In deeply rural Pinewood, South Carolina, looms the imposing Greek Revival residential mansion and plantation property called Millford. Roughly 48 miles from downtown Columbia, past Hopkins and eventually through the pine groves of Poinsett State Park, this behemoth structure features six grand, fluted 12-foot-circumference Corinthian columns, a marble-tiled veranda, and the architectural glory that is a domed rotunda.
“Millford is arguably one of the finest surviving Greek Revival homes in all of the South,” says Peter Kenny, co-president of the New York City-based Classical American Homes Preservation Trust and the Richard Hampton Jenrette Foundation, which has owned and managed the property since 2008.
Interestingly, few in the Columbia area know about Millford’s existence.
“It’s just so remote,” adds Peter, explaining that Millford was, and still is, considered the grandest estate in Sumter County. “It’s a home that just blows people away when they see it set on the High Hills of Santee.”
Millford acquired its name possibly from a mill and a ford over a stream on the property. It originally sat on 7,000 acres; what remains are 400 acres with the main mansion and a complex of complementary buildings, including the original water tower, springhouse, gatehouse, and stables, which once held elaborate carriages and prized horses. Cottages on the property were once occupied by two enslaved Americans, “Mammy Ann” and “Daddy Ben,” who were the Manning family’s long-time personal servants.
Millford was completed in 1841. Owners John Manning and his wife, Susan Hampton, whose portraits hang in the grand hall, grew up on South Carolina plantations. They hired a Providence, Rhode Island, builder, Nathanial Potter, to oversee the enormous construction project of their home, which has such distinct features as a striking staircase lit by a “… Venetian window and a stained glass oculus in a shallow dome [Potter] called a cupola. Around the oculus are plaster rosettes in imitation of ancient Greek patterns,” describes a May 1997 Antiques article on Millford. The mansion sported numerous advancements for that time period, including a furnace and running water to the kitchen and laundry that was provided from the water tower.
Both John and Susan were children of South Carolina politicians, and from 1852 to 1854 John followed in the footsteps of his father, Richard, by becoming governor of South Carolina. John and Susan had three children, but Susan died giving birth to their third child. He eventually married Sally Bland Clarke of Virginia, and they had an additional four children who also grew up at Millford.
The Mannings, considered among the wealthiest planters of the South, required furnishings equal to the grandiosity of Millford’s ostentatious architectural style. They chose furnishings by craftsman Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854), who remains in modernity America’s most famous cabinetmaker. At least 98 crates were shipped by sea in 1841 from New York City, transported to a barge, which was then maneuvered up the Santee River to the junction of the Wateree River. Furnishings were then loaded onto mule- or horse-drawn wagons, which made their arduous journey to Millford. An exact reproduction of the original bill of lading is displayed at Millford; the original is housed at the University of South Carolina in the Williams-Chestnut-Manning Family Papers, South Caroliniana Library.
The magnificent home miraculously survived threat of destruction on what turned out to be the final days of the Civil War before Robert E. Lee’s surrender in 1865. According to a legend shared on the CAHPT website, when Northern troops, under the command of Brig. General Edward Elmer Potter, arrived at Millford, Governor Manning met them at the front door and observed: “Well, the house was built by a Potter (Nathaniel Potter, the architect) and it looks as though it will be destroyed by a Potter.”
Gen. Potter responded, “No, you are protected. Nathaniel Potter was my brother.” Although their family fortune was destroyed by the Civil War, the Mannings held onto Millford until 1903.
Millford’s next chapter began in 1903 when it was purchased by Mary Clark Thompson, who bequeathed it to her two nephews upon her death in 1923.
“From the cemetery at Bloom Hill to Cedarhurst to the gullies along the edge of the swamp where Francis Marion camped, history is everywhere,” says Michigan native Emory Clark, II, 81, about the beloved historic property that his great aunt purchased. Her portrait, which hangs in the dining room, is unusual because she was painted wearing spectacles, an uncommon occurrence of the time period.
Emory — who graduated from Yale University, served in the Marine Corps, won an Olympic Gold Medal in team rowing in 1964, and worked as a teacher, coach, reporter, and lawyer — considers his family’s connection to Millford a highlight of his life. In speaking to the Sumter County Historical Society in 2010, Emory encouraged the audience to “think about the 2-foot thick walls made of brick kilned on the property; think of the massive pillars and how they must have looked in 1840; think of the four Union cavalrymen said to have ridden abreast up these steps behind me, through this hall where you are sitting, and out the back door under the flying staircase.”
Emory’s great-aunt Mary was a wealthy widow who, after her husband’s death in 1899, made multiple trips around the world and purchased items for her Japanese garden in Canandaigua, New York. One Christmas, she announced to Emory’s grandfather and namesake, who was a Detroit, Michigan, banker, that she wanted him to find a Southern plantation she could purchase.
Emory’s grandfather visited “the Mansion” and wrote this upon seeing Millford for the first time: “… had not been occupied for 20 years, the roof was leaking badly, the back porch partly down. The entire place overgrown. The stately building and romance I dreamed of before leaving the North was there, however, and I thought I could hear the quail calling.”
Although immediately smitten with Millford and ready to get Mary on board, her nephew was worried about several factors: the 4 miles of bad road leading to the plantation, the non-existence of automobiles in the area, and the meagerness of the area’s “supply centre.” These deterrents, and the fact that the home in 1903 had no running water, electricity, or working septic system, did not restrain Mary. The family was thrilled with their Southern getaway, where they enjoyed for many years hunting, fishing, and horseback riding.
Emory, II, the great-nephew, says that when it was purchased, fields were worn out from years of growing a single crop — cotton. His grandfather, along with a cousin, Clark Williams, inherited Millford when Mary died in 1923. The water system was updated, a few outbuildings constructed, and a sprawling cabin, which the family still owns, was built in 1923 to give Emory’s grandfather a place to bring his buddies to hunt so he would not have to open up the mansion.
