By Renée S. Gordon
“Leave ’em rest.”
The Blue Ridge Mountains, the northwestern edge of the state, the Savannah River and historic Charleston, border the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor and four distinct regions have been designated within the 240-mile, 14 county area. The Discovery Route and the Nature Route guide visitors to 73 sites and attractions within these regions. www.sc-heritagecorridor.org
We will be continuing our exploration of South Carolina sites that interpret the African American story in comprehensive, innovative and creative ways. All of the places mentioned in part two are in Region Four with the exception of one, Williams Muscadine Vineyard and Farm in Nesmith, SC. The Williams’ Farm, under the leadership of 82-year old patriarch David Austin Williams, was awarded South Carolina’s 2009 Preserving Our Places in History Award.
Rev. Gabriel Williams originally purchased the land in 1924 and approximately 10-years later he built a home on the land and moved his family there. The Reverend and his wife, only a single generation removed from slavery, ensured that their youngest son David went to college and became a teacher of vocational agriculture. The farm traditionally grew corn, cotton and tobacco but upon retirement in 1994 Williams purchased 55 vines and despite naysayers began to grow grapes. The farm now produces five-acres of Muscadine grapes, is a leader in agri-tourism and host an annual Muscadine Festival over Labor Day weekend.
Interpretive tours of Black Farm Life in the Rural South are crafted to provide an educational experience in an authentic, historic setting. Guests have an opportunity to visit the old farmhouse, handle farm implements and utensils and see typical farm animals. Demonstrations of daily activities are enhanced by visitors’ being given a chance to join in the activities. Tours end with a vineyard visit. This is really an exceptional way to spend the day and group tours are encouraged. www.williamsvineyard.com
The three counties of Region Four feature the earliest settlements in the state and a large number of sites that illuminate African American heritage and influence and nowhere is the Black experience more vividly interpreted than at four of the low country’s plantations, Drayton Hall, Magnolia, Middleton and Boone Hall. Each plantation adds a layer to the multifaceted story of African descendents in South Carolina in particular and the nation in general.
Drayton Hall, America’s oldest unrestored plantation, was originally constructed from 1738-42 for Dr. John Drayton. The Union forces destroyed all of the plantation houses on Ashley River Road during the war with the exception of Drayton Hall. The 20-room, three-story, Georgian-Palladian mansion remains 85% original and was constructed using enslaved labor and still visible are original moldings, handcarved woodwork, a mahogany staircase, interior Corinthian columns and fireplaces. The house is unfurnished because it does not interpret any single era but touches on the years that the seven generations of Draytons owned the home. One-hour tours are on DVD and “The Voices of Drayton Hall” includes scholars and descendants of the enslaved. The residence was featured on A&E and the program may be viewed while on the tour.
The 630-acre plantation was originally 350-acres and produced rice, indigo and cotton using the labor of as many as 181 slaves. Drayton Hall commemorates their contributions on an interpretive mansion tour and at sites on the grounds. Three times daily the “Connections” tour, exploring African American connections to the plantation and West Africa, is offered.
The highlight of a tour of Drayton Hall is a visit to “A Sacred Place,” the 10-acre African American Cemetery that was once in the midst of a slave village. Now located in a glade near the front gate, 33 graves have been identified and it is still in use. Two interpretive panels at the entrance provide brief descriptions of those interred here. All of the graves face the rising sun and most markers have deteriorated. Much of the information about the cemetery was gathered from Richmond Bowens, a descendant of Drayton Hall slaves. The cemetery remains as it always was because when asked Bowens said that the world should “leave ’em rest.” Drayton Hall is a National Historic Landmark and tours are offered throughout the year. www.draytonhall.org
Thomas and Ann Drayton were colonists from Barbados who founded Magnolia Plantation in 1679. It has remained in the family since that time. The mansion on the grounds is the third on-site and, though built prior to the American Revolution at a different location, after the house was destroyed during the Civil War it was moved here. Regularly scheduled, 30-minute house tours are offered.
John Grimké Drayton is credited with creating the gardens that are the basis of the one we see today prior to the Civil War. After the war, capitalizing on the fact that people wanted to visit the plantations they had only read about, the gardens opened to the public in 1870. The lead gardeners from the beginning were African Americans anf the job has been passed down through the family. Once the gardens opened many of the tour guides were formerly enslaved people from the plantation.
One of the unique aspects of a visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is “From Slavery to Freedom: The Magnolia Cabin Project,” a 45-minute tram tour. It begins in a pavilion where visitors are given an excellent overview of plantation culture on a rice plantation using artifacts, posters and related items. From the pavilion visitors walk to four slave cabins erected around 1850. Each cabin is preserved or restored to interpret African American living conditions from slavery, through reconstruction and into the Civil Rights Era. The tour continues through the gardens. www.magnoliaplantation.com
Middleton Place Plantation’s gardens were planted in 1741 and took 100 slaves 10-years to complete. Middleton boasts the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States. Important sites on the “Beyond the Fields” African American focused tours of the estate include the Plantation Chapel, Slave Cemetery, Cypress Lake, Flooded Rice Field and the 1870 Eliza’s House. Freedmen who remained on the plantation constructed the clapboard duplex with two rooms per family in 1870. Displays inside include plantation inventories that name more than 2000 of the enslaved that labored there throughout the years prior to Emancipation and indicate that 50 slaves were held in 1790 and in 1850 there were 110 enslaved.
This 110-acre historic complex offers interpretive demonstrations of plantation skills and technology and carriage tours of the grounds. On display is a cross-stitched linen bag donated by slave descendants in 2006. The bag was given to a daughter who had been sold to carry her few belongings and to remember her family. www.middletonplace.org
Our final stop is the 1670 Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens, the nation’s most photographed plantation and another one that does an exemplary job of placing African American history in its proper perspective. It was once one of the largest cotton and pecan plantations in the South, with 1000 slaves on 17,000-acres and a 15,000 pecan trees, the largest grove in the country. This working plantation features 730-acres of preserved wetlands, a 1743 avenue of 96 magnificent oak trees 3/4-mile long, and one of the few remaining slave streets left in the US.
The house was built of 4-million slave-made bricks and if one looks closely their fingerprints are still visible. The loggia showcases slave artifacts. The plantation has served as a setting for such film projects as the movies “Queen” and “The Notebook,” and the series “Army Wives.”
Boone Hall’s “Slave Street Experience” is an outstanding tour through the evolution of Gullah culture presented in nine authentic slave cabins, culminating in the Gullah Theater with a live theatrical production. Of special note are the diamond brick patterns on the cabin exteriors that served as the maker’s mark. Each cabin explores an aspect of history, beginning with a Praise House and ending with a video timeline that ends with the President and First Lady. www.BooneHallPlantation.com
Charleston Place, an Orient-Express Hotel and one of the “Top 100 Hotels in America, is ideally located for tours along the Heritage Corridors and visits to Charleston. The accommodations are luxurious and the service is impeccable. 205 Meeting Street. www.charlestonplace.com
For additional information contact the websites of individual attractions or www.discoversouthcarolina.com.
I wish you smooth and enlightening travels.