Governor’s House Wagener Room History
The Wagener Room, is named for one of our more industrious owners, Frederick Wilhelm Wagener. Captain Wagener, as he was often called, was a German immigrant who owned this home from 1885 until his death in 1921. He lived in the home with his wife, Johannea Sophie Kranz Wagener, who predeceased him in 1912. They never had children, but relished in their many nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and nephews.
Frederick William Wagener was born October 29, 1832, in the North Sea port of Bremerhaven, Germany. In 1848 at the age of sixteen (16) he emigrated from Bremerhaven along with thousands of his fellow “Forty-Eighters.” The Forty-Eighters were Europeans who participated in a series of loosely coordinated protests and rebellions in the states of the German Confederation, which included the Austrian Empire. The revolutions, stressed pan- Germanism where Germanic speaking peoples would live in a single nation-state known as Großdeutschland. At that time the German Confederation was made up of thirty-nine (39) independent states that had inherited the German territory of the former conquering Holy Roman Empire. Each state was typically ruled by a traditional, largely autocratic political structure. The middle class faction of the revolutionaries favored unification of the German people, a more democratic government and guarantees of human rights, while the working class revolutionaries sought radical improvements to their working and living conditions. As the middle class and working class components of the revolution were allowed to split, the conservative aristocracy was able to divide and defeat their cause. Because of their involvement many revolutionaries were placed on watch lists, politically persecuted or forced into exile. Many gave up their old lives to try again by moving abroad. Thousands immigrated to the United States where many became highly respected, politically active, wealthy, well-educated and in the instance of Frederick Wagener, an important member of the Charleston, South Carolina community.
During the time Frederick Wagener lived in Charleston he witnessed a transition from an “Old South” slave economy to the “New-South” free labor economy where old autocratic families clashed with the new reformist leaders over the city’s political, economic and social direction. In many respects Wagener’s life may be used as a case study for the way in which immigrant entrepreneurs navigated the tenuous political economy of Deep South port cities during the mid-to-late nineteenth century.
When Frederick Wagener left Germany he first arrived in New York City and then moved on to Charleston to be with his older brothers, Johann, Jurgen and their family. When Wagener first arrived in Charleston he was like most of the few thousand Germans who settled in the city during the late 1840’s and 1850’s – he learned the grocery trade by working as a clerk. His older brother who had moved to Charleston years earlier was in the same trade. It seemed that German immigrants at that time occupied a middle tier of the racial and ethnic hierarchy. As a result, Wagener and his Teutonic brethren filled important niches as wholesalers, managers, shopkeepers, clerks, and skilled workers at a time when most white southerners did not seem to respect these middling trades. At the time white Anglo southerners dominated the socio-economic hierarchy of Charleston and sought to control what they called the “Dutch corner shops” that were founded by the recent German immigrants. These Dutch corner shops were oftentimes looked down upon for catering to those in the lower socio-economic strata who were seen as looking to purchase illegal alcohol and trade in stolen goods.
During the 1850’s Charleston’s German-America was doing what they could to become prosperous. A German grocery or other retail store seemed to exist on almost every corner with nearly 80% of all stores owned by German-Americans. While the German population was small by size, it had its own newspaper (the Deutsche Zeitung), a firefighting company, several fraternal and sports organizations, six militia companies, and two Lutheran churches. The German-American population also found itself intricately involved in the politics of the city, with two of its own elected mayor in the early 1840’s and 1850’s – Jacob F. Mintzing (1840– 1842) and John Schnierle (1842–1845, 1850–1852).
Vestige of an Old Dutch Corner Grocery Store – Burbage’s on Broad Street
By 1860, Frederick Wagener had worked long enough as a clerk to find himself able to open his first retail grocery store. It does not appear that Frederick Wagener owned the typical “Dutch corner shop.” Instead, he was seen as operating a legitimate and highly successful retail grocery business.
Not long after Frederick Wagener started out in his own grocery business, he and his fellow German-Charlestonians were faced with an opportunity to profit handsomely while helping the Confederate cause. After Confederate Major Beauregard and a group of Citadel cadets fired upon Fort Sumter to begin the Civil War, the Union responded with a naval blockade of Charleston. Not long after the blockade was created, five (5) different trading companies were incorporated in South Carolina for the sole purpose of running ships and trade around the blockade. One of the businesses, Bee & Company, financed itself by selling shares at $1,000 per share to 245 different shareholders that allowed themselves to raise $1.0M in 1860’s dollars. Of those investors more than 10% were German businessmen. Of those German businessmen nearly half were active in the grocery business dealing with dry goods and spirits. The products coming past the blockade were necessary for supplying their business. Necessities and luxury items such as salt, sugar and coffee increased in price by a three to five fold factor with the blockade. Trading in items brought through the blockade made for an extremely profitable investment and many German merchants benefited from the business.
