Here in Charleston (and in preservationist circles), Drayton Hall equates to a beautiful and well-preserved historic site.
This eighteenth-century plantation is situated 12 miles northwest of historic downtown Charleston on the Ashley River in the South Carolina Lowcountry. This West Ashley plantation is a perfect example of Georgian Palladian architecture and is one of only three plantations near Charleston to survive the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. Drayton Hall is registered as a historic landmark and is under the management of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This Charleston, SC, Plantation is open to tourists and has been since 1977. The plantation presents a complete interpretation of the history and economy as experienced by seven generations of Draytons that resided in their ancestral home. The first guide to the plantation was published in 2005.
Drayton Hall Plantation History
Drayton Hall was first established by John Drayton, the third son born at the nearby plantation known as Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. At 23 years of age, John Drayton used funds he inherited to buy the property and begin construction of Drayton Hall. The elder Drayton inherited a lot of land in the Lowcountry (though never Magnolia Plantation, as the third son), and he and his family used Drayton Hall as the equivalent of their “corporate headquarters”–the family lived here and used the hall as their base of operations to manage their other various properties. No cash crops were grown on the premises of the Drayton Hall estate.
Shortly after John Drayton, a 37-year old widower took up residence in Drayton Hall alongside his sons Charles and William Henry in the early 1750s, the premises was referred to as “Palace and Gardens” in the South Carolina Gazette. Drayton Hall is one of the most important elite plantations in colonial America. It’s rare and unique survival makes the structure an icon of American history, historic preservation, and design. Similar to Middleton Plantation, this was not the typical Southern plantation visitors often expect. Unlike the Southern plantations of national American memory with Scarlett O’Hara wearing dresses made of curtains, Drayton Hall was built to match the styles of 18th Century England. As such, it has the appearance and feel of an English manor, rather than an antebellum plantation. That being said, there were slaves and other various aspects of what defined pre-War Southern society.
Check out a video of a digital restoration of Drayton Hall that shows what the inside of the historic home looked like at its construction, back in the 1700s.
Drayton Hall’s 350-acre masterpiece was intended as a management hub and a showplace at the center of his huge commercial plantation empire. All through his lifetime, Drayton owned over a hundred different estates which total approximately 76,000 acres of land across Georgia and South Carolina and Georgia where dozens of enslaved Native Americans, Africans, and their descendants worked. These slaves grew indigo and rice for exportation to Europe and also reared pigs and cattle for shipment to the Caribbean islands like Barbados. The legacy of the slave society lives on today in the form of John Drayton’s home, surviving collections and its landscape.
Although Drayton Hall was occupied until 1969, when Charlotta Drayton, the last Drayton to regularly occupy the home, passed-away and willed her share of the property to her nephews. Charlotta Drayton, a major voice in Charleston for historic preservation, preferred that her family’s historic mansion remain preserved rather than restored. As such, she chose to not install modern amenities such as climate control, indoor plumbing, or even electricity. In honor of her desire to preserve the home as it had lasted through the generations, the Historic Charleston Foundation devotes an enormous amount of funds to preserving the structure of the home, but do not attempt to restore it to a certain time of its history. Compare this to the Nathaniel Russell House, which the Historic Charleston Foundation attempts to restore to its appearance in the early 19th Century.
Be sure to walk down the raised alley from the house to the river and appreciate the view. In recent memory, a developer wanted to buy-up the property across the Ashley River in North Charleston for a high-rise development. The Friends of Drayton Hall were able to raise the funds to purchase the property and protect the view in perpetuity.
Drayton Hall Ghosts
As Drayton Hall has not been modified in any way, the house was preserved in the state in which it was secured for posterity, and this gives its guests a sense of continuity and timelessness.
It is believed that the plantation is haunted by the original family who still exist in the house. Visitors to the plantation have claimed that it is haunted, and claim to have photographic evidence of weird happenings within the building. Other guests have reported experiencing strange feelings of a presence which was not visible. America’s Most Haunted Places, a TV series, has featured Drayton Hall in one of its episodes. While it is of course not certain if there are ghosts in Drayton Hall, the curious will have to go and find out for themselves.
