McLeod Plantation has a rich, storied past. Now its future is finally looking bright. The Historic Charleston Foundation's decision to sell the James Island landmark to the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission should ensure its preservation and public use in perpetuity.
The foundation board endorsed the sale of the plantation for $3.3 million on Wednesday, recognizing that the PRC has both the means and the dedication to restore the plantation house, slave cabins and other farm buildings on site. The PRC intends to preserve the surrounding fields to provide historic context to the visiting public.
That the foundation board unanimously chose the PRC over a private buyer speaks to its commitment for a public use of the plantation, as well as the preservation of the historic treasure.
"We wanted it to go to a buyer who could provide the most public access to the property," foundation executive director Katharine S. Robinson told us Friday. The PRC proposal will ensure that access, as well as a wide range of community input in the planning process, she said.
Willie McLeod, who died in 1990 at 104, bequeathed a third interest of the property to the foundation in the hope that the plantation house, adjacent buildings and oak allees could be preserved for future generations. The foundation bought out 13 other beneficiaries of the estate so that the site could be kept largely intact.
The foundation's decision to sell the plantation to the PRC should ensure that Mr. McLeod's wishes will be fulfilled.
The PRC will assemble an advisory committee representing a range of preservation, cultural and archeological interests to make recommendations for the property. That committee also will include representatives of the city of Charleston, the town of James Island, and the Friends of McLeod, a grassroots organization that has long urged that the property be preserved as a historic site in the public realm.
"It's going to make everybody in this community very proud when we're finished," PRC director Tom O'Rourke said. "We're going to really make this a public process."
In its proposal to the foundation, the PRC provided this summation: "McLeod Plantation's convenient location and three century history as a working plantation provides a unique opportunity for the public to experience a well-preserved time capsule of the antebellum past within minutes of downtown Charleston's historic district. The complete assemblage of structures is like no other historic site in the area, with buildings ranging from the antebellum period through Reconstruction."
McLeod offers rare historical context related to its use as a cotton plantation, its occupation during the Civil War by both Confederate and Union troops, and its importance to African-American history. For example, it was the site of the Freedman's Bureau and served as an encampment for some of the nation's first black troops.
The sale is still to be completed and there is substantial work to be done before McLeod Plantation can be opened to the public. Its buildings need restoration, and a plan that balances resource protection with public access will have to be developed.
But the essential step has been taken with the foundation's decision to put the property into the hands of the Park and Recreation Commission, which has pledged to keep this "well-preserved time capsule" of Sea Island history intact.