1864 Stock Certificate for Blockade Runner at $1,000 Per Share
Whether or not Wagener and his fellow German merchants ran the blockade for personal financial reasons or patriotic beliefs never really seemed to be seriously questioned. After South Carolina’s secession from the Union in December 1860 Frederick Wagener and approximately 400 other Germans in Charleston enlisted in the Confederate Army. In 1850, 1,613 Germans called Charleston their home. The number increased to 1,908 in 1860. With such a large percentage of the overall German population enlisting to fight for the Confederacy there was hope to have the German citizens seen in an elevated social status within the city. Few problems were experienced for the new German citizens being accepted in the South, likely because South Carolina’s German immigrants adopted the South’s espoused values—states’ rights and slavery among them. During the Civil War, South Carolina’s Germans fought and died to preserve those values, resulting in their almost complete assimilation into South Carolina society.
German Fusiliers in 1875 on Broad Street for Centennial Charleston Parade
When Frederick Wagener enlisted his older brother, Johann Andreas Wagener, had already been active with a military career of his own. Since 1835, two years after his arrival from Germany, Johann Wagener had been a member of the German Fusiliers. In May 1775 Charleston’s Germans formed the first German military company in the United States, the German Fusiliers, which distinguished itself at the Revolutionary War Battle of Savannah. Johann Wagener rose rapidly in rank within the Fusiliers and by 1847 became captain of the German Artillery. When the “War Between The States” began he was promoted to Major and by the end of the war he was Brigadier General commanding the troops within the city of Charleston. His younger brother, Frederick Wagener, entered the Confederate Army as a lieutenant and served under his brother for four years and four months, mustering out as a captain of the German Artillery, Company A.
Brigadier General Johann Andreas Wagener
Estimated at 15,000 in 1775 and some 30,000 in 1790, Germans had once comprised more than twenty percent of the state’s free population. By 1870 their number decreased to 2,754, and by 1920, only 1,079 South Carolinians reported being “German-born.” South Carolina’s Germans were a diverse lot, and contributed much to the social, political, and cultural history of the state. As they settled, they brought their culture with them, and developed a unique blend of Germanic and South Carolina culture. Exemplified through such diverse manifestations as the state’s Lutheran Church, folk art traditions, and the mustard-based barbecue sauce of the Dutch Fork area, South Carolina’s Germans found ways to both adjust to their adopted homeland, while maintaining their Germanic culture and traditions.
In the fall of 1865, a few months after the war ended, Frederick Wagener, started a wholesale grocery business, Wagener, Heath & Monsees, on the corner of East Bay and Queen Streets. Wagener’s two partners came from varied backgrounds. Heath operated a grocery business in New York City and served as the primary investor in the new Charleston firm, while remaining in the North. John Monsees, a twenty-seven year old native of Hannover had served as a 2nd Lieutenant under Captain Wagener and his German Artillery Company A. Prior to the war Monsees had owned his own grocery that also operated as a bar. It is noted that a brothel was also operated for sailors in the city. When Monsees went into business with Wagener he is said to have given up his other businesses. Wagener, Heath & Monsees enjoyed a good start even though Charleston’s economy remained disorganized and undersupplied following the war. As a wholesaler, Wagener and his partners were responsible for supplying hundreds of small retail grocers in Charleston and its hinterlands that, in turn, fed the masses. Ultimately, the wholesale grocery business proved highly profitable and the business rapidly expanded into the largest wholesale grocery distributor in the city. It was common practice for wholesalers to conduct a cash only trade, but it appears Wagener may have extended credit liberally at a time when few others felt comfortable extending credit. This business plan allowed him to expand his business, while others merely remained stable.
Charleston Daily News – Advertisement, April 5, 1873
In February 1866, an agent for R.G. Dun & Company (the forerunner to Dun & Bradstreet) credit reporting agency, offered the following entry on Wagener, Heath, & Monsees: “Not much means. Are said to be industrious young men of families to be supported out of profits and business. Some rents high. Competition large should not recommend large credit.” Just over a year later in November 1867 the same agent reported: “The partners were doing a fair business and enjoyed moderate credit of 500 to 800 dollars (approximately $7,500-$12,000 in 2018 money). In 1868, the New York partner Heath withdrew from the firm and the remaining partners renamed it Wagener and Monsees. The Dun agent noted, “Monsees and Wagener are two industrious Germans of first rate standing, are industrious and will make money.” By November 1868, they had enjoyed considerable success and were now worth twenty to twenty five thousand dollars (approximately $325,000-$400,000 in 2018 money). The business continued to expand during the next couple of years. By 1870, Wagener and Monsees were running their wholesale grocery and commission business on the corner of East Bay & Queen Streets, the heart of the dry goods district located just a block from the wharves. In August 1870, the Dun agent determined the men were doing a “good business” even though general economic activity in the city was “dull.” He considered them “hardworking and industrious” and they had good credit and standing.
