Earnest Townsend, Roper House Site Supervisor, Charleston, S.C.
This newsletter’s Profile highlights Mr. Earnest Townsend (Earnie), Site Supervisor at Roper House in Charleston, S.C. Richard Jenrette first acquired Roper House in 1968 and began a process of restoring and conserving Roper House in 1980. Earnie Townsend had been working as a painter and plasterer with a local contractor in Charleston who came to work for Mr. Jenrette at Roper House. Impressed by Earnie’s talent, work ethic, and cheerful demeanor, Mr. Jenrette offered him a full-time position upon the completion of this nearly two-year, initial project. Earnie happily accepted and became caretaker at Roper House, overseeing the upkeep and maintenance of the house and grounds.
Earnie’s role has expanded over the years, and he now operates as a “one man army” at Roper House, in charge of everything from keeping up the impeccable gardens and lawn surrounding the house, to the constant painting, roof repair, and maintenance required by the house’s close proximity to Charleston’s East Battery.
Earnie points out that the house is built on marshland, and cites rising water as his greatest nemesis over the years. This was never the case more so than when Hurricane Hugo unleashed its wrath on the city of Charleston in 1989, only weeks before Prince Charles was scheduled to stay at Roper House while in town for a conference. Earnie had shrewdly moved all of the furniture and artwork upstairs from the first floor before the storm hit, and rode out the storm at the property along with Mr. Jenrette’s mother and her staff of nurses (Mrs. Jenrette had moved into Roper house shortly after turning age 90 and lived there until her passing at age 101). Earnie watched out for Mrs. Jenrette and Roper House through the storm, although the first floor of the house was inundated with five feet of water from Hugo. Earnie quickly took up the enormous task (often working around-the-clock) of coordinating the rewiring and repainting of the entire first floor, and replanting of all the adjoining gardens. Everything was in tip-top shape just in time for His Royal Highness’ arrival, and the visit went splendidly.
In addition to keeping the house and grounds in pristine condition, Earnie is also the official tour guide at Roper House, greeting the thousands of visitors who come to Roper House each year for tour groups and special events. Earnie’s comprehensive knowledge of the house’s history, coupled with his charisma and knack for storytelling, make for a fun and enriching Roper House experience. He says his favorite part of the job is having the chance to meet and interact with so many different people from different places, and he loves seeing how much people enjoy visiting the property. Earnie lives just outside of Charleston in West Ashley, S.C., and while he reminds us that his job is a 24-hour-a-day responsibility, he does enjoy spending time with his family, working around his own house, gardening, and golfing when he has spare time. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Roper House and meeting Earnie, schedule a tour in Charleston soon!