Charleston, SC is home to some of America’s most finely guarded historic monuments, preserved and protected so as to tell their story to future generations. Charleston was established as a prominent trade center for a type of cotton called indigo, as well as for rice, which allowed Charleston, SC to become one of the wealthiest cities in America at the time.
The historic plantations of Charleston that were built to cultivate these crops have become a major pull in the tourist industry due to their marvellous beauty and grace that has stood proud for centuries. The history of Charleston, SC is patriotically told by its citizens and is extremely prevalent as part of the stories told by these historic buildings. Numerous tour operators offer guided package tours to some of the more well known of these historic plantations of Charleston, but sometimes it is better to take your time and do your own personal tour, learning about the history as you go. The primary plantations of Charleston that simply must be visited are: Drayton Hall, Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation.
Drayton Hall was built between 1738 and 1742 on what was formerly Native Indian territory. The building itself was the brainchild of John Drayton drawing his inspiration from the architectural works of Andrea Palladio, an Italian architect who lived over a century prior to this period in time. The majestic historic grounds were received from the Drayton Family into the hands of the National Trust in 1974. Since that day, it has been the main concern of the National Trust to maintain the beautiful condition of Drayton Hall, and to preserve all the surviving elements of this magnificent monument to the history of Charleston, SC.
The Georgian-Palladian architecture has stood the test of time through seven generations of Drayton’s, as well as seven generations of Bowens, the African American family living and working on the Charleston plantation throughout this time. Preserving the natural beauty of this American heritage site has brought to the surface many landscape features that have been covered up for years. The National Trust is making every attempt to offer Drayton Hall’s visitors a similar experience as would have been had there 250 years ago, except with the incorporation of 18th, 19th and 20th century landscape designs. Many walks and tours around the grounds can be arranged, bringing all the majesty of this far from forgotten era to life.
Drayton Hall has endured and witnessed unimaginable events and sights over the centuries. From the advent of the slave trade and the introduction of hundreds of black, migrant workers to her fields, to the War of Independence, hurricanes and earthquakes. And still to this day, the beauty of this historic Charleston plantation is a marvel at which people stand in awe of on a daily basis. Drayton Hall is open daily from 8:30am, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Years Day.
Middleton Place (circa 1730) has been home to four generations of Middleton’s beginning with Henry Middleton. The house and approximately 200 acres of land were brought with Henry’s wife, Mary, as a dowry when they were married in 1741. Soon after his inception, he set 100 slaves to work create the grand landscape and gardens, which according to history took 10 years of seasonal labour. Today, the gardens of Middleton Place are not far from what they were more than 250 years ago, and visitors can stroll through the same views and breathtaking scenes of this historic Charleston plantation as the visitors of the 17 and 1800’s did.
The actual buildings of Middleton Place were ransacked and then burnt down in 1865 by troops of a New York Regiment, leaving only the South building still standing. This building then came to serve as the area of residence for the Middleton family, and has now become the House Museum of Middleton Place.
It is home to all the remaining historical artefacts and possessions from the Middleton generations, and has numerous stories to tell from the past of Middleton Place and all that has occurred on its grounds. In most circumstances, it is the perfection of the landscaped gardens that tourists come to see, as their expression of colour and beauty is far beyond words can describe, however the history contained within the walls of the House Museum are definitely worth you stretching out your available time. Middleton Place is open to the public on a daily basis from 9am.
Magnolia Plantation was founded by the influential Drayton family in 1676, and has been open to the public as a tourist attraction since 1870’s. Built along the banks of the Ashley River, Magnolia Plantation’s primary role was as a plantation for rice crops.
Today it is an internationally acknowledged tourist attraction that offers historical tours of the house (the third house built on the plantation) as well as tours of the extensive beauty of the Magnolia Plantation gardens, bird walks and discussions, nature and wildlife tours by train or boat, swamp tours through Audubon Swamp as well as in depth, interactive and descriptive talks and tours through the living quarters of Magnolia Plantation’s labourers and slaves. The Magnolia Plantation experience is not only about admiring the grandeur and opulence of yesteryear, but involving its visitors in the historical paths that brought this beautiful landscape into the 21st century.
Visitors are also invited to dine on a variety of light meals at the Peacock Café on the premises, or browse through collector’s items in the Plantation Shop and Gallery. Magnolia Plantation is still owned by the Drayton Family, eleven generations after being founded in 1676, and every attempt is being made to maintain the glory and magnificence of this historical plantation of Charleston. A full day could be spent here absorbing all that Magnolia Plantation has to offer. Magnolia Plantation opens at 8am daily, and is open every day of the year.