Exploring History at the Plantations of Charleston, SC

Charleston is one of America’s oldest cities, and has loads of history and culture within the city centre. But what about exploring further afield? One of the more interesting attractions in the area are the Plantations of Charleston – establishments which brought great wealth to the city and no doubt changed the course of its history.

Come explore some southern history and explore the best Plantation tours in Charleston SC.

Explore:  Drayton Hall

The architecture geeks will know that Drayton Hall is one of the best examples of Palladian Architecture in the United States – that’s a Venetian style which is reflected in the triangle and pillared façade you see before entering, as well as the mostly symmetrical layout of the building.  For those of us less architecturally-minded, you can still admire the incredibly detailed interior wall decorations, and try to photograph the building from around the estate – somehow there just isn’t a bad view, either next to the massive oak trees or house reflecting in a pond.

Drayton Hall is certainly one of the best preserved manor homes of the plantations in Charleston, which is just as an amazing feat as the building of it because this building has seen the American Revolution, the Civil War, major earthquakes, devastating hurricanes, not to mention Charleston’s incredible urban sprawl.

Wander: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Many say Magnolia has the best gardens along the Ashley, and after your visit, you might be inclined to agree with them.  Magnolia is one of the oldest plantations in the state, and many of the garden’s features are restored versions of the original attractions, such as the Biblical Garden with plants mentioned in the Bible, Cypress Lake, an indoor tropical garden, seven bridges, and an always-fun maze that is a replica of the Hampton Court Maze in England.   (The petting zoo, slavery history tour, and the marsh boat tour are newer additions, but as plantation tours in Charleston SC go, this is still a good one).

The manor home at Magnolia was burned down in the civil war, and afterwards, in an attempt to breathe new life into the grounds, Magnolia Gardens was reopened as a tourist attraction, becoming one of America’s first man made tourist attractions.  Magnolia is owned by the Drayton family who own the Drayton Hall next door; the Draytons have owned these grounds since the mid-1600s – that’s over 15 generations of family owners.

  South Carolina was one of the original 13 colonies that started the United States.  Because of the cotton gin alongside the area’s great soil and growing conditions made South Carolina one of the wealthiest colonies prior to the revolution.  Around 50% of the families in South Carolina owned slaves at the peak of the slavery period.

Eat: Boone Hall

Boone Hall is one of America’s oldest working plantations, still growing crops and feeding folks after over 300 years, which is probably why they call it America’s most photographed plantation.  You can feel history’s grip on this atmospheric location with the Grand Avenue of Oaks, the original slave cabins from the 1700s, and the centuries old working areas.  Boone Hall Farms is well known for their spring and early summer strawberry crop (April to June), fresh seafood, homemade jams and jellies, salsa, rice, marinades… let’s just say you’ll want to come hungry, though stop in the café first so you don’t buy more than fits in your suitcase!

Drink: The Charleston Tea Plantation

The Charleston Tea Plantation
This is America’s only tea plantation, located on Wadmalaw Island.  The island is connected to the mainland by bridge, but you’d think the only way in is to swim, as it’s a relatively quiet place.   Over 320 varieties of tea are planted here on the 127 acres of land, with both black and green teas – you’ll learn about the difference on the factory tour, complete with a taste test.  While you’re here, be sure to visit the massive, sprawling Angel Oak – a tree believed to be over 1,500 years old.

Sleep: Middleton Place

Middleton Place
Last but certainly not least is Ashley River’s crowning glory, Middleton Place.  Middleton is a great place to visit if you want to come and relax, perhaps enjoying a carriage ride around the plantation (which I recommend, as it offers a wonderful historical context to the story about this destination).  Middleton’s gardens are perfectly manicured, and you’ll love some of the interesting exhibits during your guided tour of the house museum, which is actually just a fragment of the original home.)

But the real magic of Middleton Place is the Inn, a set of houses of decidedly more modern construction, but with interior furnishings that will leave you blushing.  The Inn is on the Middleton estate, but set off in a very quite section where you can relax, perfect for a romantic retreat or just some de-stress time.  You can walk the grounds, but you may want to just stay in your room, decorated in what I’d call a rustic “cabin” look that’s somehow both modern and woodsy minimalist at the same time.  The highlight? A bath tub so huge that it could double as a swimming pool. (Don’t forget to try their house bath salts. Divine.)

Staying at the Inn means you don’t have to drive back into Charleston for the night, and gives you the perfect opportunity to explore Middleton Place and its neighbors before going further afield.   I couldn’t recommend it more, either as an add-on to your Charleston trip or a very relaxed alternative.

Have you explored any of these plantations in Charleston? Share your recommendations in the comments!

Photos by mhowry, mike miley, kay gaensler, Bruce Tuten, Venue Photo

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