Before the plantation houses,
I have to give a shout out to the little town of Greer, South Carolina.
There’s a charming little town not far from Greenville called Greer. We stopped into “Stomping Grounds” coffee house and wine bar for a bite of lunch and a little reviving. The cappuccino was one of the finest I’ve had this side of the Atlantic. The sandwich my husband had was tasty and substantial while the pastry I ate was simply yummy. We would have enjoyed walking around town more and chatting with locals—friendliness was the cup of the day.
Back to the Charleston area, we toured two plantation houses connected to the same Drayton family.
Drayton House is now owned by the National Trust and is completely empty. Having just toured the Henry Clay Frick Mansion in Pittsburgh, which is resplendent in its turn of the century finery, it was a shock to walk through a vacant house. Once we adjusted, it was fun to see it from the point of view where you are forced to enjoy the physical structure of the house aside from decoration. We were provided tidbits about the construction, how the ceilings were made and what’s involved in the balancing of a Palladian architectural design. The one thing missing was a South Carolina accent from the docent: “Stay on the carpet! Preservation, not restoration!” She recited these statements over and over again to our group of twelve adults. We got it!
The grand portico entrance to the house was under repair following a disintegration in the structural supports (added after the original building) that made it hazardous. The work was nearly complete, so perhaps when you go, you’ll get to walk in the front door. The grounds are extensive and we had a quick walk to the river before the rains started again.
We drove a mile down the road to the even older Magnolia Plantation and were treated to an entirely different experience. This home, while not the original, is still owned by seven descendants of the original builders. The outside was raucous with a children’s Easter egg hunt in process, despite the on/off drizzling and storms. To non-parents, the decibel level of the happy kids was almost enough to drive us away. But we hung in there and as soon as we were invited inside, the greeter asked, Now isn’t that quieter? The stone and stucco construction of the house absolutely dimmed the outside noise.
We were led through the house by a delightful docent from New Jersey, laughing at ourselves still searching for that South Carolina accent.
The docent knew snippets and tidbits and included them at the right time to get a chuckle or an ah from her audience. As a northerner, my understanding of plantation houses didn’t extend much beyond Tara. (And if you don’t know Tara…sigh, please read and watch the American Classic, Gone With the Wind and get back to me.) The plainness of this house after the opulence of the Frick Mansion was quite striking. The docent explained that this was their country house. Being a country girl, that gave me an entirely different understanding of this residence. Of course, it also made me want to track down their city home!
Had it not been a rainy day, the immense gardens would have been quite pleasant to stroll around. As we were leaving the rains renewed their drenching. (No photography inside the house.)
Our first plantation homes were utterly different and each enticing in their own way. Striking bits of history that happened to have a familial connection.
Have you toured any of the many grand homes in Charleston? Let me know in case we get to return to this friendly city and soak up some more old-south history.