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Charleston, South Carolina: A Visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Gaslights in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston , South Carolina is what you call a southern city. The folks like grits for breakfast; they like shrimp and grits for dinner.

They’re also fond of fried chicken, cornbread, peach cider and pralines. An aura of the Antebellum Old South lingers: stately mansions, cobblestones streets, and the smell of jasmine. These thoughts set my mind a-swirling. I envision hoop skirts, confederate soldiers, debutante balls and Tara.

I decide to visit a real plantation based on a travel brochure which claims, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is one of the top 25 most visited historic houses in America.”If true, this home joins a pretty impressive list: the Biltmore Estate, Mount Vernon, the Betsy Ross House, and Graceland.  In addition, the brochure boasts, “Magnolia maintains the oldest major public garden in America, and is also America’s oldest man-made attraction, having been open to the public since the late 1860s.”  Bold statements indeed; I deem this a must-see. 

The historic site lies off Ashley River Road, just a 20-30 minute drive from downtown. I turn onto a long single lane, stop to pay admission (still in my car) and follow a circuitous path through lanes of tall oaks and Loblolly pines.

Manor House
Magnolia Plantation Manor House

The Manor, as it is called, was originally constructed in 1775 and is the third house in the same the location. Fire destroyed the first two, the second ignited by Union soldiers during the Civil War.

First I take the house tour, which begins on the immense wrap-around porch.  Once again my mind wanders: how relaxing it must be to sit here at sunset and rock back and forth. Then, I come to my senses. South Carolina summers swelter with heat, humidity and mosquitoes; consequently I disband all sentimental thoughts.

The Manor, as it is called, was originally constructed in 1775 and is the third house in the same location.  Fire destroyed the first two, the second ignited by Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Magnolia Plantation Gardens
Couple strolls by the river
A couple stroll along the banks of the Ashley River

The owners lost most of their wealth in the war, as did many southerners, so they moved a brick cabin to the original site and added on.  My guide, Wanda, explains all this and the family history and furnishings- a mix of early-American antiques, museum-quality quilts and various works of art.

She say,”Magnolia is one of very few estates still owned by the family that built it.” The current, an 11th generation Drayton, lives on the grounds.  I exit into the rear garden, which turns out to be the front since it faces the river.  Fuchsia azaleas, scarlet camellias and lilacs are in bloom, while delicate branches of dogwood trees blossom pink and white.  The scene dances with spring color yet genteel grace.

Live oaks, doused with Spanish moss, guard the riverbank like sentries, except they appear asleep at their post.  The mood is tranquil.  Couples stroll along the romantic walkway while other folks laze on benches.  My attitude has turned into one of, frankly, not giving a damn.  The afternoon beams with radiance, gone is the wind and i”ll listen to the Song of the South.

In addition to the Manor and swamp garden (detailed in an earlier blog) Magnolia Plantation offers “slavery to freedom tours,” boat rides, a nature tram, and miles of walking and biking paths.  Why you can even bring your dog or a canoe, and lest I forget, there’s a petting zoo, gift shop and cafeteria. Sounds rather tacky, but I confess, pretty well concealed into the landscape. www.magnoliaplantation.com