Bessie Hanahan poses in her elegant Charleston home.

Bessie Hanahan is passionate about restoring her 18th-century Charleston home. The mantle behind her is one of the many features of the house that students have helped research and restore to its original nature. Image credits: Gary Coleman

When people talk about a “living classroom,” Bessie Hanahan’s house in Charleston’s South Broad neighborhood has been exactly that to Historic Preservation graduate students the past few years. There was no better place to celebrate Hanahan’s contributions to the Historic Preservation program and its students’ work than in the home itself.

Her friends, Historic Preservation students and representatives from the Clemson faculty gathered in Hanahan’s home on Jan. 30 to celebrate her donation to the program and the students’ work on her house. Guests from Clemson included Richard E. Goodstein, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities; Kate Schwennsen, director of the School of Architecture; and Carter L. Hudgins, director of Historic Preservation, a joint program of Clemson University and the College of Charleston’s Graduate School.

As a cornerstone of Charleston society and an active preservationist, Hanahan has always had an interest in and love for preserving the material and cultural heritage of Charleston.

Richard Marks speaks to group in elegant home.

Clemson faculty gather with Hanahan’s friends to hear Richard Marks speak on the home’s history and the preservation process.

“I’m trying to save Charleston with everything that’s going on, with the gutting of houses and such,” Hanahan said.

After purchasing the house, which is believed to have been built by Charles Elliott in the 1770s, she delved into its history and began restoring it back to its original nature after it had been remodeled. It was in her work with preservationist Richard Marks and his restorations staff that she was introduced to the Historic Preservation program at the Clemson Design Center in Charleston.

“I thought it was a great idea for the students to get experience working on an actual house,” Hanahan said. “And I thought their work was just wonderful.”

Marks, who owns Richard Marks Restorations Inc. in Charleston, is also an adjunct professor of historic preservation at the Clemson Design Center.

Kate Schwennsen, Richard E. Goodstein, Bessie Hanahan.

Kate Schwennsen and Richard E. Goodstein of Clemson University joined Bessie Hanahan at her historic home.

Marks said his work with Hanahan and the students was “one of the most rewarding restoration, preservation and conservation projects in my 35 years in business.”“The client was such a patron of preservation and our building craft, and the students could participate on all levels to not only learn from the process, but contribute to the great outcome,” he said.

Students did extensive research into Charles Elliott – his family genealogy, his business interests and his land holdings. This was key in dating the construction of the dwelling. They also worked on everything from paint analysis of the house, to looking at original fabrics, masonry, brickwork and more. Hanahan guided the restoration as new information and evidence unfolded, and all the participants learned a great deal from the project.

Historic Preservation students

Current Historic Preservation students present information on the Charles Elliott house and share their plans for the future.

Hanahan continues to be a valuable resource to the Graduate Historic Preservation program in Charleston. Her generous pledge will create the “Hazel Claire Efird, Katharine Shephard Sullivan, and Mary Elizabeth Simpson Hanahan Fellowship Endowment,” which will provide graduate fellowships to students enrolled in the Historic Preservation Program.

“Through the gift of these fellowships, Bessie Hanahan is providing leadership for the next generation of historic preservationists,” Schwennsen said. “We are so thankful to Mrs. Hanahan for this generous endowment to the Historic Preservation program. We look forward to seeing the ways our students will preserve, maintain and celebrate the heritage of Charleston.”