Southern plantations have a unique spot in American history. To learn about this era, a visit to one of the local plantations near Charleston is a great starting point. Plantations were large farms or tracts of land specializing in one crop. This is in contrast to a farm of the same time period where a family grew a variety of crops.
Due to the size of many plantations they relied not on family labor but on external workers. During the era of slavery this provided the labor on the plantation.
Which local plantation is the best to visit in Charleston depends a bit on what you would like to see and learn.
Boone Hall Plantation
The Boone Hall Plantation is one of the closest to Charleston. You might recognize it from the movies- the entry road is lined with live oak trees (oak trees that stay green or “live” year-round) and appears in Gone with the Wind, parts of North and South and The Notebook were also filmed at Boone Hall.
Major John Boone, and Englishman, established the Boone Hall Plantation in 1681, which is quite old for the US. The current house, an antebellum style house from the 1930’s is the third on the property. At the time of our visit in early December, the house was beautifully decorated for Christmas. Your ticket includes a guided tour of the house, but no pictures are allowed.
As the house was built in the 1930’s, also known as the Depression era, many items in the house were reclaimed from other older houses in the area due to the lack of new materials.
Perhaps the most spectacular feature of the Plantation is the drive way lined with the live oak trees. The “Avenue of Oaks” was planted in 1743. Given it takes about 200 hundred years for the trees to become large enough to form the arch way you can drive under, it is spectacular today!
The old slave quarters provide an overview of the history of both slaves on the plantation and blacks in America, into the civil rights movement. The slave quarters are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can see a list of assets of the plantation owner and slaves are listed like other material possessions. In many cases slaves were worth more than the plantation owners’ other assets combined.
Take an open-air coach tour through the plantation to see the workings of the farm today and learn the history of when it operated as a plantation. Rice, cotton and indigo were all major crops over a period of time. The plantation also had a period of commercial pecan production (some pecan trees remain) as well as a history as a commercial, brick factory.
The 738 acres remaining of the Boone Plantation today are a working farm. Pick your own fruit and vegetables from the fields at certain times of the year and there are a variety of events all year round including activities at Halloween.
Boone Hall provides a good overall history of a working plantation past to present and a look at what life would have been like for the slaves.
The Drayton name is a prominent name in Charleston with a several buildings and streets named Drayton. The origins of Drayton Hall date to 1738. The home is in much the same state as it would have been when the family lived there, with the original paint, and no electricity or running water. Preservation not restoration is the philosophy at Drayton Hall.
The layout of the home provides ample space for public entertaining and places little emphasis on private rooms including bedrooms.
The Magnolia Plantation
Next door, the Magnolia Plantation was also a property of the Drayton family dating back to 1676. It is the oldest plantation continuously controlled by the same family (Boone Hall has had several owners over the years) and is the oldest plantation in the Ashley River area. Today is has over 500 acres of gardens and trails including a Swamp Garden.
The Swamp Garden is visible on the way in and makes you appreciate why the area is known as the Low Country. Due to flooding and mosquito-borne illnesses, many of these wealthy plantation owners spent summers in Charleston at their city homes.
Located next door to the Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place is known for its formal gardens. They look spectacular, but due to the fact it was pouring rain, we were unable to visit and enjoy it. Many accolades have been received for the gardens, and if you have any interest in formal gardens this may be the best plantation for you to visit in Charleston.
Thanks to the Charleston Visit Bureau for support to visit the local Charleston plantations. As always, the opinions expressed on Compass and Fork are our own.