Wagener bought out his remaining partner at the onset of the economic panic of 1873. Wagener agreed to pay Monsees one hundred and thirty thousand dollars (approximately $2.6 million in 2018 dollars for his share of the firm. Wagener promised to pay the entire balance in four years. The Dun agent recorded at the time: “…. made considerable money and claim to have now independent of the amount due M[onsees] over 150 [thousand dollars], doing a very large business stand well and regarded safe for all engagements. The settlement with M[onsees] was made by a referee.”
After paying off his last partner Frederick Wagener established a new firm in partnership with his nephew George that he named F. W. Wagener & Co. George, one of Johann’s two sons, was born in 1846 and had only recently entered the workforce. In 1870 after serving under his uncle as a Private during the war, George started at the store as a clerk. In December 1873, the Dun agent considered the entire Wagener business a “Safe reliable firm doing good business and very energetic industrious men and have met their obligations well during the panic, are perfectly safe.” In December 1874, they were “doing one of the largest business in their line, very industrious.” In April 1875, Wagener& Co. remained a “safe reliable house in excellent standing, doing a large and prosperous business and must be making money, are active pushing men, attend closely to their business and are hardworking.”
By 1880, Wagener & Co. was the leading wholesale grocery in Charleston. They had also expanded into naval stores which included the sale of tar, pitch, turpentine and cotton. In June 1880, Wagener & Co. again opened their books to the Dun agent. The company was determined to have an inventory worth $142,245.98 (approximately $3.2 million 2018 money) and a cash balance of $6,491.90. Their open accounts totaled $333, 698.03 (approximately $7.6 million 2018 dollars). Their net worth was valued at $415,944.37 (approximately $9.4 million in 2018 dollars).
With Wagener’s success in a post war city, he was able to use his finances to take advantage of purchasing opportunities. Wagener spent the next decade building and purchasing land and homes. In 1880 he purchased property on East Bay Street to build a new business. He also purchased the home on Broad Street that was owned by the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence. He also purchased a farm with vast acreage outside of Charleston along the Ashley River. By 1887, Wagener’s net worth was now considered to be one of the greatest in Charleston at $450,000 (approximately $11 million in 2018 dollars. Frederick wasn’t the only Wagener extending his fortune. Nephew George used his business success to expand his own interests as well. By the 1880’s he became the President of the BA & N (Blackville, Alston & Newberry) Railroad. In 1888 at the age of 42, George Wagener was considered important enough to have a small South Carolina town named after him. By 1900 BA&N Railroad was absorbed by Southern Railway.
Historical Marker for Wagener, South Carolina
Frederick Wagener and his wife never had children of their own. As such they were keen to assist friends and family members so they might further their business pursuits. After partnering with his nephew George in 1870, the business would later hire another nephew, Julius D. Koster Wagener and his son Frederick W. Wagener Jr. who had been named for his uncle. Like his older brother, Julius served under his uncle as a 16 year old Private in the German Artillery Company A. There was also assistance for Frederick’s sister, L. Wagener, when she was widowed. She had married Joseph Mehrtens, a German shoemaker, before the Civil War. When he died in 1868, Wagener helped her continue her business, gradually transforming the shoe shop into a successful millinery (hat) store. All of the Wagener family members were hardworking and industrious. They worked to help each other whenever needed.
Johann Andreas Wagner and wife Maria Eliese
While Frederick Wagener was a stalwart supporter of his family in all manner of business, there was no need for him to do anything to help his older brother Johann. Sixteen (16) years his senior, Johann Andreas Wagener was Charleston’s most influential German and widely recognized as the father of the German community. Johann was born in Sievern / Bremerhaven, Kingdom of Hanover, on July 21, 1816. He emmigrated from Germany with his brother Jurgen in 1831 at the young age of fifteen (15) where he first lived in New York and worked as a store clerk. In 1833, he relocated to Charleston where he began using the first name “John.” In business, John enjoyed modest success as a grocer and insurance salesman, but seemed to take more of an interest in community events where he could further the interests of his fellow countrymen. In 1844 he founded and became the editor of the South’s first German-language newspaper Der Teutone. Among the many social organization founded by Wagener were the German Jägerkorps (1836); the Deutsche Feuerwehr-Compagnie of Charleston (1838, German Fire Company) where he served as president until 1850; and the Teutonenbund (1843), a literary and musical society from which the Freundschaftsbund emanated (1853).
