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Charleston's Grand Mansions: Middleton Place



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, Middleton Place:  


I’d been told that the restaurant at Middleton Place, the one in the gardens, was an excellent spot for lunch.  Leaving Drayton Hall with little time to spare before the restaurant, a couple of miles up Ashley River Road, would close, my rental car with 6 miles on the odometer, began making the most horrible noises.  It seemed to be coming from the driver’s side front wheel and I thought maybe it was a sticking brake.  I called Budget who told me to return it, if I wanted to, and get another.  I didn’t want to, I wanted lunch.  I reasoned it was closer to lunch than it was to the airport so I’d give it a test in the direction of food.  If it got worse, or no better, I’d reconsider the trip back to the airport later.  Leaving Drayton Hall and making a terrible racket as I did, I turned right toward Middleton Place and sustenance.




I showed my pass at the ticket kiosk outside the grounds, just off the wooded parking area, and headed in to find the restaurant.  It was some distance but, no matter, I was just glad to be there.  It was quiet inside, very few diners mid-afternoon, and I was seated at a table looking directly onto the garden, a rare thing for a single woman, couples and groups always seeming to have priority.  I was happy.  I ordered the first meal of a number that would soon teach me about fried food and one’s digestion when visiting the South, but this was my first day and the fried chicken was good.


There’s a beautiful house, now the museum at Middleton Place, the part of the original 3-building complex called the South Flanker, least damaged when Union troops burned the buildings in 1865 and later restored for use as the Middleton family’s home.  But it seems to be the garden that’s the star attraction these days.






Alligators in a seemingly tamed landscape.



From the restaurant, I walked past the house and into the garden.  A small group tour was being conducted but I passed by and went deeper into the grounds.  There seemed to be no end to the beautiful landscape and I walked some distance, through various settings, each with its own fanciful name, like the Secret, the Inner and the Sundial Gardens and the Camellia AllÉes.   Then on along the river for a time until reversing direction and following the river again in the opposite direction.  I noticed some long objects, and as they came into focus, realized that I was looking at several alligators at the bottom of the sloping lawn at the water’s edge.  It hadn’t occurred to me that these very large reptiles inhabit this South Carolina river landscape and I admit, I was startled for a moment.  And it wouldn’t be the last sighting as, not long afterward, I saw more of them, basking beside a lake deeper in the garden of Middleton Place.





The path I took continued in a circular direction, past the Butterfly Lakes with perfect reflections and the terraced lawn beyond.  It reminded me of the garden at Powerscourt in County Wicklow, Ireland, which I’d visited a decade earlier, lawn cascading to water.



The Butterfly Lakes






 The Mill




I passed the mill and the mill pond, complete with more alligators below the path and then the unusual Mill Pond Bridge, with graceful beauty in its engineering.  On across the bridge, I found myself in the more intimate garden that had been the view from my lunchtime table.  Then uphill and into the stableyards, with a barn for the working livestock, craftsmen’s workshops and a fine collection of antique rolling stock.   


The Mill Pond Bridge






 The Stableyard









Leaving the stableyard, I found I’d come full circle.  I was beside the restaurant, looking onto the large open space that provides a dramatic long view across lawns to the house.  Remembering my car troubles, I made my way back to the parking area.  To my relief, I found that as drove toward my final destination of the day, the noise lessened, along with my desire to give back my nice new car.  Still thinking the noise might have been a sticking brake, I resolved to park only on flat ground, put it in “park” and not set the handbrake, ever.  Though I fully realize my strategy may have been irrelevant, the noise never returned, I’m happy to report, and I drove it for 2 more days, to visit more houses and a tea plantation, until meeting arriving friends at the airport.









Click here to visit the website for Middleton Place.

Also consider a visit to the website for the Ashley River Historic Corridor.



To read more about PortMoresby’s visit to Charleston SC, click here.




For more of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.




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I was interested to note (aside from the alligators!) the fact that the house at Middleton was never restored after the Civil War. I noted that at Magnolia plantation, not far away, a small cottage was moved in to replace the original house...and it left me wondering. While the planter class certainly reclaimed power after Reconstruction, they must have taken quite a while to overcome the economic damage they brought on themselves.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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