Refined & Remembered
Once a place that offered hospitality and restorative comfort for travelers, Tom and Gail Jeter’s home holds a significant place in the days of Summerville’s Golden Age of Inns.
Tucked behind a white fence, amidst live oaks and azaleas in full bloom, the Brailsford-Brown House has watched the world pass by on Sumter Avenue for almost two centuries. Much has changed since then in the area designated as Old and Historic Summerville, a zone which includes the majority of the town’s oldest homes and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
When Dr. and Mrs. Tom Jeter purchased the house at 408 Sumter Avenue in 1981, they were attracted to its place in history. They also recognized the layout of the five-bedroom house, situated on over ¾ acres in Summerville’s Historic District, as the ideal place to raise their family. The couple’s daughter and two sons grew to adulthood on the quiet street, and it is not surprising that the character of the historic home made it a popular destination for their children’s many friends.
Appreciating the home’s rich colors and warm hardwood floors, the Jeters’ have paid homage to the time period of the home’s construction without sacrificing the modern conveniences necessary for a family. It is a home that lends itself to the laughter of children. Though they admit that the 3,700 square feet is a bit more than they need, it offers their three granddaughters plenty of room to explore when they come to visit, and the back lawn is perfect for little bare feet.
Once a part of Colleton County, the house’s original construction records were lost when the county’s courthouse burned during the Civil War, but the home is thought to have been built in the late 1830’s by Dr. William Brailsford, who first appears on a list of Summerville residents in 1838. One of Summerville’s 29 oldest homes, the dwelling would come to be linked to both the time of the great inns of Summerville and the town’s reputation for its healthy environment of sand hills and tall pines.
At the time of its construction, the structure’s architectural form was typical of the South Carolina Lowcountry cottage design. Five bays wide by three bays deep, it is foursquare in plan, with a 1-1/2 story frame structure, over a raised masonry basement. A grand set of stairs led to the second floor, where a piazza supported by stucco piers spanned the length of the façade and led to the rooms of the principal part of the house. Three dormers set in the gabled roof, decorated with bargeboard trim, and looked out over Sumter Avenue.
In 1915, with Summerville’s reputation as a community offering health and hospitality at its zenith, the Brailsford-Brown House came under the ownership of the Carolina Inn, a magnificent resort noted for its excellent cuisine and located just adjacent to the house. Though the reason for the renovations enclosing the basement level under the body of the main house and the removal of its front stairs, remain unclear, it is known that about this time the home began to provide additional guest rooms for the constant flow of travelers to the town. Summerville had by then been named by the Tuberculosis World Conference as one of the world’s best health resorts.
Most of the historic inns of Summerville’s Golden Age of Inns have been lost to time, but the Jeters’ Sumter Avenue home stands as a testament to the resilience of a historic town and the hospitality of its people. Through trials and tribulations wrought by both man and nature, the clapboard house has maintained its integrity and a place of distinction in the history of Summerville. In 1979, an architectural survey, leading up to the historic district’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, rated the home as one of only 73 out of 645 buildings designated as “outstanding.”
As the Jeters’ granddaughter, Lawton, runs across the lawn where her father once played, she dashes beneath centuries-old oaks, through the fallen flowers of the ancient azaleas. She may not know the significance of her grandparents’ house in the annals of antiquity, or understand the restorative comfort it once offered travelers, but she will one day be proud to tell that her tiny feet once walked on the hallowed ground of a golden time, refined and remembered in the Jeters’ historic home on Sumter Avenue.
By Susan Frampton