On a recent visit to Charleston, South Carolina, I bought a 2-day pass, called the Charleston Heritage Passport, at the North Charleston Visitor Center near the airport, and planned to include as many of the sites it offered of interest to me as I could comfortably manage. On the first day I visited Ashley River Road plantations, Drayton Hall and Middleton Place. For the second day I had a list of 5 historic houses in Charleston proper. I found that several of them had rules against photography inside the houses, so concentrated on 2, the Joseph Manigault House, which allowed photography, and the Aiken-Rhett House, which, while forbidding photography inside the house, had such interest and atmosphere inside and out, it deserved inclusion. I offer the 4 houses in the order I visited them.
Day One, Drayton Hall:
After a late arrival the night before, I returned to the airport in the morning to pick up a rental car. From there to the nearby Visitor Center to purchase a 2-day Heritage Pass, and I was ready for my first day ever in the Charleston area, beginning at the Ashley River Road plantations.
Drayton Hall with the footprint of the North Flanker. Click here to visit the
Drayton Hall Diaries, with a watercolor showing both original flanker buildings.
Drayton Hall is a remarkable house and my kind of historic property, which is to say, preserved rather than restored. For that reason, it had been the first house to appear on my list of places to visit in Charleston. I have difficulty feeling history when a dining room looks like my Aunt Betty might have just set the table. But when a room retains the unrefreshed colors and ghosts of past inhabitants, it is, for me, a thrilling experience. Drayton Hall is just such a place.
The privy, showing the distance to the house.
An explanation from Drayton Hall’s website gives more insight into the preservation approach to conservation. “Instead of being restored to the vision of those who lived centuries after it was built, Drayton Hall is an artifact that has survived the American Revolution, the Civil War, the earthquake of 1886, hurricanes like Hugo, and maybe most surprisingly today, urban sprawl.” The house was purchased by the National Trust for Historic Preservation from the Drayton family in 1974, and after 7 generations, the house was received by the trust in almost wholly unchanged condition 236 years after its construction, begun by 23 year old John Drayton in 1738. It is utterly unique for that reason.
The river-facing entrance.
The front portico was undergoing extensive structural repairs, so the group followed our guide to the rear river-facing entrance of the house. As we toured the various parts of the building, we were continuously made aware of the nature of conservation when applied to such a complicated object as a house. We were allowed to climb the staircase, for instance, in single file with a number of stairs between, to mitigate the stress placed on the structure.
The oldest surviving example of Georgian Palladian architecture in the Untied States and one of very few houses remaining virtually unchanged from before the American Revolution, if you visit only one place in the Charleston area, I’d recommend it be Drayton Hall. I encourage you to click here and visit the remarkably comprehensive website, describing the house, the history of an era and its people, the work and the philosophy that guides every aspect of the life of Drayton Hall today.
After touring the house, including the ground floor basement rooms, we were encouraged to walk to the river and experience the relationship of house to the highway that was the Ashley River and inseparable at the time of its conception from the land and buildings.
The river-facing facade with entry to the house and basement.
Beneath the house, stone paving with mystery stones and pillars.
Another website, that of the Ashley River Historic Corridor, presents the importance of the 12 miles of the river, from Church Creek in Charleston County, to Bacon’s Bridge Road in Dorchester County and its place in history as well as sites of interest all along it’s banks, including Drayton Hall and the subject of my next week’s blog, Middleton Place.
The River Walk from the house.
The Ashley River
Click here to visit Drayton Hall's remarkable website.
To read more about PortMoresby’s visit to Charleston SC, click here.
For more of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.