Before Emory’s grandfather shot his last bird at Millford at 81 years old, the plantation passed to his mother and father, Carolyn and William Clark, who honeymooned on the property.
The family was excited to discover John Manning’s original lithograph of the Ordinance of Secession, now displayed in the Sumter Historical Museum. “It was behind an original bookcase. I’ve wondered over the years how the document got there, whether for instance, Governor Manning had one of his slaves pull the bookcase from the wall and stuff the ordinance behind it as the Union Cavalry approached the front door,” says Emory.
A copy of the historic document rests on an easel in the mansion’s library; another copy was presented to Wyndham Manning, III, descendant of John Manning.
Emory’s mother and father lived in the mansion six months of the year from 1960 to 1975. Both were avid equestrians. Photos of formal fox hunts fill one wall of the hunting cabin. “My father even used a Civil War-era saddle.” After 1975, Emory’s parents moved from Michigan permanently and lived on the property until their deaths.
“It was a home, and my mother filled it up,” says Emory, describing how different the mansion was when his family owned it. “There were hunting prints, swords, revolvers, family photos, samplers, needlepoint, a big ceramic stove in the rotunda, a decor of textures, and muted colors.” His mother preferred Queen Anne, English, American, and Colonial furnishings to the more formal Duncan Phyfe. Many of these pieces now furnish the Clark-owned Cedarhurst, another historic home just outside Millford’s entryway gates.
Emory gradually eased into management of the property in the 1980s, especially overseeing more than 4,000 acres of forest, which his family still owns. Millford took a hit during Hurricane Hugo in 1989, losing 8 million board feet of timber.
Emory continues to enjoy fishing, his poles lining one of the cabin’s walls. He and his wife, Christina, became close friends with remaining sharecropper families. Recently, he took a catch of catfish to one of the last surviving sharecropper descendants.
Though Emory has countless stories, an interesting historical note is that his grandfather turned down filmmakers who wanted to use the mansion in the filming of Gone with the Wind. When Hollywood came knocking for the 1991 two-part mini-series Separate but Equal, Emory welcomed them. The filmmakers, as Emory puts it, “borrowed history.”
Today, because of Richard Hampton Jenrette, who died at age 89 in April 2018, Millford continues as the Manning family intended. Richard established Classic American Homes Preservation Trust in 1993 after the self-proclaimed “house-aholic” began purchasing and restoring several distinct architectural masterpieces. An investment banker, he served as chairman of the board of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Inc., the firm he founded, from 1974 to 1996. He purchased the Roper House in Charleston in 1968 as his first residential preservation project. Other homes followed, from Edgewater in the Hudson Valley, New York, to Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and eventually Millford in Pinewood.
He collected homes as well as the period antiques to furnish them. Richard, in fact, was particularly enamored with Duncan Phyfe and equipped many of his homes with these pieces. When he purchased from the Clark family the home and 400 surrounding acres at Millford, dozens of Duncan Phyfe furnishings were stored in outbuildings and in the attic. Peter Kenny, besides being co-president of CAHPT and the Richard Hampton Jenrette Foundation, is also a Duncan Phyfe enthusiast and expert. In 2012, he co-curated a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit on Duncan Phyfe that included 10 of the master craftsman’s furniture pieces from Millford.
Richard received numerous awards for his preservation efforts, and his homes have graced the covers of magazines. In the foreword to Richard’s book Adventures with Old Houses, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales wrote, “No wonder some of his admirers have described Dick (as Richard is known to his friends and close associates) as a one-person National Trust for Historic Preservation.”
Peter says, “The main goal of CAHPT is to incite people to share in the passion of preserving these homes.”
Before they were turned over to CAHPT, all of the homes were lived in by Richard; in fact, he died in the Roper House. He purchased Millford in 1992 and oversaw the restoration project. In 1993 he moved into the mansion and occupied it as one of his residences for 16 years. Interestingly and distinctly ironic, Richard was related distantly on his mother’s side to Susan Francis Hampton Manning, daughter of Wade Hampton. Living in the home for a time held special meaning, says Peter. “In fact, so many coincidences followed Mr. Jenrette regarding his homes. He was always so curious about history, and that led him to learn much and acquire original furnishings for his houses.”
Louie Hall, who grew up in Pinewood and for 37 years has been site supervisor of Millford, living in the property’s caretaker home, says, “Mr. Jenrette’s fingerprints are all over this place.”
As a boy, Louie accompanied his handyman/craftsman father to Millford and then eventually took over as site supervisor from his father-in-law. Louie’s wife, Paula, and three sons, Matthew, Adam, and Luke, also now work for CAHPT to maintain the property. Guests to Millford might be treated to Louie or Luke as their tour guide and docent.
“Mr. Jenrette always asked me about my wife and my sons before asking about Millford,” says Louie. “He was the most generous, compassionate, and all-around nice guy.”
Louie says he understands how Richard, the Clarks, the Mannings, and anyone else who comes in contact with the home and the land become enamored. Springtime especially, with porches heavy-laden with wisteria and jasmine-lined trails, is a favorite time of his, and was of Richard’s as well. “And when the sun starts to go down, looking back at the house, it’s just the prettiest scene,” he says.
Peter says, “Its classical architecture transcends time. When you’re there, in the house and on the grounds, you can feel the long past, its history, but you also expect that it will continue long into the future.”
In fact, Millford is open for public tours every Saturday in April; May through December, it is open the first Saturday of each month. Reservations are required and tickets must be purchased, but visitors are encouraged to plan to spend part of a day enjoying the idyllic home and the grounds.
All photography by John Teague; courtesy of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust.