The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission formally took ownership of McLeod Plantation this week, putting the historic site in the public realm where it belongs.

The commission's purchase of the property ends years of uncertainty about the future of the James Island landmark and sets the stage for its restoration. The PRC already has begun the process, which should culminate in opening the site to the public next year.

PRC Executive Director Tom O'Rourke admits to a feeling of relief and a heightened sense of responsibility following the plantation's purchase from the Historic Charleston Foundation. For years, the PRC persevered with efforts to acquire McLeod, as other plans for the property fell by the wayside.

"It's a site that needed to be protected and in the public realm, and today it is," Mr. O'Rourke said, adding, "It isn't the finish line, it's the starting line. We've got a lot of work to do."

Mr. O'Rourke cites the extensive stabilization and repair required for the numerous historic buildings on the site. Those include the antebellum plantation house and a row of slave cabins, some of which may date from the late 18th century.

The PRC already has begun the planning process through a steering committee whose members represent a range of groups with an interest in the site. Those groups include historical, agricultural and preservation organizations; local, state and federal governments; and the Friends of McLeod, a grassroots organization that has been a stalwart advocate for the property's preservation as a public historic site.

One important decision already has been made by the agency. The PRC is committed to putting conservation easements on the fields at McLeod, thereby retaining its agricultural context. Consequently, the 40-acre site will always provide an idea of how James Island looked before it became a suburban community.

McLeod Plantation has a rich history to share as a remnant of Sea Island agricultural heritage, and for its role in the Civil War and Reconstruction. It served as a military hospital for both Confederate and Union troops, and as headquarters for the local Freedman's Bureau. The nation's first black regiments camped on its grounds after James Island fell to Union troops.

As Michael Allen of the National Park Service observes, McLeod has national significance in African-American history. Mr. Allen, coordinator of the Park Service's Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, also is a member of McLeod's steering committee.

Credit the PRC for its determination in acquiring McLeod -- a goal long supported by this newspaper.

And credit the Historic Charleston Foundation for resolving the various claims on the property in the early 1990s so that the site ultimately could be preserved by a single owner.

Willie McLeod, who died in 1990 at age 104, gave his share of the property to the Foundation with the hope that it could be preserved. The community is indebted to Mr. McLeod's generosity and his stewardship of the property.

The Park and Recreation Commission can be expected to carry that good work forward.