Charleston’s German Fire Company, Chalmers Street
As previously noted, Johann Wagener served the South as a highly decorated and revered leader in the Confederate Army. After the Ordinance of Secession was signed on December 20, 1860, Wagener’s German Regiment occupied the abandoned Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island where he participated in the bombardment of Fort Sumter. When he first took command he was a Lieutenant Colonel and by the time he finished serving as Commandant of Charleston he was commissioned a Brigadier-General. Wagener was not only revered by the German-American men who served him, but also highly regarded by the entire South Carolina community.
Johann Wagener was one of the first Germans to capitalize on the political landscape transformed by Reconstruction. As an up and coming politician Wagener rejected the stereotype of the apolitical immigrant. He supported southern conservative politics and social matters which afforded him the opportunity to take on greater political roles. In 1867, he earned an appointment as immigration commissioner where he helped influence immigration policy in the city and state. He also served as a member of the State House of Representatives. Not long after he decided to run and was elected the forty-third (43rd) Mayor of Charleston whereupon he served from 1871 to 1873. When the election was held he won by just over 800 votes. Because of the closeness of the results, members of the opposition claimed irregularities had occurred involving poll managers. State law at that time required election contests to be heard by Charleston’s city council, but the council had problems gaining a proper forum whenever they met. Eventually, the case was heard by a state judge who ruled against the election protesters and dismissed the action.
After Johann served his first and only term as Mayor of Charleston, he began taking on civic responsibilities outside of Charleston. For decades, members of the Charleston-German community sought the creation of a city in South Carolina that they could call their own. In October 1848, the same year in which he was accepted as member of the venerable German Friendly Society, Wagener participated in the first meeting of the German Colonization Society. Not long after in December 1849, 17,859 acres were purchased for $1.50 per acre in the Pickens District, and the town of Walhalla (“Garden of the Gods” in Norse mythology) was carefully laid out with a public square. Walhalla is located in the Upstate of South Carolina where many of Charleston’s wealthy Germans made their summer homes. Although Johann continued to reside in Charleston he made many trips to Walhalla where he spent time with close friends. He died in the town on August 27, 1876 and was buried there pursuant to his request.
There was such strong sentiment in Charleston that he be buried at the foot of the memorial for his fellow servicemen, Wahallans acceded to the request and in March 1877 a special railroad car conveyed the General back to Charleston to be buried at Bethany Cemetery during a service attended by more than 6,000 people. The town of Walhalla erected a monument in its St. John’s Cemetery to mark his original resting place and later in 1900 unveiled an obelisk monument to honor General Wagener and his fellow charter colonization members.
Monument to General Wagener at Bethany Cemetery
Unlike General Johann Wagner, his brother Frederick tended to avoid politics. Frederick dutifully served during the war, but did little to step out into his community. Despite being asked, he never ran for political office. Instead he dedicated himself to his business, family and personal interests. With the conclusion of the war and the ensuing change in labor policy, Charleston’s economy predictably declined throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. While the cotton trade and to a lesser extent rice, remained at the center of its economy, South Carolina rice production declined from seventy-five percent of total US production in 1839 to forty-three percent in 1879 and less than one percent in 1919. Charleston developed some manufacturing and served some functions of a commercial center, but the city remained essentially a shipping point with limited items to ship from the city. That offset in trade caused the Charleston economy to remain relatively stagnant and depressed. Thousands of refugees, most of them newly freed men and women from the countryside, flocked to the city after the war which created a greater demand for foodstuffs. Government officials, philanthropists, and northern entrepreneurs also arrived in great numbers. Federal troops stationed in the city created even more of a need for supplies. All of this demand meant business for Frederick Wagener, who resumed his commercial activities in Charleston from square one upon returning from military service.
