Millford, without question the greatest of all Greek Revival houses in South Carolina, marks a major milestone this year with the celebration of its 175th anniversary. Completed in 1841 for John Laurence Manning (fig. 2), governor of South Carolina from 1852-54, and his wife Susan (fig. 3), the daughter of legendary planter Wade Hampton I, Millford in its day was dubbed “Manning’s Folly” by some due to the vast sums it cost to build and furnish, and to its remote location about forty-five miles southeast of Columbia, the state capital. Little did those who derided it appreciate, however, how advanced it was stylistically for its place and time nor the level of planning that went into the creation of this artistic country seat. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to recognize Millford’s significance today, not only as an exemplar of the Greek Revival in America but as an historic property of paramount importance to the state of South Carolina and to the nation.
Millford’s preservation is nothing short of miraculous, starting with an almost other-worldly coincidence at the very end of the Civil War when it was discovered that the commanding officer of the Union troops sent to burn it (Edward Elmer Palmer) shared the same surname and was a brother of its architect-builder, Nathaniel F. Potter of Rhode Island, thus sparing its destruction. In 1902, after decades of decay and neglect in the aftermath of the Civil War (fig. 1) and soon after John Laurence Manning’s death, Millford was purchased by Mary Clark Thompson of New York (fig. 4), who subsequently willed it to her Clark nephews from Michigan. Under the Clark family’s stewardship Millford was completely refurbished and several significant new structures were built in close proximity to the mansion. The Clarks maintained and preserved Millford until 1992, when they sold the mansion and all of its dependencies to Dick Jenrette. Dick’s vision for Millford was to preserve and restore it to the highest possible standards reflective of his unique taste and style and to do honor to the noble simplicity and grandeur of this magnificent Greek Revival mansion (see original ground floor plan on page 28) and its campus of buildings. In 2008, with the restoration complete, Dick Jenrette donated Millford to Classical American Homes Preservation Trust to insure its future preservation as a place of rare beauty and to develop its potential as a cultural resource for students, preservationists and historians, as well as the general public.
In America, the first evidence of a return to ancient Greece for architectural inspiration was Benjamin Latrobe’s Bank of Pennsylvania (1800), which featured a temple front adapted from the east façade of the Erectheion, as published in Volume I of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s Antiquities of Athens (London, 1762). This publication provided precise, detailed information on ancient Greek buildings and was utilized by the first generation of professional architects in America, such as Latrobe. Later architectural pattern books by John Haviland of Philadelphia, Asher Benjamin of Massachusetts, and Minard Lafever of New York borrowed heavily from Stuart and Revett and provided master carpenters and masons with a visual vocabulary and a system of building, at once stately and practical, that eventually came to establish America’s first national architectural style, the Greek Revival.
South Carolina, with the exception of some buildings by Robert Mills in the early 1820s, was fairly slow in adopting the Greek Revival style. By the late 1830s, however, it had achieved a high level of sophistication in Charleston with the construction of such grand edifices as Hibernian Hall (1839-40), designed by Thomas U. Walter of Philadelphia, and the Charleston Hotel. (1837-39) by Charles F. Reichardt, a young Prussian architect who had worked in the aetelier of Karl Friedrich Schinkel before immigrating to New York around 1835. Hibernian Hall had an Ionic temple front, but the Charleston Hotel introduced a second distinct building type adapted from the ancient Greek stoa, a type of long colonnade or covered walkway attached to the side of a building that served as an ancient shopping mall and a place for the public to stroll and socialize out of the heat of the sun. The Charleston Hotel featured a colonnade of fourteen Corinthian columns across, raised on a loggia of square piers that fronted a four-story, square brick structure with a low pitched pediment and a flat roof. Its design recalls the raised Corinthian portico at LaGrange Terrace (1832-36), a row of townhouses attributed to Ithiel Town and James Dakin that Reichardt would have seen during his time in New York. He also would have been familiar with stoa-like classical structures from the period of his employ in the aetelier of Schinkel, whose masterpiece of Greek Revival design, the Altes Museum (1823-1830), featured a magnificent colonnade of eighteen Ionic columns. This is the style matrix from which Millford — and very likely the Roper House in Charleston as well — sprang in the High Hills of Santee. “Manning’s Folly?” We think not.
The crowning glory of Millford’s front colonnade are its richly carved Corinthian capitals, which are based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, also published in Stuart and Revett (figs. 5 and 6). The rest of the building is an unembellished essay in pure geometry; a square central block with two beautifully proportioned cubes for its flanking dependencies, and a two-story cylinder housing a circular staircase engaged at the rear. The German art historian and pioneering Hellenist, Johann Joachim Winckelman argues strongly for the benefit of simplicity in Ammerkungen über die Bankunst der Alten (Remarks on the Architecture of the Ancients, 1762), on the grounds that “when decoration in architecture is combined with simplicity the result is beauty: for if a thing is good and beautiful it is what it ought to be. So the ornamentation of a building should be in keeping with the general purpose . . . ; the larger the groundwork of a building the less decoration is required.” Given Millford’s almost austere simplicity and limited but rich exterior ornament it would seem that its architect-builder and his clients, the Mannings, came close to achieving this ideal of beauty.
Millford was more than just a mansion, however. It was a complex of buildings designed and built as an entirety between 1839 and 1841; front gates of wrought iron set between four sturdy Egyptian pylons, a compact porter’s lodge with Ionic columns in antis flanking the front door (fig. 7), a temple-from Greek Revival stable (fig. 8) for carriages and horses, a Gothic Revival springhouse, and a brick and stucco water tower (fig. 9) built in the form of an early lighthouse. Time has a way as it passes in the heat and humidity of South Carolina of diminishing even the best quality restorations of brick, stucco and wood. Today, nearly a generation after Dick Jenrette restored Milford to a high level of perfection we find ourselves returning once again to accomplish our primary mission of preserving it. In 2014, historically accurate reproduction shutters were made for the mansion and additional replacement shutters are planned for the porter’s lodge and dependencies this year. The brick work and stucco, or roughcast, of the water tower has been repaired and renewed (figs. 10 and 11), and soon we hope to embark on a sensitive stabilization and restoration of the Millford’s irreplaceable carved cypress Corinthian capitals in the front portico (fig. 6).
In this 175th anniversary year we have ambitious plans for Millford. Since acquiring the property in 1992, Dick Jenrette and CAHPT have had uncanny success in bringing back to Millford a great deal of its original Duncan Phyfe & Son furniture, fine art, and sculpture (figs. 12, 13, and 14). This success has continued apace in recent years with the addition of three of the original French and Grecian bedsteads, a basin stand, and a tall dressing or cheval glass, for instance, which has allowed us to furnish one of the second-floor bedrooms in a more accurate, though far from slavish, period fashion (fig. 15). And the good news is that there is still more fine and decorative art original to Millford out there. So in this anniversary year we are redoubling our efforts to see if we can bring even more of it back home. This year we will also be working to forge strong relationships with academics, cultural historians, and innovative thinkers in the areas of historical research and interpretation to help us to develop an even more exciting, accurate, and inclusive story to be told about Millford and its occupants, including those who were enslaved there, over time. Millford is remarkably beautiful. It is also a remarkable historical and cultural resource. May it stand and remain vital for another 175 years and more.