Passing from hand to hand through the centuries, the key to the house on Briarwood Lane has opened the door to one of Summerville’s most gracious homes.
The house on Briarwood Lane is quiet. From framed canvases lining the entry hall of Whiteholm, generations of Jonathan Lee’s ancestors survey the gracious tableau before them, as they have for over a dozen years. Tomorrow, their watch over this noble house will draw to an end. There are dishes to be packed, books to be stacked in boxes, rugs rolled, and the images of the ancestors carefully wrapped for transport. It is a bittersweet time for Jonathan and Susan Lee and their five children, who grew up surrounded by the comfortable elegance of the historic home.
When they purchased the house in 2006, the Lees found their names added to a list of owners reaching back to the early 19th century. The inscription of πληοης MDCCCXV, carved into an upstairs windowsill, and uncovered during a 2018 renovation, are thought to commemorate the 1815 construction of the structure.
A subsequent deed recording in elegant longhand, “on this day of April A.D. 1834,” transferred the property from Dorchester widow Elizabeth Singleton of St. George to Thomas and Kerea Pickens of Pendleton District. The historic document also indicates that additional buildings were located on the parcel of land at that time.
Among the Lees collection of documents are deeds transferring ownership from a veritable list “Who’s Who” in the life and times of the town. From Thomas Miles to Francis Dickinson, to Thomas N. Farr, the key to the Briarwood Lane home passed from hand to hand before it was purchased in 1863 by renowned Charleston druggist, Dr. Christian Schwettmann. That sale was deemed invalid due to its sale by the widow, Anna Farr, who it was discovered owned only a life estate in the property. It was not until 1873 that Schwettmann received a clear title to the house from Farr’s son. It is a historical fact worth noting that Schwettmann also opened a pharmacy on Main Street, which he sold to Dr. Henry Charles Guerin in 1871. Moved later to Town Square, Guerin’s Pharmacy is the oldest operating pharmacy in South Carolina.
Though it sustained extensive damage during The Great Quake of 1886, the home stood firmly in ownership by members of the Schwettmann family through The Golden Age of Inns. In 1921, it passed from Doris Schwettmann to New York City Social Register socialite Mary Trenholm. According to Jonathan’s research, it is believed that Mary Trenholm, a feminist, philanthropist, and advocate for social services, who dubbed the house “Whiteholm.” Translated from the Gaelic language, the word is defined, “beautiful meadow.”
Whiteholm changed hands several more times in the early 20th century before being sold in 1970 to Army Brigadier General and Mrs. James Herbert Batte. Under the ownership of Batte, a heavily decorated veteran of World War II, Korea, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and his wife Elenita, the house was updated and the interior redesigned to form an upstairs bath and two bedrooms. When Dr. and Mrs. Billy Edwards purchased the property in 1975, they further modernized the house to accommodate their family. Their additions included an enclosed brick porch and master suite wing, a garage, an art studio, a workshop, and a swimming pool.
Almost 200 years from the time that the date was carved into the windowsill, the Lees took ownership of the house known as Whiteholm. Jonathan and Susan, an interior decorator, took great measures to honor the historical integrity of the structure as they went about their own renovations. Following the comprehensive renewal that took it down to bare wood, Whiteholm stands in quiet grandeur on the tree-lined lane of one of Summerville’s hidden pockets of historic grace and beauty.
Susan laughs when she describes the painstaking and lengthy process of removing layers of paint from the exterior, and the renovation they undertook in 2018. “It seemed to take forever, and it looked like a log cabin for a little while. It was like living in a construction zone.”
At the Lees’ hands, Whiteholm has flourished, and the love and care the family has poured into it are apparent in every detail. From the front porch, original 9-over-9 glass windows look out over an ivy-lined brick walkway, where the ancient oaks tower and the colors and textures of the mature camellias, hydrangeas, and azaleas compliment the facelift provided by the fresh white paint on its wood siding. Inside, 12′ ceilings soar over heart pine floors, and light spills into rooms filled with warmth and color.
French doors open into a kitchen anchored at one end by a fireplace and perfectly outfitted to meet the needs of a busy family. Susan’s design experience is evident in the
creative use of space that makes the kitchen both beautiful and functional. “I wish we had made these changes years ago when the kids were small. You can imagine what a kitchen with five kids running around is like!” Nearby, and overlooking the pool and private, fenced yard, the brick-paved home office/sunroom leading to the master suite is a haven for the busy mother.
Upstairs, the home’s 4 bedrooms and 2 full baths served the Lee family well through the years, with a bonus room providing additional space. As comfortable as it is elegant, the house seems to sigh with contentment, and the memories of running feet and happy times.
When the boxes are packed and stacked in the moving van, the Lee family will pass the torch of ownership to Mike and Gray Benko and their family. Ironically, the two families discovered that in addition to a shared appreciation for the home on Briarwood Lane, they share an ancestor or two.
Susan admits that it will not be easy to leave this house behind, but knowing that they leave it in good hands will make turning over the key a happy occasion. In the days ahead, they will find themselves in another historic house in Jonathan’s hometown of Hartsville, SC. Having come full circle, the ancestors will surely feel right at home. AM