Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 3: No 2) >> Simms's Death House Discovered >> Page 5

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Secondary Scholarship | 1995
Transcription 5





Simms's Death House Discovered

David Aiken

Conflicting reports on the last hour of Simms's life have left scholars
confused as to who was where and when. Trent reports that Simms "was
conscious to the last, and he seemed to die peacefully, as if glad to be at rest.
His children and friends were around him, and every comfort had been supplied
him during his illness." In the Letters we find, "Sitting beside Simms when he
died was James Warley Miles."' Paul Hamilton Hayne tells us, "On a quiet
summer's afternoon in the month of June, 1870, in the beautiful old city he had
loved so passionately, with his family and friends around him, and his dying eyes
fixed on the Redeemer's cross, he passed tranquilly away."'
In Simms: A Literary Life, John Guilds says of the children "Perhaps the
disbelief that their father was dying accounts for the fact that they (with the
exception of Augusta) seem not to have been by his side during his final hours.
The woman who served as his nurse at the end, Sallie F. Chapin, friend of the
family, reported that Simms's last words on June 11 were, `Where is Gilmore?
It will not be long.' Simms died at 5 o'clock that afternoon."' Guilds inserts
family photographs of the house on Society Street (Courtesy of Mary Simms
Oliphant Furman) in which Simms died. The house belonged to Simms's eldest
daughter Anna Augusta Singleton Simms Roach. A rear view sketch of the house
on Society Street, accompanied by a picture of a bearded Simms, was placed near
the end of Hayne's article on Simms in Youth's Companion (1886).
The sketch and photographs raised the question, "Does the house still
stand?"
On a hot Wednesday afternoon, 13 September 1995, James Kibler and I
drove from the Isle of Palms to see if we could discover whether or not the house
was still there. We found it. Yes, the house that Simms died in over 125 years
ago still stands at 51 Society Street.
As recent photographs indicate, the house has been extensively renovated
on the outside, but the dominant features remain -- window placements at front
and right side, entrance to the courtyard at back where once a garden looked up
to the double porches, one above the other, both now mostly enclosed, and the
chimney still sitting above a corner stretch of flat roof.
Another significant clue in identifying the house turned out to be the
stairs, base, and column of the building next to Augusta's house captured in the
family photograph. These details survive in the still present structure of what wa
once known as the High School.
According to Beatrice St. Julien Ravenel in Architects of Charleston, "The
school was built on Society Street about 1842, without the portico, which