Auldbrass On The Combahee

by | Oct 30, 2005


I learned today that a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece is located right under our noses here in Beaufort County. The “Stevens House” is owned today by Joel Silver, Hollywood’s top grossing producer, with films like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and The Matrix under his belt. According to The Beaufort County Open Land Trust, Mr. Silver has meticulously completed the majority of Wright’s original plan, thus fulfilling Wright’s dream of making Auldbrass a great 20th century architectural treasure.

Here’s more on the plantation from a 2003 New York Times article:

Of Wright’s thousand-odd commissions in the United States, Auldbrass is his only one in the region, and his only Southern plantation. Wright had just completed Fallingwater, the critically acclaimed house perched over a waterfall in Mill Run, Pa., when C. Leigh Stevens, a wealthy Michigan industrial consultant, commissioned a Lowcountry retreat and gentleman’s farm in a swampy, 4,000-acre tract on the banks of the Combahee River, 20 miles upstream from the Atlantic. Wright conceived Auldbrass as a collection of one-story, slender buildings of polished cypress. His design called for a main house, a guest house and cabins, a caretaker’s residence, staff cabins, a barn, stables, kennels for dogs, a ”dining barge” floating in a pond on the property and an aviary, all unified by material and design: cypress walls canted inward at an 81-degree angle, copper roofs, doors with ornamental panes and hexagonal tables.

The monumentality of Wright’s plantation (as all large properties are referred to in the area, whether or not crops are planted) lies in its understatement. Dwarfed by old oaks, obscured by the stables and with a barely discernible front door, Wright’s dark, asymmetrical main house at Auldbrass is a rebuke of the prevailing Southern-plantation ideal — the becolumned brick pile (the most famous in South Carolina being the 1742 Drayton Hall) that rises emphatically out of the grass as the most potent expression of control and order a colonial planter could muster. Commissioned the same year that ”Gone With the Wind” had its premiere, modernist Auldbrass must have seemed as alien to its neighbors in the early 1940’s as Joel Silver does today.

The name Auldbrass is Wright’s modification of ”Old Brass,” the name (which is thought to refer to slaves beyond working age and of mixed African and Native American descent) given to the property in the mid-19th century. Wright’s logo for Auldbrass, a stylized arrow, was his nod to the iconography of the Yemassee Indians, who inhabited this area before the arrival of the British. The same arrow motif is cut from panels just under the eaves of the main house. After dusk, when light from inside the house illuminates the arrow design on these panels, the building has the look of a paper lantern.