The History and Culture of Charleston's Protected Areas


By: Staff Editor, Charleston Harbor Tours
May 05, 2016

In our last installment we talked about the Protected Areas of Charleston, with a focus on nature and wildlife. Charleston SC also has several protected areas that highlight Lowcountry history and culture, particularly in the Colonial and Antebellum eras. These include Charleston's historic plantations, which are only a short drive from Historic Downtown Charleston. Let's take a look!

Hampton Plantation
Hampton Plantation is located in McClellanville SC, about an hour from Historic Downtown Charleston. Once a 300-acre historic rice plantation, Hampton is no longer in agricultural use, and the land has largely reverted to its natural woodland and swamp conditions.

Established in 1735, Hampton Plantation was the home of prominent Colonial and Antebellum South Carolina families including the Horrys, Pinckneys and Rutledges. Construction of Hampton House was a gradual expansion process that took over 50 years. In that time, certain features of the house became architectural firsts in the New World, most notably its "projecting temple front with eight Doric columns supporting a decoratively carved Adamesque frieze and pedimented gable." Wikipedia

Hampton House became a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and Hampton Plantation has been a state historic site since 1971. Today, visitors can tour the house and grounds to enjoy the architecture and recreated scenes of domestic life in Colonial and Antebellum times. This includes the lives of Hampton's African slaves, which numbered over 300 in the late 1700s.

Bonus historical trivia: George Washington visited Hampton Plantation in 1791, and the impressive Washington Oak there was named for him.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is located on the Ashley River, about a half hour west of Historic Downtown Charleston. This nearly 500-acre historic rice plantation is one of the oldest in the South, dating all the way back to 1676. Unlike many of the historic plantations in the area, Magnolia remains under family control after 15 generations. Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Known as a rice plantation for nearly two centuries, Magnolia gained new luster in the 1840s when owner John Grimke-Drayton began installing English-style gardens on the grounds. Magnolia Gardens became known for its azaleas and live oaks, and artists such as Matthew Brady and John James Audubon came to record its beauty.

The plantation house was burned during the Civil War. After the war, Drayton opened the Gardens to the public, and charged admission to support his family. Today, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens remains open to the public and is a popular Charleston SC tourist attraction. Visitors can tour the reconstructed house and a variety of themed gardens, as well as Cypress Lake, walking trails, and an English-style hedge maze.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens also features an interpretive program on slave life. Magnolia's slaves, despite their hardship, managed to retain many elements of their African heritage. In fact, they helped spawn South Carolina's unique Gullah culture that blends elements of the Old World and the New.

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
The Charles Pinckney National Historic Site is located in Mt. Pleasant SC, about 20 minutes from Historic Downtown Charleston. The 25-acre site preserves a portion of Snee Farm, Pinckney's country retreat and plantation.

Charles Pinckney was one of early South Carolina's most notable citizens. He fought in the Revolutionary War and was one of the framers of the US Constitution. Pinckney also served as Governor, US Congressman and Senator, and Ambassador to Spain under Thomas Jefferson.

Pressures of real estate development led to the subdivision of the property in the 1980s. The core of the estate, including the house and other structures, were purchased by conservationists, later to be sold to the National Park Service. Today, the park is open to the public, where visitors can "enjoy films, exhibits, archaeology displays, walking the grounds and nature trail, picnicking, photography, and ranger programs."

Bonus historical trivia: While George Washington did NOT sleep here, he ate breakfast with the Pinckneys in 1791!

History and Culture Await in Historic Charleston SC
Plantation tours are a mainstay of the Historic Charleston tour scene, and thousands of visitors take part each year. Comfortable, air-conditioned bus trips to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and Boone Hall Plantation are a great way to spend a half-day learning about Charleston history and culture. For more information, contact Adventure Sightseeing today!


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