Drayton Hall Admission and Hours
Tourists may visit Drayton Hall every day from 9:30 am to 5 pm from Monday to Saturday and 11 am to 5 pm on Sundays. A historic house tour lasts for 45 minutes and passes through the first, second, and finally the basement, where the enslaved cooked and maintained the home, similar to Downton Abbey. Additional attractions include exploring the lapsed gardens and nature trails along the Ashley River (including the fantastic view across to North Charleston), Museum Shop, 18th-century African-American cemetery featuring an entry-portal designed by famed Charleston metal-worker Philip Simmons shortly before his death in 2009.
Plan a Perfect Drayton Hall Wedding
For those wanting to enjoy their wedding in a spectacular location, the grounds at Drayton plantation are available for a wedding or event rental. While the building itself cannot be used in the interests of preservation (let alone the lack of modern facilities), the lawn may be used to erect canopies for about $10,000.
3 More Famous Nearby Charleston Plantations
Boone Hall Plantation
This Mount Pleasant Plantation was established in 1681 when Major John Boone relocated to Charleston and built a gracious home and lucrative plantation on the Wampacheone Creek bank. The McRae Family bought the plantation in 1955 and furnished the house to give tours to guests. Today, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is still owned by the McRae Family, and they strive to make improvements regularly so that visitors can experience life as it was during those the days, as well as experience one of the oldest still-working farms in the country.
This 18th-century rice plantation is a National Historic Landmark and comprises of the Middleton Place House Museum, America’s oldest landscaped Gardens, and the Plantation Stable yards. Guided tours of the premises interpret the role of the Middletons in American history.
This Charleston Plantation is one of the oldest in the South and is widely known for its gardens. It was originally a rice plantation with extensive earthworks such as dikes and dams built on fields along the Ashley River for irrigation. The African slaves who came from rice-growing regions formed the works and as the generations passed, the slaves developed the Gullah language which was called Gullah language and also retained culture from Africa.
6 Other Historic Charleston Tourist Attractions
There are plenty of tourist attractions in Charleston, but a few more that meet the needs of any history buff coming to the area include:
Aiken Rhett House
This house remained a property of the family’s descendants for about 142 years until the Charleston Museum bought it and converted it to a museum house in 1975. Before the Civil War, the House was maintained by highly skilled enslaved African workers. For those interested in the lives of the enslaved citizens of downtown Charleston, this historic house tour is the only one to offer an opportunity to see how enslaved workers lived in a downtown Charleston plantation home.
Charleston Confederate Museum
The hall of the Confederate Museum was the commercial center in Charleston and served as a station for recruiting during the Civil War. The museum contains exhibits such as uniforms, cannons, flags and swords along with other artifacts which depict confederacy and also a reference library.
Joseph Manigault House
This antebellum building is one of the most exquisite buildings found in Charleston. Built in 1803, this historic home, referred to as the “Huguenot house” for its ties to Charleston’s Huguenot community, reflects the lifestyle of a very wealthy rice-planting family, as well as the enslaved African Americans who lived with them.
Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
This building is South Carolina’s most historic structure as it so many historical events regarding the formation of the United States occurred there. The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon was completed in 1771 and was the social, economic, and cultural center of the colony.
Nathaniel Russell House
This building has been recognized as one of the important neoclassical dwellings in America, set inside a spacious formal garden in the South of Broad neighborhood on Meeting Street.
This Heritage Museum shows the history of the former rice plantation with displays of slave artifacts and interpretive text found onsite. The 175-acre garden offers guests a walk-through Butterfly House with beautiful plants, free-flying butterflies, birds and more. Inhabitants of the Swamparium are reptiles, fish, and amphibians which are native to the swamp. While currently closed due to damage sustained in the Charleston flooding episode of October 2015, when it reopens it will return to the list of the most romantic things to do in Charleston, SC.
There Are So Many Fantastic Charleston Attractions!
A visit to Charleston will be fairly busy for any history buff. Be sure to visit these fascinating historic destinations, but be sure to intersperse them among visits to Charleston beaches, other attractions like the Joseph P. Riley, Jr Park, and savoring meals at fantastic Charleston restaurants. For even more recommendations on things to do in Charleston, be sure to check out list of free activities in Charleston, South Carolina.