Joseph Johnson House, "The Castle" – 411 Craven Street, Beaufort SC

Built in: 1861

“The Castle” was built for Dr. Joseph Fickling Johnson by J. S. Cooper, a local builder, according to an agreement signed December 5, 1859. The contract was completed on August 8, 1861, however some elements of the house, notably its porch railings, mantelpieces, and ironwork are reported to have been caught in the Union naval blockade and never reached the site. Bricks for the house are reported to have been made on Dr. Johnson’s Lady’s Island plantation near Brickyard Point.The house was confiscated during the Civil War and became part of Hospital #6. Dr. Johnson, unlike many of Beaufort’s pre-war residents, was able to reacquire the house at the end of the war upon payment of $2,000 in taxes. The house remained in Johnson’s family until 1981. The house is Italian Renaissance in feeling, and is said to be almost an exact copy of one in England, destroyed during World War II. Constructed on a crib of palmetto logs, the walls are of soft brick covered with a thin layer of plaster. The color is muted and changeable, in shades of gray, tan, and pink, subtly shifting with the light. Six massive columns support the double portico, with balusters between that enclose the upper and lower porches. The decorated parapet is five feet high, with four triple chimneys towering above it. Long French windows, some of the seventy-nine window in the house, flank the front doors, upstairs and down. The interior walls are solid brick, plastered, and the double stairway is one of the widest in the country. Some of the original mantels have been replaced by Regency ones rescued from an old Beaufort house being demolished. The house, one of the most photographed in America, occupies a full city block and is set amid lush gardens with hundreds of azaleas and camellias. It faces a great bend in the Beaufort River, and giant live oaks guard the front and back. Many of the specimen trees and shrubs in the garden were planted by Dr. Johnson, including a pair of ancient olive trees, brought from the Mount of Olives in the Holy Land. A former director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation called it “One of the great houses of the South Carolina coast.” He spoke of “the extraordinary grandeur of the almost medieval house . . . its air of somber mystery, set in great oaks at the water’s edge.”

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