Despite his tremendous economic success, Wagener was unable to acquire the same level of influence within local government and business circles that native-born, white Charlestonians enjoyed. Wagener did not become a member of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce until 1883. During the 1880s, he did not hold a single position on any of the city’s boards of directors. Historian Don H. Doyle wrote, “Wagener, like most of this city’s new men of wealth after the war, remained a nearly invisible man in the annals of the city’s history.” Charleston, Doyle noted, “had ambitious and successful individual entrepreneurs, but efforts at community enterprise failed repeatedly after the war. Many in Charleston seemed bent on preserving the remnants of the Old South and were slow to adapt to the ‘new order of things.’ Capital and entrepreneurial talent drifted away from Charleston, and as ambitious men left, or in many instances remained outside the social elite, conservative ways became more firmly entrenched and efforts at community enterprise suffered repeated and demoralizing failures.” Native-born, white elites appeared disinterested in Wagener’s business acumen. “In postwar Charleston… some men of wealth and accomplishment emerged despite the stagnation around them,” Doyle wrote, “but their influence within the business community was, until the early twentieth century at least, muted by the presence of an older corps of merchants, usually cotton factors, whose local prestige rested on a family’s name and its accomplishments in the remote past.”
During the decade of the 1880’s, while many newly successful Charleston businessmen were being perceived as “invisible in the annals of the city’s history,” Frederick Wagener, it seemed, was doing his part to go the other direction. He started in 1880 by purchasing a lot on the southwest corner of East Bay and Queen Streets near the Charleston wharves where he built a new dry goods store, warehouse, and office building that served as a symbol of his economic success. When the building was completed he didn’t quietly make his way into the light. The event made headlines and the entire city celebrated with him.
Wagener Building on corner of East Bay and Queen Street
The editor of Charleston’s News and Courier wrote: “The history of the firm F. W. Wagener & Co. is a cheering illustration of what may be accomplished in business in Charleston by industry, integrity, enterprise and liberal ideas.” On the night of the celebration, the building was brilliantly illuminated with Chinese lanterns and oil lamps. The editor of the News and Courier called it “the largest building in Charleston or the South for business purposes, and one that will compare favorably in size and appearance with any grocery establishment in the North or West.” Leading businessmen, lawyers and architects were noted as attending the opening party on the second floor of the building where Wagener offered a champagne toast in which he thanked his guests and the people of Charleston. John H. Devereux, the architect and contractor, introduced Captain S. Y. Tupper, the president of the Chamber of Commerce. Tupper determined the Wagener building “not only adds to the beauty and adornment of our city, but is an evidence of her growing prosperity. It is an evidence of what the will, the energy and patriotism of one man can accomplish. It is such men that build up great cities and give character, importance and confidence to a community.” “May it be as enduring as the pyramids to encourage our youth in the same paths of honesty, industry and perseverance that has characterized the life of Capt. Wagener,” Tupper concluded.
During his speech to the party attendees Wagener admitted that he had enjoyed greater business success than he had anticipated when he had arrived in Charleston a quarter-century earlier, but he believed that he had benefited from an excellent supporting cast. Wagener recognized that Charleston had experienced little economic growth since the Civil War and that internal competition within the city was intense. For that reason, he promoted the expansion of trade beyond the city’s limits and advocated extending credit in the process. Wagener’s speech was said to be met with applause. Leading Charlestonians, in turn, presented speeches in recognition of Wagener’s success. At the moment that acting Mayor Follin began his speech, the members of the German Artillery and the German Fire Company marched into the hall to the sounds of Dixie. The Germany Artillery, under command of Lieutenant James Simons, marched around the hall and the company presented sabers to Wagener, after which Lieutenant Simons delivered a congratulatory address in German. Some of the men had served under Wagener during the Civil War. Simons recalled that Wagener had rebuilt his fortunes from the economic destruction of the war. German Charlestonians “had watched his success with interest, and felt a share of pride in his achievements.” Capt. J. H. Stemmerman, of the German Fire Company, gave a short address congratulating Wagener on behalf of his company. Those in attendance gave three cheers for Wagener. Acting Mayor Follin thanked Wagener for promoting the interests of Charleston and beautifying the city with the new building. Major Augustine T. Smythe gave a short congratulatory speech. Then Alderman Ufferhardt gave an important speech that summarized the German immigrant experience in Charleston:
For near forty years their industry, enterprise, perseverance and consequent success has been the solicitude as well as the pride of your humble servant…Our German adopted citizen knows his business and minds his own business. He builds or buys a house, and pays for it; or he hires one and pays the rent the first thing. He or his family eat no meal and wear no clothes until they are paid for. He is the foremost at the tax offices and does not rest until he has his tax receipts in his pocket…Our German citizens, honest and true, faithful and patriotic, may they maintain forever that honorable position they have attained, socially, morally and politically, under the leadership of good and true men from the Fatherland, the honored dead as well as those still working and rising.
