Five Oaks of Flat Rock
By Missy Craver Izard
Jenny Bevan and Christopher Liberatos specialize in traditional architectural design. Each holds a Master of Architectural degrees from the University of Notre Dame. They have taught programs at Notre Dame, Charleston and have served as directors of the Engelsberg Summer School in Classical Architecture in Sweden. Their eye for design has earned contracts from renowned classical architectural firms such as Fairfax and Sammons in New York (where the couple met).
In 2008 they moved to Christopher’s hometown in Charleston to open a satellite office for the firm before opening their own business, Bevan & Liberatos Architects in 2010. Their passion for historic properties and traditional style architecture is clear:
“We believe there is a place for traditional architecture in our time, that there is wisdom in traditional architecture that contributes not only to the longevity of a building — pitched roofs, projecting eaves, drips, moldings and ornament that redirect water, sills, etc. — but also to the beauty of a building. The principles of traditional architecture are timeless and cross-cultural; they are universal, yet capable of producing an endless variety of uniquely beautiful particulars. The beauty found in traditional architecture reflects the rhythms and proportions found in the human body and throughout all of Nature.”
Being classical architects, it’s easy to see how these two fell in love with Flat Rock (nicknamed the “Little Charleston of the Mountains”). Like Christopher’s hometown, Charleston, Flat Rock is teeming with traditional historic properties and a history that includes many Charleston natives. Christopher commented that if he was going to move anywhere in the mountains, Flat Rock embodied much of what he loved about his native Charleston and felt like home.
Christopher and Jenny purchased Five Oaks in Flat Rock in 2021. They bought the property from Christopher’s brother, John Liberatos, a preservationist at heart and a lawyer by trade. He had the opportunity to purchase Bonnie Brae another historic property in Flat Rock once owned by Charlestonians Charles P. and Mary Randolph Pelzer Cecil. The brothers grew up coming to their parents’ summer house in Saluda. The mountains were in their blood. With their parents now in Hendersonville full time, buying property in this area was a natural fit. When the old Flat Rock Inn (now returned to its original name, Five Oaks) came up for sale in 2018, John bought it. After he purchased Bonnie Brae in 2021, Christopher and Jenny saw Five Oaks as a chance to be in Flat Rock as well and decided to buy it from John.
The estate known as Five Oaks was built on seven acres of land as a summer house by Robert Withers Memminger and his wife, Susan Mazyck Memminger on land acquired from the Farmer, Ripley and Patton families in 1888. Memminger (1839-1901), the eldest son of Mary Withers Wilkinson and Christopher G. Memminger, was a Charleston minister and author of several essays on religion. As the son of C. G. Memminger, he was considered an heir to one of the founders of Flat Rock who was also the first secretary of the treasury of the Confederacy under Jefferson Davis. He spent his childhood summers in Flat Rock at their family home Rock Hill (now known as Connemara) as well as the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. After his father’s death, Memminger and two of his siblings built a summer house in Flat Rock. His widow kept the house until 1911 after Memminger’s death in 1901, when it was purchased by Englishman Thomas Grimshawe and his wife Elizabeth. The Grimshawes named the place Five Oaks and used it as their year-round residence until 1930 when it was given to their daughter Greta and her husband Campbell King.
Unfortunately, Grimshawe lost a considerable amount of money (mostly in railroad stock) in the stock market crash of 1929 and used the home as a boarding house during the Great Depression, first for women only; men later lived on the second floor. Male boarders were not allowed on the first floor — they reached their quarters on the second floor by an exterior stair at the back. Greta and Campbell King sold Five Oaks in 1940 and until 1985 the house was used as a summer residence by a number of owners. In 1993, after extensive renovation and the reconstruction of the front stairs to match early photographs, it opened as the Flat Rock Inn.
The imposing two-story front-gable Queen Anne style house rests on a stone foundation covered with weatherboards. It features an interior brick chimney with a corbelled cap and an attached one-story wraparound porch carried on turned posts complete with decorative sawn brackets and a wood balustrade. The porch shelters a broad single-leaf entry door framed by paneled sidelights and a wide segmental-arch transom, topped with a central second-story balcony like porch just above the main entrance. The eaves of the house feature decorative scalloped fascia boards, a characteristic of many historic Flat Rock homes and often called “gingerbread” after the German Cottage influence in the village.
A one-story gable-roof wing extending to the rear was originally a detached kitchen building that was later connected to the main house. In 1990, a one-story cross-gable wing was added to the southeast corner of the house, joining the rear porch to the kitchen building. Jenny and Christopher have since renovated this addition as their own living quarters (nicknamed “The Acorn”). One of the remaining treasures of the Memminger family’s time in Five Oaks is an original windowpane with “W. W. Memminger, 29 Legare Street, Charleston, SC” inscribed in the kitchen building. It is likely that these are the initials of Willis Wilkinson Memminger, the fourth child of Robert Withers Memminger and his wife Susan.
Once a boarding house and later an inn, Jenny and Christopher hope to make Five Oaks a part of the Flat Rock community where people can gather for weddings, parties, family reunions or as their favorite annual summer rental. The couple is thrilled to call Flat Rock home and continues to operate their architectural firm in Charleston with hopes to expand in the Western North Carolina area. Learn more here: https://fiveoaksflatrock.com/
Missy Izard Schenck was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina where her family runs a summer camp.