As a stroll through Charleston shows, many of the South’s finest eighteenth-century homes are still standing. Outbuildings, though, are considerably rarer, since they weren’t built to last: Fire, termites and moisture took down countless smokehouses, ice houses, privies and kitchens.
“You have an amazingly intact landscape,” says Shawn Halifax, Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission’s cultural history interpretation coordinator, referring to the visual interplay between the work places and the plantation owner’s residence.
McLeod is more representative of the Lowcountry’s antebellum farming operations than the ostentatious rice plantations showcased along Highway 61. At McLeod, enslaved laborers worked in fields devoted to Sea Island cotton and sweet potatoes; Halifax surmises the edible crop took up much of the workers’ time, although it wasn’t as profitable as cotton.
While the site’s interpretation stresses the years after emancipation, the planation dates back to the late 1700s. The main house has been rebuilt over the years; its first site was about 100 yards further south of the kitchen. The relocation was both good and bad for the kitchen staff, Halifax says.
“It’s convenient because you don’t have to walk as far,” he says, but the move probably came with added oversight.
The freestanding kitchen was used until the 1920s, when a kitchen was added to the main house. For preservation’s sake, the building is closed to the public, but the door is open so visitors can peer at the hearth.
“If you ever want to know the setting for Gullah cuisine, that’s the setting,” Halifax says.
For more information about McLeod Plantation, visit ccprc.com.