Major Alexander Melchers, the editor of the Deutsche Zeitung, and several other leading German businessmen also gave speeches that evening. The event closed with the singing of “Die Wacht am Rhein.” The editor of the News and Courier believed it was important that Wagener had decided to invest some of his fortune into a “building fully adequate to the demands of their business, an ornament to the city, and in size, facilities and architectural beauty commensurate without ideas of the importance and dignity of Charleston.” The editor agreed with Wagener’s promotion of cooperation between Charleston’s businessmen in expanding trade beyond the city, and he hoped that it would lead to more business activity.
117 Broad Street in Charleston
Captain Wagner did not seem satisfied to merely take on the construction of his new business facilities on East Bay Street. In 1885 he bought the historic 117 Broad Street mansion that was previously owned by Edward Rutledge, the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence. Since Wagner was living in the Victorian Age, he and his wife updated the home to keep up with the times. They changed the colonial style home by first adding an addition to the entire side of the home on all three flights. They also changed the roofline, trim and windows to comfort with the Victorian style. Gates, ironwork and a new wall were also constructed to update the home as well as electrifying the home, so chandeliers and the most up to date appliances could be enjoyed. The Wagner Room named in his honor is located at the front left portion of the picture on the first floor.
The Pine Forest Inn at Summerville, SC
Along with his other acquisitions and investments in the 1880’s, Wagener purchased a country inn that he promoted into a successful resort for wealthy tourists. Opened in 1891, Pine Forest Inn beckoned the aristocratic crowd with 60 acres of luxury in a quaint Southern oasis advertising warm, dry air. The opulent four-story resort spared no expense, as it recounted in its 1909 brochure.
The Architecture is of a light fantastic character with turrets and pinnacles in a fanciful, castellated style, a graceful graduated pyramid ending in iron finials rise from either end of the roof, in the centre of the view of the fourth story is an upward projection on which are placed twin pyramidial towers truncated.
For $5-a-day, including meals, guests could enjoy one of 150 majestic rooms and suites, served by four elevators while boasting electric lights, steam radiators and open fire-places. The building was encased by an impressive glassed-in piazza that seated 150 people in rocking chairs. There they could gaze upon the shaded canopy of live oaks and thick-needled pines surrounding a brick roadway.
Porch View at the Pine Forest Inn, Summerville, SC
Town and Country, a leading lifestyle magazine of the era, featured the Pine Forest Inn in a story on southern resorts. The article mentioned that the “leading resort hotel” of Summerville was located twenty-two miles from Charleston where the inn had its own power plant, telegraph office and long distance telephone service. It pumped life-giving mineral water from a 900-foot artesian well and spring water from a charcoal-purified cistern. Both were advertised for their medicinal properties, a regular theme of Pine Forest Inn promotions. The dining room was larger than the White House’s, and served extravagant meals with the finest ingredients brought by train from New York or served fresh from the Inn’s own dairy farm. The sporting crowd at Pine Forest Inn enjoyed 2,000 acres of hunting grounds, billiards tables, a swimming pool and a livery with 60 horses. In addition, according to the Inn’s 10-page brochure, there was: “…tennis, golf, bowling, trap shooting, shuffleboard, croquet, high swings and many other amusements. The hotel being so large and roomy that not wishing to participate in the gaiety may be out of the reach of a single sound.”
As proprietor of the inn, Frederick Wagener spent the majority of his weekends there during the tourist season. He took time to get to know his hotel guests and had a reputation for taking special care of his more distinguished guests. In the spring of 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the Pine Forest Inn, while visiting the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition. Wagener also hosted other dignitaries. In January 1909, Wagener held a dinner for President-elect William Howard Taft.
Wagener with President Theodore Roosevelt at the Pine Forest Inn (1902)
Wagener owned and operated the Pine Forest Inn for nearly thirty years. The Inn closed in the 1930’s, a victim of the Depression and competition from Florida’s increasingly popular resorts. It reopened in 1939 and housed military personnel during the war, but its heyday had passed and it was later demolished. All that remains of it now is its grand entrance gates and mantle pieces from the rooms, disassembled and disseminated throughout homes in the surrounding communities. The most visible homage to the Inn standing today is Pine Forest Country Club, an 18-hole golf course that includes a tennis complex and swimming pool. The golf course is open to the public for play.
1864 Postcard for Washington Race Course
Aside from his varied business interests, Frederick Wagener also had a passion for fine carriage horses. He indulged his passion by laying out a half-mile racetrack on the grounds of his property at Rose’s Farm [Lowndes Grove] along the banks of the Ashley River at what is now Hampton Park next to the current campus of The Citadel. He had purchased the property in 1881 and not long thereafter made changes at the nearly century-old Washington Race Course, where only thoroughbred runners made their way around a one-mile track. One of the first changes implemented with Wagener’s new ownership occurred when he organized the Charleston Driving Association where in February 1883, the track held its first races at “Wagener Park.”
