GILBRETH COLUMN; Ruins of Peachtree Plantation house tell a unique story
BY EDWARD M. GILBRETH
Back on the subject of feral hog hunting, a few people have wondered just exactly how the hogs are typically dispatched once hunters catch up to them.
Well, nowadays serious hog hunters will use a team of dogs to bay and subdue the creatures. Hunters will catch up as quickly as possible either by foot or horseback and bayonet the animal. Not for the squeamish! The rationale is that haphazard gunfire is avoided while culling a greater percentage of the herd.
I was witness to such activity a few weeks ago in the nether regions of the Santee Delta, but the purpose of today’s column is not to talk so much about that as to describe a remarkable structure that we more or less stumbled across.
There was a break in the activity and everybody was enjoying a lovely day in the woods. It was a cool February morning. The sun was out and there were no insects. Any, believe me, any day on the delta when there aren’t any mosquitoes is truly remarkable because they’re usually thick enough to fly up one’s nostrils.
And then all of a sudden it appeared. First as a ghostly mirage hidden among the encroaching vegetation, and then slowly acquiring beautiful form and symmetry as we got closer, a ruin so ancient, unexpected and forgotten that all we could do was gaze in amazement. It was the old Peachtree Plantation house, now a decrepit but proud and symbolic relic of a culture, civilization and people truly gone with the wind.
The ruin, remarkably well-preserved overall, was the home of Thomas Lynch Jr., one of the youngest signers of the Declaration of Independence, who journeyed with his bride from Peachtree to Charleston only a few years after affixing his signature. From there they would sail for Cuba but never make it. Their vessel was lost at sea with all on board.
Without outing anyone in particular, I’ve heard the occasional claim (but never from anyone actually named Lynch) over the years that certain individuals are directly descended from Thomas Lynch. Whereas there are quite a few direct descendants of Arthur Middleton, Thomas Heyward and Edward Rutledge around here, there are none directly descended from Lynch because he had no children, which would tend to clear up any misunderstanding.
Well, having dispensed with that digression, Clemson University recently teamed up with the College of Charleston and published a study just released: “Documentation, Interpretation and Mitigation: The Peachtree Plantation Ruins.” Through detailed site analysis and research, the following conclusion was made. “While Peachtree Plantation is in ruins, a study of precedent plantations of similar affluence, period and region helps to mold a vision of what it once was. In studying the fashions and trends of the time, a greater picture of what the Lynch family constructed can be gleaned. Precedents for Peachtree Plantation allow for a greater understanding of not only the appearance of the Peachtree house, but also for an understanding of its building techniques and site context.”
Faded in memory
Through no fault of their own, researchers cannot say for certain exactly what the house looked like. But enough of it remains to give the obvious impression that it had to be a grand and opulent structure. From the stately walls to the Flemish bonding and the high windows and archways, granite steps and massive fireplace, it radiates the story of plantation aristocracy and the rice culture. And yet the place is shrouded in mystery, with trees and Spanish moss nearly wrapping it in a Christo-like paean to Southern lore and mythology.
Faded in memory
One can’t help but let the house come alive — at least within the reaches of imagination. Built around 1762, one account describes Peachtree as “something of Baronial grandeur. For more than one generation it had been known as the abode of opulence, refinement and hospitality.” The account continues with descriptions of Peachtree’s Grecian porticos, spacious grassy lawns, stately oaks and impressive and varied gardens.
The house at Peachtree was burned about 1840, abandoned and essentially left to nature, the encroachment of which has and likely will continue to contribute to its deterioration. Some degree of restoration is of course conceivable, as outlined in the Clemson and C of C analysis. The property last changed hands in the 1980s and a protective easement was granted to the Nature Conservancy in 2005.
Remote, alone, stripped down and laid bare, the ruins at Peachtree tell a unique story, on its own terms, on one of the quietest, most intriguing, meditative, beautiful and fascinating sites in the state of South Carolina, if not the U.S.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.