Exploring Charleston’s Plantations
Boone Hall Plantation's avenue of live oak trees partially obscures the view of the plantation home itself at the end of this long roadway. The trees create a magnificent entrance for visitors.*
By Natasha Lawrence
In search of Tara while on a port call at Charleston, SC? Plantations throughout the Charleston region provide a glimpse into the South’s heritage. What’s most impressive is the well-preserved nature of many of the estates around this charming South Carolina city.
The plantations make interesting day trips for Charleston cruisers. Many cruise lines offer half-day or full-day tours encompassing the following plantations.
Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens (843-884-4371 or www.boonehallplantation.com), 1235 Long Point Rd., Mt. Pleasant:
Rumor has it Margaret Mitchell’s Tara in "Gone with the Wind" was influenced by Boone Hall Plantation and Garden’s romantic setting. The 1980s TV miniseries "North and South" was filmed here, just 11 miles from Charleston.
Visitors experience the closest thing to a real antebellum cotton plantation at Boone Hall. Built in 1790 by Major John Boone, the present-day mansion is actually a 1936 reconstruction. Three previous structures were destroyed by war, fire and nature. But it’s impressive just the same.
Visitors will be swept back in time as they approach the beautiful white plantation home and its elaborate iron gates. The estate majestically appears as visitors drive down the three-quarter-mile-long Avenue of Oaks.
There’s much to explore once at the mansion, including a formal garden, nine original slave cabins, a smokehouse, cotton gin house, butterfly pavilion, dock house, horse pasture and stables. An informative half-hour house tour of the first floor is given by a knowledgeable guide in period costume.
After the Boone family, the Horlbeck family owned the plantation. They cultivated pecans and also had a brick-and-tile production operation.
Seasonal events are fun at Boone Farm. Fall overnight port calls might allow visitors to take in Halloween in the Corn Maze, Pumpkin Patch, Haunted Hayride and Fright Nights. Other annual events at Boone Hall are an oyster roast in January, Strawberry Festival and a Spring Wine & Jazz Fest in April, BBQ Cook-Off and Bluegrass Festival in June, Scottish Games in September, a Taste of Charleston in November and a Plantation Christmas in December.
A re-enactment of the 1862 Battle of Secessionville, the first major Union effort to take Charleston, is staged in November.
Also onsite is a visitor center and gift shop. The plantation restaurant, Serena’s Kitchen, is closed for renovations until late 2007.
Drayton Hall (843-769-2600 or www.draytonhall.org), 3380 Ashley River Rd., Charleston:
The oldest preserved original plantation home in the United States is Drayton Hall, built in 1738.*
As the oldest preserved plantation house in America open to visitors, the 1738-built Drayton Hall remains much as it did almost 300 years ago. It also has no running water or electricity. Although it is devoid of furniture, the house is impressive for its colonial architecture.
It survived destruction during the Civil War because, as the story goes, Dr. John Drayton convinced Union troops it was a hospital for smallpox victims. A guided 45-minute tour of the three-story house offers a taste of its rich history.
A self-guided River Walk and Marsh Walk are other options. The typical visit here is about two hours. A small museum shop sells books, ornaments and souvenirs. There is no food to purchase.
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens (800-367-3517 or www.magnoliaplantation.com), 3550 Ashley River Rd., Charleston:
Adjacent to Drayton Hall is Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, the oldest plantation on the Ashley River. It also operates one of the most beautiful gardens in America. Still under Drayton family ownership today, Magnolia Plantation began in 1676. It features enchanting lakes, bridges and walking trails.
Lovely gardens and eco-areas are the big draw at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens.*
A guided tour of the house is available. Other features include a nature trail, nature boat, original slave cabin, wildlife viewing tower, sheep and miniature-horse pasture, bike and canoe rentals, petting zoo and the impressive Audubon Swamp Garden.
There’s also a Plantation Gift Shop and Art Gallery. A snack shop near the pasture sells sandwiches and drinks. Note that prices are higher than those posted on the Web site. Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic or snacks.
Most of the annual events here center on seasonal garden blooms. Among them is the Fall Camellia Festival in November. In December, Camellia Christmas is celebrated. In October, there’s a re-enactment of a Revolutionary event, when British troops occupied the plantation.
Middleton Place (843-556-6020 or www.middletonplace.org), 4300 Ashley River Rd., Charleston:
Middleton Place is renowned for its floral blooms and beds as well as neatly manicured lawns.*
Featuring the oldest landscaped gardens in the country, Middleton Place is one of the most beautiful Charleston-area landmarks. Begun by Henry Middleton in 1741 as a rice plantation on the banks of the Ashley River, the grounds and house suffered destruction during the Civil War in 1865 and again by earthquake in 1886.
Stroll through the custom-designed gardens, landscaped terraces and river trails, and enjoy tours of the house and out-buildings. An excellent restaurant is open for lunch and dinner.
Visitors might also peruse a museum shop, garden market and nursery. Middleton Inn and Equestrian Center is adjacent to the plantation.
Onsite plantation events include Camellia Walks from February to March, a Spoleto Festival Finale in June, Charleston Garden Festival in October, Plantation Days in November and a Town & Country Christmas in December.
In Search of African-American Heritage
The four estates featured above each have African-American history programs.
Twice daily Boone Hall offers an interpretive storytelling program about plantation slave culture near the slave cabins.
Drayton Hall offers “Connections: From Africa to America,” a 45-minute, interactive program at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. daily near the museum shop. During February’s Black History Month, the plantation’s programs include oral histories and tours of the slave cemetery.
Visitors might try their hand with the same tools used by plantation slaves. It’s also a time to learn about Gullah culture and cuisine brought from Africa to America.
Magnolia Gardens has an original slave cabin furnished much as it was before the Civil War. A talk is given daily at 2 p.m. about the life of plantation slaves and the African-American culture prior to emancipation.
Middleton Place has a rich history and educational programs about African-American slave life and culture. The plantation’s original cabins are furnished as they were during the antebellum period.
Charleston area freelance writer Natasha Lawrence contributes to several Internet travel Web sites. She also writes for such publications as Savannah Magazine, Northern Virginia Magazine, Alaska Business Monthly and Florida Woman. She has also written several guidebooks and is a guest lecturer on cruise ships.
*All photos shown above are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.