Natural beauty and variety are signature features of Charleston-area plantations where the past is preserved amid scenic river views, majestic flower gardens and towering oaks. From the Santee Delta environs of Hampton to the centuries-old scribbles on the wall of Drayton Hall, each plantation has its own appeal.
The sprawling home, which dates to 1738, is one of this country’s first Georgian Palladian homes and the oldest preserved plantation house in America that’s still open to the public. Drayton Hall, which is located on Ashley River Road, has survived two wars, devastating earthquakes and hurricanes. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has made the preservation of Drayton Hall and its grounds a central theme for visitors. Work is underway on a new $6 million visitors center expected to open in the spring of 2018.
The surrounding Santee Delta’s natural beauty inspired South Carolina Poet Laureate Archibald Rutledge, who gave the plantation to the people of South Carolina as a legacy. It is north of McClellanville. Visitors can explore the mansion, wander the grounds and view the remains of centuries-old rice fields. The historic kitchen building, huge live oaks, camellia gardens and archaeological sites tell the story of Lowcountry rice culture.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Plants of the tropics, the swamps and those found in the Bible are among the attractions. Domesticated animals typical to Southern plantations as well as exotic birds such as Malayan jungle fowl, guinea hens and peacocks are on the grounds. The oldest public garden in America is a flower lover's paradise. Offerings include a camellia collection with nearly 900 varieties. The plantation is located on Ashley River Road.
McLeod Plantation Historic Site
The majestic oaks include the McLeod Oak, which is thought to be more than 600 years old. The original row of slave cabins is intact, so is a nearby dairy and the kitchen. Established in 1851, McLeod Plantation is a 37-acre Gullah/Geechee heritage site on James Island that was an antebellum Sea Island cotton plantation. Interpretive tours are offered daily and are included in admission.
This 37-acre patch on James Island is growing sea island cotton for the first since the 1920s, when beetles wiped out crops. With admission, visitors get a 45-minute guided tour of the operation and will learn about Gullah/Geechee culture and slavery resistance. Springtime art programs and events offering beer, wine and music also are a hit.
The Garden Club of America has called the 65 acres on Ashley River Road “the most important and most interesting garden in America.” This historic rice plantation is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. It includes ornamental canals and the iconic Butterfly Lakes. Tours of the 18th-century home and working stableyards complete the experience.
The current mansion was built in the 1930s to replace the lost original house. The plantation with its iconic canopy of live oak trees has been featured in television shows and films. The Mount Pleasant historic site has produced crops for more than three centuries. Original slave cabins are the centerpiece of an exhibit on black history.
If you’re visiting Hampton Plantation, double your pleasure with a short trip northward to Hopsewee Plantation. The birthplace of Thomas Lynch Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was one of the South’s major rice plantations. Though privately owned, the house is open to the public. It is furnished with 18th- and 19th-century antiques. The grounds feature a beautiful view of the Santee River near Georgetown.