1891 Advertisement for Wagener Park Racing
With the new style of racing at Wagener Park, other changes were implemented as well. In January, 1884, a reporter for the Charleston News and Courier praised the more than four hundred spectators as they enjoyed a full afternoon of racing. He made it a point to give credit to management at the event as “the sale of liquor and gambling being prohibited on the grounds, and perfect order being preserved, there was nothing to offend the tastes of the most fastidious.” While good behavior is always seen as an important virtue in Charleston, imbibing and betting was a tradition established before the American Revolution. Traditions in Charleston don’t fade away easily.
An Afternoon of Racing at Wagener Park
In February 1886 full-fledged thoroughbred racing returned to Charleston along with the ability for proper Charlestonians to lay their bets side-by-side with strangers of questionable character. The effort by the South Carolina Jockey Club to revitalize the racing circuit in the Lowcountry was short-lived. After the earthquake of August, 1886, there were no races at all for several seasons.
The Driving Association racecourse eventually reopened, and articles in the News and Courier from February and March, 1897, summarize three afternoons at the races in late-nineteenth century Charleston. “The grandstand was full, the track was good and hard, and the horsemen of the city were more than enthusiastic. As had been the case before the earthquake, the racing cards were mixed: half-mile dash under saddle; trotters and pacers in heats, best two of five; then running under saddle again, three quarter-mile heats. Charleston horses were heavily favored in the wagering pools for all races, and generally rewarded their backers.”
Beginning with the London Exposition of 1851, expositions were the forerunners of the modern World’s Fairs. The best-known was the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which was followed by expositions in such cities as Atlanta and Omaha. Around 1899, Charleston businessmen began to convince themselves that an industrial/commercial exposition would promote South Carolina’s agricultural production and increase trade with Caribbean and Latin American countries. Thus began the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition.
In order to host the Exposition a proper site needed to be procured that would allow for all the planned exhibitions. As a renowned civic leader it was not long for Frederick Wagener to be recognized as the person necessary to take on the task of being the Exposition President. The Exposition needed vast space that amounted to nearly 250 acres. Captain Wagener owned the property that was perfectly situated for hosting the Exposition. As its President, Captain Wagener turned over to the Exposition his farm, the Washington Race Course, part of Rhett Farm and smaller parcels known as the Dunneman and Devereaux tracts.
Panoramic View of the Exposition
Before designing the buildings to house the exhibits and concessions, architect Bradford L. Gilbert created a master plan for the grounds. West of the racetrack, Wagener’s riverfront farm was the setting for the Woman’s Building (presently known as Lowndes Grove), Negro Building, and smaller buildings for displays provided by various states. At the center of the Exposition (what had been the Washington Race Course), the grand “Court of Palaces” faced a green mall with landscaped fountains, bridges and pools – the Sunken Garden. The east side of the grounds, backing up to Rutledge Avenue, was set aside for the Midway, featuring fast-service food, animal acts, and exotic dancers. There were tamer attractions as well, including theme villages and buildings. One of them, the Colonial Farm House or Wayside Inn, was billed as an “illustration of life in our early days… where kind women will gladly minister to the comfort of visitors.”
The 1902 South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition was seen as one of Frederick Wagener’s greatest lifetime accomplishments. The Atlanta Constitution called Wagener “one of the most public spirited citizens of the South.” His commitment of time and money to the cause was unmatched by any other citizen in Charleston. In the spring of 1902, the directors of the Charleston Exposition organized a German week at the fair from May 21 to May 28. The exposition invited every single German society in the United States to participate in shooting, singing, and athletic competitions.
Ticket for Entrance to Exposition on Wagener Day, 1902
May 22, 1902 was designated Wagener Day at the Exposition and a general holiday was declared in Charleston. Stores were closed and all business was suspended. The courts, schools, and colleges were also closed. The city intended to pay tribute to Frederick Wagener. More visitors attended the Exposition on Wagener Day than on any other day of the Exposition. At the Wagener Day celebration, the Honorable William H. Brawley, Judge of the U.S. District Court noted:
We all feel that however much others have done to make this Exposition a success, they could not have succeeded without Capt. Wagener, who has not only devoted to it his money and credit, but has given to it unsparingly his time and labor and business ability.
