Then and Now: A Day in the Life of a Plantation
Did you know? Charleston ranked 14th in the Best Culture & History Vacation category in the US & Canada by Tripadvisor.com in 2009.
Prior to the Civil War, the agricultural economy and much of life in the South revolved around plantations.
Alleyways of live oaks, magnificent estate houses and old-world gardens are part of any story about the gracious living, hospitality and elegance of plantation life in the Colonial and antebellum South. But plantations also reveal the story of the social, economic and political changes that shaped the present-day South.
Charleston’s wealth in the 18th and 19th centuries was derived, in large part, from the plantation system. In the early 1700s, planters began the arduous process of clearing and diking inland swamps to provide water for cultivation. They also began experimenting with a variety of crops. The first attempts at rice growing failed, but in 1726 rice was successfully introduced in the colony. With its success came the first wave of economic prosperity. By the mid-1700s, another profitable crop was introduced: indigo, a plant that produced a valuable dye.
Charleston Harbor served as a major shipping port for the rice and indigo cultivated throughout the region. It was also the first and largest port to receive the fuel with which the plantation system ran: slaves.
With the abolition of slavery in 1865, the society characterized by the opulent lifestyles of the plantation owners and their families collapsed. Without the labor needed to operate them, many of the plantations were abandoned and then fell into ruins or burned. Fortunately, several of the plantations survived and continue to this day to make major contributions to the community as living centers of education and research, preservation and commerce.
The Charleston area has five plantations that are open to the public regularly, each uniquely reflecting various aspects of plantation life, as well as their vital roles in today’s Southern society.
3380 Ashley River Rd.
Charleston, SC 29407
Drayton Hall is the oldest unrestored plantation house in America open to the public. After seven generations, two great wars, and numerous hurricanes and earthquakes, the main house of this National Historic Landmark, built in 1738, remains in nearly original condition, showcasing three centuries of American history. In fact, the mission of the plantation is to preserve and interpret Drayton Hall and its environs in order to educate the public and inspire people to embrace historic preservation.
The main house is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian-Palladian architecture in the United States. In addition, the grounds represent one of the most significant, undisturbed historic landscapes in America.
On any given day, Drayton Hall is alive with tourists, eager to get a glimpse into the plantation’s Colonial and antebellum past. Groups of students can often be spotted roaming the house and grounds, intent on the inspiring lessons in history or architecture being taught by a knowledgeable guide in this magnificent one-of-a-kind living classroom. It’s not uncommon for an archeological dig to be going on somewhere on the property, or for artisans of the building arts to be studying the structure to determine the most authentic way to reinforce or repair any deterioration to the house brought on by time.
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
3550 Ashley River Road
Charleston, SC 29414
(843) 571-1266 or (800) 367-3517
Just down the road from Drayton Hall lies Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, Magnolia Plantation has also survived the centuries and witnessed the history of our nation unfold, from the American Revolution through the Civil War and beyond. It is the oldest public tourist site in the Lowcountry and the oldest public garden in America.
At Magnolia, a typical day includes tourists and students visiting the Drayton family home, which is the third to grace the site in the plantation’s more than three centuries of Drayton family occupation. The current main house—the core of which was built prior to the Revolutionary War near Summerville, S.C., and floated down the Ashley River to Magnolia after the Civil War—gives a glimpse of plantation life in the 19th century. The 10 rooms open to the public are furnished with early-American antiques, porcelain, quilts and other Drayton family heirlooms. Guides describe life in the 19th century, using the furniture and household objects to bring plantation culture alive. Upstairs, a room dedicated to the late John Drayton Hastie, one of the plantation’s most recent owners, displays part of his private art collection.
Lessons in horticulture abound at Magnolia Plantation. Its gardens are of such beauty and variety that they have brought tourists from around the world to view them since they were open to the public in the early 1870s. However, some sections are more than 325 years old, making them the oldest unrestored gardens in America. Because the plantation has stayed within the ownership of the same family for more than 300 years, each generation has added its own personal touch to the gardens, expanding and adding to their variety. Today there are various varieties of flowers such as camellias, daffodils, azaleas and countless other species in bloom year-round, with the climax of incredible beauty building toward the spring bloom.
4300 Ashley River Rd.
Charleston, SC 29414
(843) 556-6020 or (800) 782-3608
Another walk through history is available at Middleton Place, an 18th-century rice plantation and National Historic Landmark comprising America’s oldest landscaped gardens, the Middleton Place House Museum and the Plantation Stableyards.
Middleton Place was established early in the life of the Carolina colony, and served as a base of operations for a great Lowcountry planter family. Begun in 1741 by Henry Middleton, president of the First Continental Congress, the landscaped garden was both an intellectual and emotional focus for successive generations of Middletons. Until 1865, the garden was nurtured and embellished by Henry’s son, Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; Arthur Middleton’s son, Henry Middleton, who was governor of South Carolina and a U.S. minister to Russia; and Governor Henry Middleton’s son, Williams Middleton, who signed the Ordinance of Secession.
