McLeod stabilized, nearing new chapter

The main house at James Island’s McLeod Plantation is emerging from an exterior renovation that replaced its shutters and restored its green metal roof and its previous light-gray paint color.

The main home, slave cabins and other historic outbuildings at McLeod Plantation are in better shape today than they’ve been in years.

They are emerging from a $650,000 project aimed to restore most buildings’ exteriors to their 1925 appearance and stabilize the rest from further decay.

While the property remains closed to the general public except for special tours and other events, that gradually will change, says Cynthia Montague, project manager with the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.

This agency received the property last year and is planning how to protect it, interpret it and allow people to enjoy it and learn from it.

While those final details are being hammered out, the county knew it could proceed with some basic roof repairs, painting and other protective steps.

The main house, built in 1856 but expanded and remodeled in 1925, received a new metal roof that replaced a later asphalt shingle one. As roofer Sean McDonnell with Meadors Construction Inc. removed the old roof, he discovered remnants of the earlier roof that showed it was green — not red.

Architect Glenn Keyes, who helped oversee the work, says that was a happy find because he just assumed the metal roof was red because that’s the color that survived on the roof of the one-story kitchen addition.

“We didn’t feel a need to do color analysis because, of course, it was red,” he says. “If you’ve got guys in the field paying attention, those things come up and it changes the project.”

Keyes says the work also left intact the square copper patches on the house’s siding. “It’s not necessarily the way we would do it today in a restoration, but as a preservation approach, it worked pretty well,” he says. “I think that’s good, part of the story to be told.”

Conservator Frances Ford pinpointed the original roof’s green color as well as the light gray historically used on its siding. Nine missing shutters were replaced and the other 55 were restored and reattached.

All six of the surviving slave cabins, plus the kitchen and dairy, received a new treated cedar-plank roof and paint tinted to match the shade of a historic white limewash.

Two of the slave cabins eventually will be opened to the public to show how they evolved from the 19th century into the 20th century; the rest will be used as storage.

The other happy discovery was found inside the property’s cotton gin structure, a large remnant from the property’s history as a successful Sea Island cotton plantation.

Keyes says it had a lot of rotten siding, and he feared the structural supports were equally bad. That was not the case, so it received some new wood siding rather than a set of wooden braces like those that were used on the neighboring, leaning barn.

Instead, the bottom portion was opened up, and Montague says the Park and Recreation Commission hopes to receive a historic cotton gin to install inside.

A four-hole privy and nearby outbuilding later converted into a garage also have been braced up.

“We were able to do a lot more than we hoped,” Keyes says of the recent work.

Montague says the county agency is finishing its master plan, one developed with extensive input from island residents, local preservationists and others.

It’s also mapping out the next stage of work, which not only will renovate the building’s interiors but will add parking, paths and new buildings to accommodate regular visitors.

That work could conclude next year, at which time the 40-acre property will become fully open to the public. Currently, it’s only open for guided tours and other special events.

A caretaker lives on the site, but Montague says the plantation won’t be ready to receive visitors full-time until sometime next year.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.