The Harbinger of Hospitality
With a past rooted in historical significance, a grand home in Camden, SC is finally restored to its original glory.
In July of 1995, Frank and Riki Campbell opened the door to the home located at 1919 Lyttleton Street in Camden, previously known as The Hobkirk Inn, for the first time. Having just arrived from California with their young children, the couple was in search of the right place to raise their family. They had already decided on Camden, with its quaint streets, low housing prices, charming downtown area, and reputable school system. They had a list of houses to visit with their realtor before they would make a final decision on where they would be taking up residence. As they pulled into the drive at the old Hobkirk Inn, they gazed upon the wide front porch, seemingly endless amount of windows, and breathtaking antique architectural details. By the time they crossed the threshold, they knew. There would be no need to visit the other real estate listings. They were home.
The charm of the old house struck them first. The 12-foot ceilings gave a larger-than-life feeling to the whole space, and the winding staircase immediately inspired dreams of their young daughter one day descending in a white wedding gown. Other details gave nods to the age and social stature of the home’s previous inhabitants: a button on the floor of the dining room had once been used to summon a butler; a tiny bathroom in the rear of the home had been for the gardener; and the carriage house in the backyard still stands. All intrigued the couple. There was a formal living room, formal dining room, sitting room, gentleman’s smoking room, and a veranda with more square footage than their entire West Coast home. The children, accustomed to suburban California neighborhoods, were fascinated by the three-acre yard, inquiring why the house sat “in the middle of a park.” Frank and Riki were also enamored by the obvious history of the place. Room by room, the Campbell family fell in love with the old Hobkirk Inn, a love which continued well past the walk-through, the purchase of the home, the eventual move-in process, and the inevitable remodeling. For the Campbell family, it seemed that every day spent in their new home brought a new aspect of intrigue and enjoyment. As they learned more about its history, however, they became absolutely smitten.
The house at 1919 Lyttleton Street began its storied legacy in the 1850s as Pine Flat, built by Colonel William Shannon, a prominent Camden lawyer with 14 children. Shannon later became embroiled in a dispute with Colonel Ellerbe B.C. Cash of Cheraw, and in 1880, the two met each other for what would be the last legal duel in South Carolina. Cash won the gunfight, shooting Colonel William Shannon in the heart, and the duel set off nationwide outrage, leading to the outlawing of duels across the country. Not long after, Shannon’s widow sold Pine Flat to the owner of the nearby Haile Gold Mine, a New Yorker by the name of Captain Frank W. Eldredge. Finding the living quarters at the gold mine to be “a bit crude,” Eldredge purchased Pine Flat in hopes of providing more comfortable lodging for his pregnant wife. From the very start, he planned to open a hotel in the home. He named his new venture “The Hobkirk Inn,” and advertised rooms at a weekly rate before the sale of the home was even final. Once they had the deed in hand, the Eldredge family began construction, adding two guest wings to the house immediately, enabling them to host up to 125 visitors at once. Drawn to the mild climate and charming Southern hospitality, northerners began to flock to Camden, and one by one, other inns and guest houses opened, inspired by the success of the Hobkirk Inn. Railroad companies established lines through the town, while proprietors and hoteliers invested in local attractions, including horse racing, theater, shopping, hunting, fishing, and more. Eldredge himself built a golf course behind the Hobkirk Inn, single-handedly bringing the sport to Camden. Tourism flourished while Eldredge continued to make improvements in the Hobkirk Inn, perpetually seeking to better the guest experience. In 1912, Captain Eldredge, who came to be known as “the pioneer tourist hotel manager” passed away, leaving a legacy of hospitality that echoed throughout the hearts of Camden residents and beyond. Innkeepers and hotel managers relied on the example of Eldredge as they pressed on, establishing Camden as the go-to winter retreat for northern residents for nearly 50 years.
Eventually, the rise of airplane and automobile travel slowed progress, and as World War II began, the grand hotel era of Camden came to a halt. The Hobkirk Inn reverted back to a single-family home in the early 1940’s, while other hotels were destroyed by fire or intentionally razed. Though the town’s hotel heydey finally concluded, the impact the time period made on the people, industry, and overall spirit of Camden continues to shine to this day.
Over the decades following the war, the house at 1919 Lyttleton Street changed hands and was owned by, to name a few, the mayor of Camden in the fifties, the Rowland family in the sixties, and Dr. Lou Sell, an Indy style racecar driver. The house went through periods of destruction and renovation; the wings were torn down at one point, minor construction decisions were made throughout the home, and layers upon layers of paint were added as interior design choices evolved.
In July of 1995, the old Hobkirk Inn finally landed in the hands of the Campbell family, who could not have been more overjoyed to assume responsibility for the charming estate. In the spirit of true Southern hospitality, they were welcomed with open arms by the neighbors, with one even bearing the large original key to the original front door lock; a prize taken during a party 65 years before. After assessing the property, the Campbells soon began to restore the home to its original beauty. They removed 17 layers of lead paint from the enormous house and its 72 window frames, and they stripped miles of wallpaper from the walls. Then, they repainted it all. They refinished the wood floors, gutted the kitchen, and installed a commercial stove and walk-in refrigerator. They camped out in the guest house for two months while a heating and air conditioning unit was installed in the main home, and they also renovated the downstairs bathrooms. They added a grand fountain and circular driveway at the entrance, updated the landscaping, and tended to the wrap-around porch. In the bar, they installed a custom, floor-to-ceiling wine room, and Riki Campbell filled the home with decor from their world travels and auction visits. As soon as the place was livable, the Campbells began to host both humble and elaborate functions. Once again, the old Hobkirk Inn was regularly full of visitors.
The Campbell family lived vibrantly and loved passionately in the Camden house, making memories with every passing day. For a time, it seemed that the old Hobkirk Inn would be their forever home. But in 2009, Frank Campbell accepted a job offer in Lausanne, Switzerland. With the children off at college and beyond, the home began to sit empty more than it was inhabited. Frank and Riki moved to the Alps but held onto the Camden property for years in hopes that one of their children would want to move back in with their growing family. By 2016, though, it had become clear: it was time to sell the family home. Understanding that the house could use some more attention before being listed on the market, the Campbells hired JP Smith Builders to take over the renovations. The second floor had been relatively neglected over the years by the Campbell family in favor of focusing on a small business endeavor, and John Paul Smith and his team spent much of their time there, taking the upstairs down to the studs and rebuilding everything once again. They did everything by hand, removing every door knob, hinge, light switch plate, and other hardware for cleaning and restoration before reinstalling. The builders created closets in the five bedrooms, installed copious amounts of marble and modern fixtures in the baths, and gave special attention to the high ceilings and original floors. They strengthened the home from the subfloor, redid plumbing and electrical work, and installed high-tech home monitoring devices throughout. In preparation for the Campbell daughter’s wedding, JP Smith Builders also worked outside: reclaiming old water features, building a small deck around one of the fountains, and overseeing landscaping. The work took nearly a year, but when they were finished, the historic house shone with an understated elegance, restored in all its original glory.
Now having settled in Switzerland, the Campbells are ready to close the door to 1919 Lyttleton Street for the last time, hoping to pass the torch to a buyer who is as enamored with the place as they were during their twenty-two years there. More than just a house, the old Hobkirk Inn is a place steeped with history, a harbinger of hospitality, and a gathering place unlike any other. May the new owners find themselves connected to the soul of the beautiful plantation home, may they make memories to last a lifetime, and may the house at 1919 Lyttleton Street continue to stand in testament and reminder of a golden age gone by.
By Jana Riley
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