Southern Gilded Age Mansions Live on as Hotels

Retreat to quiet luxury and grandeur at these meticulously restored historic properties

Inside a dark wood room with ornate paneling


Inside the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Scenes in The Gilded Age on HBO drip with crystal chandeliers and golden decadence, giving viewers a peek into New York’s lavish Park Avenue homes of the late nineteenth century. But the Northeast wasn’t the only place in America to experience grandeur on a massive scale. Gilded Age mansions and hotels across the South—especially in coastal Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina—offer a look into the opulence of a bygone era. Notable names like the Carnegies, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Flaglers all looked to the South for recreation and warm weather, and many of their striking getaways still stand. In some cases, turning once-private homes into boutique hotels and inns has kept their costly preservation possible. Here are a handful of Gilded Age manors, inns, and hotels that feel like time portals.

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Greyfield Inn

Cumberland Island, Georgia

The library at the Greyfield Inn.

Isolated on Georgia’s tranquil Cumberland Island off the Florida-Georgia coast, a former Carnegie family home lives on as the Greyfield Inn. Framed by live oaks, beneath which docile wild horses roam, this meticulously maintained fourteen-room mansion exudes understated splendor. Free of modern technology like Wi-Fi or screens of any kind, Greyfield Inn remains frozen in the early 1900s, and owners Mitty Ferguson (a Carnegie descendant) and his wife, Mary, remain intent on preserving a retreat from the hectic outside world. First-edition classics fill the library shelves; oil paintings of family matriarchs hang in the parlor. An oft-returning Greyfield guest told me, while warming up by the parlor fireplace, “There aren’t many places you can go and twenty-five years later nothing has changed.” 

For more old-fashioned entertainment, guests can explore eighteen miles of pristine National Seashore and maritime forest via complimentary bicycles or attend the inn’s naturalist and history tours. Picnic lunches come from the bounty of the Greyfield’s garden and are personally packed for each guest in the morning.

Partridge Inn

Augusta, Georgia

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In magnolia-tree-lined Augusta, the Partridge Inn is a well-known local landmark that’s often undiscovered by visitors. (But as the closest hotel to Augusta National, you might spot a golfer or two here.) Built in the late nineteenth century as a two-story residence, the mansion was saved from the brink of disintegration on more than one occasion. In 1987, the inn debuted with a restoration overseen by the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office, which upheld the period rooms and striking two-hundred-foot veranda. Partridge-themed wallpaper decks the walls, and the green-and-navy palette feels as regal now as it did in the building’s 1920s heyday. “It’s quirky, which is part of the charm,” says James Searcy, the hotel’s lead bell captain. “This is not a cookie-cutter hotel.” The inn’s tucked-in-a-neighborhood location is not the only reason for its homey feel. “When you show up at our house, we treat you like a guest in our house,” Searcy says.

The Inn at Little Washington

Washington, Virginia

photo: Courtesy of The Inn at Little Washington
Inside the dining room at the Inn at Little Washington.

The interiors of this 1905-built inn are a maximalist homage to French and English influences, with layers of antiques, period-style wallpaper, intricate molding, and gilded framed artwork. Many know the property for its world-class, three-Michelin-star restaurant helmed by Patrick O’Connell, and Washington D.C., food enthusiasts trek to the small town for the dining experience alone. Guests dine under tasseled lampshades and can expect to feast on a five-course tasting menu that features East Coast classics reimagined through O’Connell’s point of view. Think Maine lobster with a decadent caviar beurre blanc. Or Long Island duck breast atop a parsnip purée with a Madeira reduction. For dessert, perhaps it will be the season for “George Washington’s Pawpaw Posset,” a simple sugar-and-cream dish made from the largest edible fruit trees native to North America. The whole experience feels something like a sumptuous Gilded Age dinner party.

