. I'm content here" (Evening Post, March 10, 1987, 1-A). Residents may now park their cars in front of their homes and use all variety of electric appliances. A memo dated June 21, 1966, stated that in addition to the gas cooking stove and living room space heater provided by the Home, inmates were now allowed to have a refrigerator, television, radio, fan, toaster, coffee pot, iron, mixer, and sewing machine. Washing machines, air conditioners, and electric frying pans were still forbidden at that time, though at present, several residents do have air conditioning units.

One fairly recent provision of the Enston Home is its Golden Age Club, which operated throughout the 1960s. Organized in 1959 by the local Benefactors' Club, the Golden Age Club was described in a letter of May 14, 1966. In essence, it was designed to provide Home inmates with such entertainments as slide shows, craft classes, religious programs, and musical and theatrical events. Golden Age Club members were also invited to participate in community service projects, such as marching in a cancer walkathon and making and mending clothes and blankets for various area homes and hospitals.

In 1957, the Home's seventy-fifth anniversary year, resident Hortense Fitzgerald wrote a brief profile of the Home, in which she stated that "there may never be more that 20 residents of any one denomination." It is not known just when this policy was first put in place. Though Enston himself imposed no racial or sectarian restrictions on the Home's population, it must be recalled that he was writing before Emancipation, and may never have considered it likely that anyone but Caucasians would apply. During the twentieth century, racial restrictions may (and probably were) in effect, but there is nothing in the documents surveyed for this report which mentions them by name. In the board's minutes for October 1974, it was recorded that the president was contacted by an agent from the F.B.I., "because of a complaint prompted by a statement in a United Fund publication that the Home was restricted to white residents." The record went on to say that the United Fund was immediately contacted in order to have "this erroneous statement deleted from the publication." One board member, however, has recently stated that the first African-American inmates were admitted sometime within the last ten years, possibly owing to the fact that none had previously applied.

It was suggested earlier that William Enston conceived of the Home as a benevolent alternative to the city almshouse. One measure of the Home's success comes from speaking with current residents or reading the letters of their predecessors. While complaints about maintenance or neighbors pepper the record, as they would with any place housing nearly one hundred people, residents over the years have generally been quite satisfied with their accommodations, and the waiting list of applicants has sometimes been several years long. One grateful resident was Ida Kampaux. In November 1913, Kampaux wrote to the trustees to inform them of her intention to leave the Home in order to go care for her ill sister. She said that she was "leaving with deep regret," and thanked the board for "the many kind privileges and indulgences permitted" her, and asked that if she "ever needed a home again that you will not refuse to make 'Old Age Comfortable.'"

  1. Documentation of the William Enston Home was undertaken during the summer of 1993 by the Washington Office of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS SC-686) of the National Park Service. The principals involved were Robert J. Kapsch, HABS/HAER Division Chief, and Paul D. Dolinsky, Chief of HABS. The project was sponsored by the Historic Charleston Foundation, Lawrence Walker, Executive Director, and Jonathan H. Poston, Director of Preservation Programs. Additional support was provided by the Charleston Housing Authority, Don Cameron, Director, and the Enston Home Board of Trustees, Park Smith, Chairman. The measured drawings were executed under the direction of Frederick J. Lindstrom, HABS Staff Architect. The field recording was conducted by Project Supervisor Douglas S. Anderson and Architecture Technicians John M. Biggs and M. Douglas Godfrey. Under the direction of Alison K. Hoagland, HABS Senior Historian, the historical report and written building surveys were produced by Keith L. Eggener, the 1993 Sally Kress Tompkins Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians and HABS. Recognition should also go to Paul Helton, Superintendent of the William Enston Home, for his cooperation and assistance.

William Enston Home Map

Street Names
King Street

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