The day was a great celebration which included a parade, horse races, tournament and battle reenactment, all in the honor of one of Charleston’s finest citizens. The editor of the News and Courier declared Wagener Day to be:
…. a tribute which Capt. Wagener deserves from us, every one. He has done more for the city than any other man has ever done. Let the whole story be told in a way that everyone can understand. He made the Exposition possible. He made it what it is. He has kept it open for months. The rest of us have given our good wishes and presence and interest and admiration and hopes. He has given his money without which it must have failed and closed its doors and has given it unhesitatingly and freely. He has borne a heavy burden. We owe him our thanks, surely. We owe him all honor for the great work he has done so bravely and so well. We can pay so much of our debt, at least, and we would pay it in full measure. Today, Wagener Day is devoted to his honor and to our own honor in rightly honoring him! Let us make it memorable on both accounts!
When the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition closed on May 31, 1902, it was proclaimed a tremendous accomplishment. Thousands of people visited each day, with immense crowds welcoming President Theodore Roosevelt in April 1902. Although daily attendance surpassed the promoters’ projections, overall receipts were much lower than anticipated, and when the exposition finally closed there were significant unpaid debts. The South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition had been a resounding success, but a financial failure.
Despite its lack of commercial success, the Exposition left a permanent legacy to the City of Charleston that is still seen today. Not long after the closing of the Exposition, the City of Charleston bought the Washington Race Course section of the Exposition site. The area was transformed into a park. To memorialize General Wade Hampton, Confederate hero, former South Carolina governor and United States Senator, who died in April 1902, the grounds were dedicated as Hampton Park.
Sunken Gardens, Bandstand and Court of Palaces in Background
From the Exposition site there are really only two architectural remnants surviving today that were constructed specifically for the Exposition – the Bandstand and the Wayside Inn. The bandstand was moved from its original location to a position on axis with the Cleveland Street entrance to the park in 1984. After years of use as a residence for Hampton Park’s superintendent, the Wayside Inn at 30 Mary Murray Drive was most recently used by the City of Charleston’s Horticultural Department. The Sunken Gardens, recognized as a main landscape feature of the Exposition, were also retained although scaled down to form what is today known as the “Duck Pond.”
In 1905, several years after establishing Hampton Park, the City of Charleston purchased Rhett Farm, on the Ashley River immediately west of the park. Originally intended for an expansion of the pleasure grounds, the tract was instead sold to the State of South Carolina to become a new campus for The Citadel.
Present Day Map of Charleston Peninsula
North of the Citadel campus and Hampton Park now lies the neighborhood of Wagener Terrace. The history of Wagener Terrace dates back to 1881 when William Lowndes sold his 34 acre, waterfront plantation to Frederick Wagener. At the time Wagener was accumulating various land tracts that ran along the Ashley River. His purchase of the acreage and Lowndes’ 1786 plantation home allowed Wagener to have a newly remodeled home set among all his newly acquired property. Today, the home and property known as Lowndes Grove still remains a stunning 14 acre estate nestled on the banks of the Ashley River. It is registered as a National Historic Place.
Lowndes Grove Along The Ashley River
In 1917 Wagener sold the Lowndes Grove property to James Sottile, a Sicilian immigrant who in the late 1880’s moved to Charleston and made a fortune with his brothers in the whisky distilling business. Upon moving into the main house, Sottile kept 14 acres for the main property and split the remaining 20 acres into residential lots. He honored Frederick Wagener by calling the future neighborhood “Wagener Terrace.” Construction on single family homes within the subdivision began in the 1920’s and continued through the 40’s. The cottages and bungalows that were built during that time still remain today, and many have been restored and renovated.
Grave of Captain Frederick Wilhelm Wagener at Bethany Cemetery
On the morning of November 25, 1921, after a weeklong illness, Frederick Wagener died in his historic home on Broad Street. He had celebrated his eighty-ninth birthday less than a month earlier. While his wife predeceased him in 1912, Wagener was survived by an extended family of nephews, nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces.
Throughout his life Wagener was a tireless worker, admired veteran and civic leader who continued to attend to his business in his office on East Bay Street well into his eighties. Aside from his mercantile business, the Pine Forest Inn and his other business interests, he also was involved in the development of the Isle of Palms, the Royal Planing Mills, and the Planters’ Phosphate & Fertilizer Company. He remained mentally sharp until the time of his death.
Leading Germans, second-generation German-Americans, and white Charlestonians were listed among the honorary pall bearers at Frederick Wagener’s funeral. Many of those honoring him had served as board members at the South Carolina Exposition, served with him during the Civil War, or cooperated with Wagener in various business ventures.