The Commandant's Quarters at 1702 I'on

By Robert Salvo

A proper entry is important.

Witness the debate over aesthetically-placed trees in the median of I-26, or the nearly $200 million dollar renovation of Charleston International Airport. These projects are important because first impressions are important. And although travelers have been flying into Charleston for a century and arriving by road for multiple centuries, the traditional “proper entry” to Charleston is, of course, Charleston Harbor.

Creating the right entry to the harbor was important for centuries, not for aesthetic reasons but for practical ones. Charleston was long the foremost port of the southern Atlantic states and held deep commercial and military importance. The best-defended entry was the most desirable, and the defensive structures that ring our harbor are a silent reminder of the Holy City’s martial past.

Much of that past is recalled frequently, but much remains largely forgotten. Such is the case for the Spanish-American War. Though the conflict lasted a scant four months, it had a deep impact on turn-of-the-century Charleston. Soldiers from places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, units that a generation earlier were arrayed in battle against the Confederacy, were stationed in its cradle. Northern boys slept in old cotton warehouses or even out on the docks, desperate to catch a breeze in a summer that reached 110 degrees.

Many South Carolinians also signed up for the cause, including the men of the Heavy Battery, S.C. Volunteer Infantry. They manned Batteries Jasper and Capron at Fort Moultrie. Although the 154 men of the Heavy Battery saw no action, they were prepared for it. This was serious business, as Charleston was briefly the center of a Spanish invasion scheme that leaked and caused a high degree of concern in the city. By all accounts the Heavy Battery did its job admirably, though the conditions they endured were less than optimal. New guns for the batteries were not installed in time, and they even had to temporarily move to the Isle of Palms after summer storms flooded the Parade Ground where they camped.

American victory in the war cemented the position of naval power in the eyes of military strategists. Pre-war efforts to modernize coastal defenses were expanded, and the first decade of the 20th century brought a building boom to Sullivan’s Island. Part of this new expansion included new officers’ quarters, which are today part of the Sullivan’s Island Historic District. Of the 38 buildings in the district, 20 are single-family homes built by the military.

One home quite literally stands above the rest — the Commandant’s Quarters at 1702 I’on. It is the tallest home on the island, and at more than 7,300 square feet, it is double the size of the other homes on “Officers’ Row.” This doesn’t include approximately 5,000 square feet of wraparound porches, or factor in the full basement below.

And as for those terrific entries, it’s got one.

The entrance hall stretches from the front porch to the back — a grand total of more than 42 feet — and includes a fireplace and the dramatic staircase. The current owners of the house, Scott and Anne Darby Parker, use the entrance everyday. For them, taking the grand way in just another way to appreciate what a treasure the house is. Since taking occupancy of the house in the early 1990s — they’re only the second owners since the military sold it after World War II — the Parkers have consciously treated the house as if it belongs to history as much as to their family.

It’s quite a history, too. With the Parkers using the front entrance, the old side entrance has been turned into a (very convenient) water closet. This is adjacent to a small (by the standard of the house) room that was once the base commandant’s home office. It was from here that the commandants, including former resident Gen. George C. Marshall, would have delivered Fort Moultrie’s first order of the day.

Another part of 1702 I’on’s military legacy is the grade to which everything was originally built. It is, in the words of its current owners, a “superhouse.” All of the wood in the house is cypress or heart pine, all of a terrifically fine quality. Ornate pressed tin was chosen instead of plaster to minimize the risk of falling debris should the house ever be shelled. The main roof is thick slate, and the porch rooves are copper. Massive brick piers support the whole structure, as one can see with a quick trip down through the cellar-door and into the cavernous basement.

Although the home was built to be tough, a visitor’s greatest impression is with its beauty. Wide pocket doors open up the spaces between rooms, visually connecting all the entertaining areas of the house. It had an open plan before “open plans” were a thing. Wiring and plumbing have been brought to contemporary standards, but visible changes to the home are few, and all have been done with the Parkers’ artisan eyes. A modern master bath, featuring a sauna, a spacious walk-in shower and a soaking tub, compliment the rest of the home’s classical look with no hint of disharmony. In the kitchen a wall was removed, while original cabinets and hardware were largely retained. This synthesized two formerly cramped workspaces into lovely eat-in kitchen with traditional looks and modern convenience.

The exceptional nature of the property continues outside. The ample side yard includes a fountain, a garden and a charming rustic shed. There’s a basketball court in the rear, bounded by a majestic live oak. A screened dining area (the home’s third, in addition to the eat-in kitchen and the formal dining room) on the porch faces the side yard, as does a large glass-enclosed space that has served as Anne’s art studio.

Another terrific reclamation of the ample porch space can be found upstairs. Porches surrounding the old northwest corner bedroom porches were converted into a pair of children’s’ bedrooms and a bathroom. This upstairs living room, which the Parkers have used as a charming playroom, provides an area that is intimate and family-centered while still fitting in with the size and scale of the house. Family space continues across the upstairs hall. Here is the master suite, including bedroom, bath, office and walk-in closet — in all about 1,500 square feet of private retreat.

Betty Poore of Dunes Properties is the listing agent, and she’d be happy to tell you just how special this house is. Of course, all it takes is a little time on the porches of 1702 I’on to tell you that. The secret cannot be kept, and the tides of history, elegance and beach life will join forces and come to life whether you’re standing astride the upstairs railing, imagining the view towards the fort in George Marshall’s day; lounging in a hammock and soaking up an ocean breeze; or standing on the front porch and welcoming neighbors up to that grand entrance. Yes, they’ll let you know:  This unique beach house is outstanding, inside and out.

Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:

Burbage's

Buxton Books

Caviar & Bananas

The Meeting Street Inn (Rack)

Clair's Service Station, Folly Rd. (Rack)

Harris Teeter, Houston-Northcutt Blvd. (Rack)

Mt. Pleasant Library, Mathis Ferry Rd. (Rack)

Pitt St. Pharmacy

The Square Onion, I'On (Rack)