South Carolina Plantations - Charleston Plantation Tours
No visit to the deep south, and Charleston in particular, is complete without a visit to an old southern plantation. Plantation culture was the foundation of the old South economy and society. Since South Carolina was victim to Northern invasion during the Civil War, most of the old plantation home were destroyed during the war, or at least heavily damaged. Very few have been preserved in family hands over the generations -- those that have are real standouts, not only for history buffs but for any tourists who enjoy history, architecture, and gardens. Visiting some of the popular plantations near Charleston is like taking a trip back in time. The main plantation tours you will want to consider are: Boone Hall Plantation, Middleton Place, Drayton Hall, and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.
How long does it take to visit these plantations? We would recommend seeing two of them on your visit, which can be done in one long morning. For example, you could visit the ground of Middleton Place at 9AM for 90 minutes or so, and then tour Drayton Hall and be done by noon. Depending on how long you like to walk and linger, you could spend more time if you like -- see what fits in your schedule.
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens BooneHallPlantation.com
is located just north of Charleston, and has been open to the public since 1959. Famed for its famous live oak tunnel (the Avenue of Oaks) that frames the driveway, the ground here are impressive. The gardens at Boone Hall have been producing crops for more than 300 years, and there are still fields where you can pick your own seasonal fruits and vegetables. While the grounds are ancient, the plantation house itself is fairly modern, having been built in 1936. House tours are limited to about 35 people and they last for 30-40 minutes -- only the first floor is seen during the tour. You can also tour the gardens, slave cabins, and butterfly pavillion. Admission prices are $14.50 for adults, and $7 for children 6-12 (under 6 free). The plantation is open year round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours are 9-5 during the off season, and 8:30-6:30 from April 1 - Labor Day, except for Sundays when the hours are 1-4PM (1-5PM high season). You reach Boone Hall from downtown Charleston by taking Highway 17 north about 7 miles) past Mount Pleasant until you reach Long Point Road - turn left here and follow the signs.
The other 3 plantations listed below are all along the Ashley River, northwest of the city of Charleston. They are reached by taking route 61 out along the Ashley -- you will come to Drayton Hall first, then Magnolia Plantation, and finally Middleton Place (just a few miles beyond Drayton).
When it comes to the best plantation gardens, our favorite is Middleton Place (MiddletonPlace.org
). To get to Middleton Place, continue on Route 61 northwest out of Charleston. You'll pass Drayton and Magnolia (see below) and then reach Middleton. The main plantation house here was lost in the Civil War (burned down February 22, 1865), and only a flanking building remains. The highlight here though is the formal gardens and delightful setting along the Ashley River. Arthur Middleton, one of the old family members, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and William Middleton would later sign the Ordinance of Secession, leading to the Civil War, so both the family and the property are rich in history. Like most of the early plantations along the Ashley River in the new colony of South Carolina, the main crop here was rice, also known as Carolina Gold. You'll still find rice ponds here, though they are no longer actively cultivated. The careful tending these days is on the gardens, built over 10 years with the labor of more than 100 slaves. The grounds fell into disrepair after the great earthquake of 1886, but it was restored beginning after 1916 when it passed into new hands. Ticket prices for the self-guided garden tour are not cheap - $25 per adult. But you can wander the property at your leisure, taking in all the amazing sights and sounds. Camelias bloom first in the late winter (the first camelias ever planted in the US were planted here!), and one of the highlights is walking through the garden paths with towering camelias around you. Middleton Place is open daily starting at 9AM.
During the Civil War, almost all the old plantations along the Ashley River were destroyed. Drayton Hall is the only remaining original plantation home that is still standing, sitting on 630 acres. Drayton Hall sits along the Ashley River, about 12 miles up river from Charleston. The house sits by itself amid an expanse of open space and lawn, facing the river in the back and a tree-lined driveway in the front. Rumor has it that northern soldiers were told it was a smallpox hospital, and thus they avoided contact with it (troops tended to camp out on these luscious properties, looting and destroying them on departure). This old house has survived hurricanes, armies, and earthquakes, and stayed in the family over several hundred years. It is unique in that its design and architecture has been preserved over the years, with no upgrades over the generations for plumbing or electricity. What you see and tour is exactly how the house would have been 2 hundred years ago. There are no furnishings inside, only bare walls. But a house tour here is a fascinating look back in time and not to be missed. The grounds here have not been maintained like Middleton Place, but they once rivaled it in their appearance. Today you can take a marsh walk and river walk, but if you are pressed for time, we recommend seeing only the house and spending your garden tour time down the road at Middleton Place. Tours are offered each hour on the hour, from 10AM to 4PM (until 3PM Nov-Feb) -- they are open daily except for Thanksgiving, New Years, and Christmas. Their official website is DraytonHall.org
. Ticket prices are $14 for adults, $8 for youths 12-18, and $6 for kids 6-11.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
is the website for this plantation, nestled between Drayton and Middleton. Founded in 1676 by the Draytons (since only the eldest son could inherit, another Drayton son bought the nearby property that became Drayton Hall), it is now the oldest public garden in the US (open since 1872 to the public). Tours of the plantation house run about 30 minutes, and run every half hour starting at 9 AM. Home tour tickets cost $7 per person (no children under 6 allowed inside). You'll see 10 fully decorated 10 rooms, giving you a glimpse of old plantation lifestyle. There are also nature trams and boat tours if you want to see more of the ground without having to walk for miles. Each of these have separate admission costs ($7 adult, $5 children). The gardens here in the spring are really spectacular - everything is in bloom and colors abound. Be sure to marvel at the 320+ year old Drayton Oak. The Audubon Swamp Garden is another popular part of the grounds, where you walk through a swamp on wooden boardwalks (The Swamp Thing was filmed here!). Magnolia Plantation is also along Route 61, a short drive from Charleston and an easy morning or afternoon trip. They are open daily, 8:30 - 5:30.