The building at 1103 Bay St. in downtown Beaufort has housed plantation owners, admirals and injured Civil War soldiers. It's witnessed the rise of Bay Street and downtown Beaufort, kept watch over the waterfront and stood stubbornly through war and hurricanes.
Now, it's willing to share some of its secrets ... or maybe just the view.
Frank and Amy Lesesne, both of Beaufort, have undertaken a renovation project that began in August 2013 and has almost come to fruition: Anchorage 1770.
The Lesesnes, originally from Atlanta, first came to Beaufort under sad circumstances -- a funeral for one of Frank Lesesne's fraternity brothers.
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"The silver lining to the visit was discovering how much we love the town," Frank Lesesne said.
Instead of waiting until they retired, Frank and Amy Lesesne moved to Beaufort in 2013. While looking at properties, the one they kept coming back to was at the corner of Bay and Newcastle streets.
"We came originally to buy another property," Frank Lesesne said. "But we kept looking at the Anchorage. Our agent told us it would be too big of a project."
"When the other property fell through, we went back," he said. "Right when we walked in, we knew this was the property."
Going through the city of Beaufort and the Historic Beaufort Foundation was a lengthy process, but Frank Lesesne said he wasn't interested in the property unless he and Amy Lesesne could do "what we wanted to do with it."
They got their wish and launched into a renovation that won't be complete for another few weeks, with an expected opening of mid- to late May, Frank Lesesne said. The kitchen needs to be finished, he said, and an elevator installation began Tuesday.
The Lesesnes have never operated an inn before, but they've both had experience as small-business owners.
"We've got a name: insane Lesesnes." Frank Lesesne joked. "Amy and I have always worked for ourselves, ingraining ourselves in our community (in Atlanta)."
Frank Lesesne said the first record of the house was in 1753, but there is some debate about when the house was actually built. Some say the original owner was William Elliott I, a wealthy plantation owner, and others say Ralph Emms Elliott, another planter and owner of Cedar Grove Plantation, who willed it to William Elliott III, his nephew, in 1806.
"The tabby construction would lend some to think it was pre-Revolutionary," Frank Lesesne said.
But former Beaufort mayor William Elliott III was one of the early owners, a successful politician, planter and writer, Frank Lesesne said. He developed a product called Elliott Cream Cotton, which he presented at the Paris Exposition in 1855 -- in French.
The house stayed in the Elliott family until the Civil War, when the Union Army invaded in 1861, Frank Lesesne said. William Elliott III fled to Flat Rock, N.C., and the house was given a new role.
"Once the Union occupied Beaufort, it became Hospital No. 11," Frank Lesesne said. "It was also called the Mission House."
William Elliott III died in Flat Rock in 1863, never able to return to his Beaufort home -- but it was spared from the burning of General Sherman's army.
During Reconstruction, the house was auctioned off -- and someone from the Elliott family, Thomas Rhett Smith Elliott, took ownership of the house, but only for a short time.
Frank Lesesne said records show that when Wade Hampton was running for South Carolina governor in 1876, he made his "red shirt" campaign speech from the porch of the house.
The house next became the home of the Ribaut Club, in 1891.
"It started out as a literary club," Frank Lesesne said. "But it quickly devolved into a drinking party."
He said a couple of sources say the club had a bar, dancers and a roulette wheel, described as a "miniature Monte Carlo" in "Tales of Beaufort," by Nell S. Graydon.
The party ended later that year, when Admiral Lester Beardslee, commander of the Port Royal Naval Station, bought the home for $4,000.
"He had a very distinguished Navy career in the Civil War," Frank Lesesne said.
Beardslee was part of Commodore Perry's party during its landing in 1853 in Japan. And, in 1879, Beardslee was on the USS Jamestown, where he surveyed and named Glacier Bay, Alaska. The Beardslee Islands in Alaska were then named after him.
Beardslee didn't do much with the house until 1901, when he spent $80,000 on completely renovating the house.
"He retired in 1898 and went back to Japan briefly," Frank Lesesne said. "He brought back Japanese antiques and servants."
A 1902 Beaufort Gazette article said the house would soon become an "imposing residence" and the mansion would be the "finest and most elegant in town."
Beardslee's renovation lived up to the hype: He shipped wood finishings from New York mills to replace the trim, added more substantial brick to the fireplaces, rebuilt the porch to include a third level with massive columns, added a rear wing and built a passenger elevator -- the only one in Beaufort at the time.
But he didn't want the Mrs. to be around for some of the renovations.
"(Beardslee) was said to have been a big drinker," Frank Lesesne said. "He would send his wife on shopping sprees in Europe so he could have hiding places installed in the house to hide his liquor."
Once renovations were finished, Beardslee named the house the Anchorage -- a name the Lesesnes wanted to keep alive.
"We're calling the inn Anchorage 1770 because we're tying together the Elliott history and the admiral history," Frank Lesesne said.
Much of the interior is reflective of the history as well.
"We have a lot of period English antiques," Amy Lesesne said. "We are not using antique beds, but we do have four-poster beds in the rooms."
In the 1900s, the house had a number of uses. It was an annex to the Gold Eagle Tavern on Bay Street, a tourist home, a guest home (at the low, low price of $3-$10 a night) and several different restaurants, including one where Jim Conroy, Pat Conroy's brother, worked at one point, Frank Lesesne said.
The house was almost demolished in the 1970s, but a few members of the Historic Beaufort Foundation stepped in to save it.
"They put a restrictive covenant on the house, which still holds today," Frank Lesesne said. "Anything we want to do, we have to get their blessing."
The Lesesnes wanted the interior to look colonial, but in a subtle way.
"It's not your grandmother's B&B, with different colors and furnishings in every room," Amy Lesesne said. "The decor is consistent throughout the house."
The owners weren't allowed to paint the house's exterior, because of Historic Beaufort Foundation regulations, but were able to limewash it.
"Instead of the drabby gray color it was, it's now the color it should have been," Amy Lesesne said.
Anchorage 1770 has 15 guest rooms in the four-story main house, as well as a two-bedroom suite in the cottage behind the main building. A rooftop bar will offer a happy hour, and a basement kitchen will serve breakfast in the morning and hors d'oeuvres in the evening.
Additionally, the Lesesnes wanted the hotel to have as much of a Lowcountry feel as possible.
"The soaps we're using are from local farms, breakfast and hors d'oeuvres are as locally grown as possible," Frank Lesesne said. "Local art will be displayed. We want people to be immersed in the Lowcountry when they're here."
With more than 1,500 square feet of porches, many of which have Charleston hanging beds, it won't be a difficult feat.
Amy Lesense said while they each had different tasks and areas of expertise going into the project, working together was what made them pull it off.
"We've done it all together," Amy Lesesne said. "I've focused more on the design, but we are a team."
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