Wentworth Mansion

Charleston, South Carolina

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With its stained-glass window transoms and original parquet floors, the Wentworth Mansion stands as a living testament to the ornate residential details of the Gilded Age. Originally built in 1886 as a private residence for a wealthy cotton merchant, this historic home is an example of Second Empire architecture, which features a mansard roof and highly decorative design elements such as ironwork and dark wood paneling. Guests can enjoy afternoon tea in the sunny drawing room, or unwind in the evening with port, brandy, sherry, and hors d’oeuvres on the Sun Porch. The Circa 1886 restaurant serves Lowcountry cuisine in a historic carriage house, and within the mansion’s former stables, you’ll find the Wentworth Spa in a renovated hideaway.

Jekyll Island Club Resort

Jekyll Island, Georgia

photo: courtesy of Jekyll Island Club Resort
The grand dining room at the Jekyll Island Club Resort.

Georgia’s Golden Isles were a favorite winter getaway for the Gilded Age elite, with the Jekyll Island Club Resort as their main landing pad. These days, history tours of the hotel operate four days a week, led by the on-site history buff Sherri Zacher, who sparks curiosity about what it was like to relax on the island a century ago. The original 1888 building endures in its original form as a hotel and clubhouse, but the Jekyll Island cottages and mansions offer a stay at the former estates of J.P. Morgan and Richard Teller Crane Jr. (See photos of recent upgrades here.) Guests can wander the sunken garden, old-world library, and game room and soak in views dotted with Italian cypress trees. No matter where you are on the property, you’re encouraged to indulge in slow and classic pastimes such as croquet, chess, golf, and horseback riding.

Victoria 1883

New Smyrna Beach, Florida

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This charming enclave on the Atlantic boasts a quiet ode to history with the Victoria 1883 bed and breakfast, the longest-standing structure in town. Set along the Indian River, this Queen Anne–style mansion was once home to one of New Smyrna’s founding families, the Sheldons. In 2021 it underwent a major renovation, and today the revived estate is a picture of calm with its wraparound porch overlooking a lush courtyard. Vintage-inspired botanical wallpaper lines the river-view rooms, and modern updates were kept to a minimum (there are no TVs in the rooms, for instance). “That’s on purpose so people would be inspired to connect,” says inn partner Fabiola Spooner. Many original details, like the heart pine wood floors, have been preserved, and the lumber from a downed cedar on the property found new life in desktops and at the bar. 

Hotel Monteleone

New Orleans

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When the Sicilian Antonio Monteleone opened his Crescent City hotel in 1886, it quickly became “a favored destination for the elite of the time, including wealthy industrialists, politicians, authors, and celebrities who sought the luxurious accommodations and vibrant culture of New Orleans,” says Stephen Caputo, the Hotel Monteleone’s current general manager. Beneath its towering ceilings and chandeliers, literary greats like William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, and Eudora Welty rubbed elbows. Today, their names grace six indulgent “Literary Suites.” A stay in the Iberville Tower offers guests another special experience—early access to the Carousel Bar, a slowly rotating bar that resembles a nineteenth-century hand-painted merry-go-round. At this very bar in 1938, a Monteleone bartender created that most golden of New Orleans cocktails, the rye whiskey–based Vieux Carré.

The Market Gardener’s Cottage & The Inn on Biltmore Estate


photo: courtesy of the biltmore
Inside the Market Gardener’s Cottage at the Biltmore Estate.

In 1888, George Vanderbilt first visited Asheville and picked it as the location for his mountain sanctuary. Today, the Biltmore is a living Gilded Age museum where visitors can walk the mansion and grounds, taking in the architecture of Richard Morris Hunt and the landscape design of Frederick Law Olmstead. The Inn on Biltmore Estate is the property’s four-star hotel, where a stay mirrors the look and feel of being a private guest of George and Edith Vanderbilt. The Market Gardener’s Cottage, built by the son of the architect of Biltmore House in 1896, was the former headquarters of the Market Garden. Today guests can recline on private porches and indulge in the services of a private chef and butler.

For a more residential experience, head just outside the grounds to Biltmore Village, a historic neighborhood that emerged during the Biltmore’s construction. Here Biltmore employees, like Vanderbilt’s private attorney Samuel Reed, made their homes. Today, Reed’s 150-year-old Queen-Anne Victorian home lives on as the Biltmore Village Inn, a veranda-wrapped bed and breakfast where the staff will pack you a picnic lunch for your day exploring the estate’s eight thousand acres.