Friday, September 28, 2012

Living History: Plantation Tours in South Carolina

While we're famous for our coastline, South Carolina offers so much more than just beautiful beaches! We have a dramatic history that spans through centuries and played a major role in America's biggest moments.  When you visit the area, you have the opportunity to step back in time and experience what South Carolina was like hundreds of years ago.  The state has dozens of Plantations that are open to the public for tour and many of them are within a 2 hour drive of Myrtle Beach!  Here are a few of our favorites:

Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet

Hundreds of years ago, what is now Brookgreen Gardens was divided into 4 rice plantations known as The Oaks, Springfield, Laurel Hill and Brookgreen (owned by the largest American slaveholder).  While little remains of these plantations, a few relics have survived the passage of time including the Alston family cemetery.  Governor Joseph Alston was the proprietor of The Oaks Plantation with his wife, Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Vice President Aaron Burr.  Gov. Alston and his child are buried here with a memorial to Theodosia, who was lost at sea and reportedly haunts the Grand Strand looking for her father.  While strolling along the trail, you'll also see the former sight of the plantation house, the slave village and the foundation of the spring house.  One of the Laurel Hill rice mills also remains.  The rest of the property was transformed by the Huntington's into America's first public sculpture garden during the early 1930s.  Visitors enjoy beautiful moss-draped oaks in perfectly manicured gardens, elegant sculptures, a small zoo, butterfly house and even boat tours on the Waccamaw River.

Hopsewee Plantation in Georgetown

Built several decades before the Revolutionary War, Hopsewee Plantation was owned by Thomas Lynch, Sr. and his wife, Elizabeth Alston of Brookgreen Plantation.  This prominent family played a large role in the history of the United States.  James Lynch, Sr worked with Benjamin Franklin as an adviser to General Washington while his son, Thomas Lynch, Jr., was the 52nd signer of the Declaration of Independence.  The house, decorated with 18th and 19th century style furnishings, sits on the Santee River surrounded by incredible low-country scenery and has been preserved rather than restored. Visitors can take a guided tour of the house, walk along the many nature trails, participate in a sweetgrass basket weaving class and experience an English style tea service with Southern influence at the River Oak Cottage.

Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant

Dating back to the late 1600s, Boone Hall prides itself on being one of the oldest working plantations in the United States and has been featured in films such as North and South and The Notebook.  The property is named for its first proprietor, John Boone, one of the first settlers of the Colony.  The entrance to the plantation will take your breath away as you drive down the famous Avenue of Oaks, which was planted from 1743 - 1843 and spans almost a mile.  While the plantation's original house has been lost, the property boasts a Colonial Revival plantation house that was built in the 1930s.  The grounds also feature 9 original slave cabins dating back to around 1800, a cotton gin house dating back to 1853 and a smoke house from 1750.  Though no longer growing cotton, Boone Hall produces a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and offers U-Pick fields (in season) to their guests. Visitors can also take a tour of the Plantation House and Slave Quarters by guides in period clothing, coach tours, garden tours and enjoy the butterfly pavilion. 

Drayton Hall in Charleston

Drayton Hall, built in 1738 and owned by 7 generations of the Drayton family, is a living piece of history.  The original Plantation House has been meticulously preserved to bring visitors a most accurate depiction of life in18th and 19th century America.  The house has withstood the American Revolution, in which it was used as a staging ground for both Colonial and British troops, the Civil War, the great Charleston earthquake of 1886 and many hurricanes!  Visitors take a guided tour of the Plantation house, learn about the Drayton family and their slaves (the Bowens), explore the grounds and visit the nation's oldest documented African-American cemetery that is still in use today.

Magnolia Plantation in Charleston

Magnolia Plantation was founded in the 1670s by the Drayton family.  This beautiful property is famous as the oldest public gardens in America, having opened for tours in the 1870s.  Areas of the garden date back 325 years and visitors enjoy gorgeous camellias, daffodils, azaleas and dozens of other species.  The current plantation home is the third to grace the site since it was founded. The core of the structure dates back to the pre-revolutionary war and guided tours of the home, which feature Drayton family heirlooms and artifacts, depict what life was like hundreds of years ago.  Guests can also tour slave quarters that date back to the 1850s, take a tram tour of the property, enjoy a boat tour along the Ashley River and visit the small zoo that features wildlife native to the area.

To learn more about these incredible plantations and the many others South Carolina has to offer, click here. And remember to stop at the Official Myrtle Beach Welcome Center to receive additional area information and discounts on hotel stays and other Grand Strand attractions!

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