Guided tours of the Middleton Place House Museum, built in 1755 as a gentlemen’s guest wing, interpret the Middleton family’s role in American history. And a visit to the Plantation Stableyards offers a look into 18th and 19th century working plantation life. A weaver, cooper, carpenter, potter and blacksmith are at work demonstrating the skills practiced by artisan slaves at Middleton Place. These demonstrators and guides discuss slavery and plantation life from the earliest periods through Emancipation, Reconstruction and the first half of the 20th century.
The Gardens at Middleton Place reflect the elegant symmetry of 17th-century European design. The 65 acres of landscaped terraces, shadowy allées, ornamental ponds and garden rooms laid out with precise symmetry and balance made Middleton Place the most unique and grand garden of its time. Today, as they did then, the gardens represent the Lowcountry’s most spectacular expression of an 18th-century ideal—the triumphant marriage between man and nature.
Charleston Tea Plantation
6617 Maybank Highway,
Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487
Charleston Tea Plantation, the only tea farm in America, offers visitors a look into the daily operations of a working, living plantation. Located on Wadmalaw Island just outside Charleston, the history here focuses on the Camellia sinensis, or tea plants.
In the 1700s, tea plants arrived in the Colonies from China. Over the next 150 years, a number of unsuccessful attempts were made to propagate and produce tea for consumption. Finally in 1888, Dr. Charles Shepard founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, S.C., and American-grown tea became a reality. Tea plants grew wild at Pinehurst, where Shepard worked to develop award-winning teas until his death in 1915.
In 1963, the Lipton Tea Company purchased a 137-acre potato farm on Wadmalaw Island and brought Shepard’s tea plants from Pinehurst. Over the next 24 years, Lipton conducted research here. Then in 1987, William Hall purchased the farm from Lipton. Hall, a third-generation tea taster, converted the research and development farm into a commercial operation, the Charleston Tea Plantation. Thanks to him, the plantation became the home of American Classic Tea, the only tea grown in America.
In 2003, Bill Hall partnered with the Bigelow Family, which brought more than 60 years of experience in the specialty tea business to the plantation. Today the Charleston Tea Plantation presents a learning experience unlike any other in the country. There, visitors can learn about the history of tea, the plantation site, and the actual harvesting and production process that takes place on-site at the Charleston Tea Plantation.
Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens
1235 Long Point Rd.
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
Located in Mount Pleasant, Boone Hall is one of America’s oldest working plantations. It has been growing and producing crops for more than 320 years. Once known for cotton and pecans, Boone Hall actively produces strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkins and many other fruits and vegetables.
History is also on the menu at Boone Hall, where visitors can experience what plantation life was like in the 1800s by learning about the day-to-day activities of those who lived there.
Boone Hall’s newest exhibit, Black History in America, uses nine original slave cabins to present different themes to tell the black history story. Visitors are able to see several aspects of daily life including how they worked and lived and the struggles they faced, as well as follow different periods of historical progression. Life-size figures, pre-recorded narratives, audiovisual presentations, photos, pictures, biographical information and actual historical relics are interwoven and meshed in displays throughout this powerful and informative exhibit.
One of the most distinctive features of Boone Hall is its spectacular entrance. In 1743, the son of Major John Boone planted live oak trees, arranging them in two evenly spaced rows along the long road leading to the main house. This Avenue of Oaks (which also appears at the top of this page) created a spectacular approach to the home which came to symbolize Southern heritage. Today, the moss-draped Avenue of Oaks is one of the many reasons why Boone Hall is known as America’s most photographed plantation.
In addition to farming and tourism, Boone Hall is the site of many events and festivals held throughout the year, making this a unique venue.
For a list of must-see plantation tours and contact info, please click here.
Authentic Lowcountry cuisine, charming ambiance, coupled with an award-winning wine list will make dining at 82 Queen an incomparable experience. With gracious Southern hospitality and fresh local home-grown ingredients 82 Queen has been providing her guests with a uniquely “Charleston” dining experience for almost a quarter of a century. Prime cuts of beef, fresh seafood and indigenous foods. Charleston’s historic French Quarter. Open daily.
Freshfields Village feels instantly familiar, yet it's like no place you've ever seen. It's a charming mix of shops, businesses and restaurants in a timeless and peaceful setting designed to evoke an era gone by. Find the perfect gift, enjoy fine and casual dining and share unique cultural events like outdoor concerts, art exhibits and festivals. Get information about the latest happenings at Freshfields on the web site. Located on Johns Island, at the crossroads of Kiawah and Seabrook.
Hampden has been recognized by both Vogue and Marie Claire as one of the best boutiques in the nation. Just the edge you would expect, plus the Southern Charm you desire. Fashions from Alexander Wang, Suno, Golden Goose, Yigal Azrouel, Rachel Comey, Rag & Bone, Derek Lam, Helmut Lang, Elizabeth & James. Located on charming, historic King Street, with 2,800 sq.ft of space – a combination of old-world delights and clean, contemporary lines, make you feel comfortable while you shop. |