More than a few paintings of Charleston during the Civil War show the Holy City's nobility observing the fighting around them. But that wasn't the case for most of Charleston's elite, many of whom spent the war years in Flat Rock, N.C. As early as the 1820s, Charleston families began building opulent vacation homes in Flat Rock, giving the town the nickname "the Little Charleston of the Mountains."
Last winter, Flat Rock's historic Saluda Cottages exchanged hands once again. The former owners of the early 19th century home are a who's who of Charleston's old-school nobility. The home was originally built by a French consul to Charleston, but changed hands among the Lowcountry elite, including C.G. Memminger, Rev. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Izard Middleton, and Gen. Rudolph Siegling, the editor of the Charleston News and Courier.
Memminger served as the first treasury secretary for the Confederacy and spent the war across from Saluda Cottages in his home, which was named Rock Hill. "He played host to many South Carolina families, mostly from Charleston, who came to Rock Hill for safety," says Galen Reuther, president of Historic Flat Rock. "It had been fortified against invasion and extremely well built into the side of the mountain." The home is now best known for a later resident: poet Carl Sandburg.
Reuther notes almost all of the big summer homes were occupied during the war. The Farmer Hotel, which still stands today, also housed Charleston families. A Confederate regiment camped on the grounds of the hotel to protect the residents from war deserters from both sides, who would pillage homes in the region.
During the strife, families were content to wait out the war in Flat Rock but were anxious to return home. In his book Charleston Under Siege, Douglas W. Bostick notes that Harriott Middleton pined for the Lowcountry while staying at her family's Flat Rock home during the war. "Do you not hope that Charleston may be saved?" she wrote to her cousin. "I don't mind our house, but I can't bear to give up the old streets and buildings and churches. I feel such a strong personal love of the old place."