Middleton Place in Charleston, SC: An Insider’s Guide to a Jewel

azaleas along a pathway at middleton place charleston scMiddleton Place, in this writer’s opinion, is one of the most gorgeous spots in Charleston, SC.


Middleton Place is a historic South Carolina plantation, located outside of Charleston.


Henry Middleton founded it in 1741, and served as president of the First Continental Congress. Thanks to him and other Middleton family members, the plantation is a National Historic Landmark.


It’s also one of Charleston’s most popular attractions.


Visitors can:


  • Tour the plantation home


  • Take a stroll through the beautiful grounds


  • And visit the museum’s many buildings


All to learn more about the plantation’s history and the lives of the people who lived and worked there.

garden pondMiddleton Place is one of America’s oldest landscaped gardens. As such, it is a model of 18th century American gardening. The gardens, designed in the formal Georgian style, include such features as:


  • Grand terraces


  • Ornamental ponds


  • And a diverse range of plants and flowers


The plantation also serves as a museum, displaying artifacts and displays. They all contribute to the story of life on the plantation and the Middleton family’s history.


Are you interested in learning more about Middleton Place?


Then keep reading.


History of Middleton Place in Charleston, SC


view from millMiddleton Place has a rich history that dates back to 1741, the date Henry Middleton first founded it. Born in 1717, Henry was a planter, politician, and patriot who played a key role in the American Revolution. He served as president of the First Continental Congress.


The Middleton family lived on the plantation for over 200 years. They not only made significant contributions to American politics and society during that time. The family also left a lasting legacy on the world of gardening and horticulture.


Arthur Middleton and the Revolutionary War


Henry Middleton had eight sons, the third of whom was Arthur Middleton. He went on to become one of the most important individuals in the American Revolution.


Arthur Middleton was born and raised at Middleton Place, when the nearby was city bore the name Charlestowne, South Carolina. He received his education in England before returning to South Carolina to manage the family plantation. Mr. Middleton later became involved in the resistance to British colonial rule.


In 1775, he was elected to the South Carolina Provincial Congress. Arthur Middleton is most famous for being one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.


He was also a member of the Continental Congress and later the South Carolina State House of Representatives. Master Middleton went on to serve in the United States House of Representatives.


Middleton Place in the Civil War


gardens along a riverThe Middleton family fled to safety when the American Civil War broke out, leaving their property behind.


Union troops occupied the plantation and used it as a staging area. The main house served as a headquarters and billet, while the outbuildings and fields were used to quarter and feed troops and horses. They also kept supplies and equipment in the stables and other outbuildings. The troops also severely damaged the gardens and landscape, using them to:


  • Graze horses


  • And construct fortifications


In 1865, troops set fire to the main plantation house, destroying it as well as the north building. The north building housed the music conservatory and a library of over 10,000 books.


The Middleton family returned to their home in disrepair after the war. Many of the outbuildings had been destroyed, and the gardens and fields had been damaged.


The ruins of the main plantation house stood until the 1886 earthquake.


The Modern Era at Middleton Place


garden bench overlooking the ashley river and former rice fieldsIn 1975, the Middleton family turned the plantation over to the Middleton Place Foundation. The family established the Middleton Place Foundation in 1974 to preserve and restore the property.


The restoration process was lengthy and difficult. Many of the original structures and gardens had deteriorated over time. Middleton Place has been restored to its former glory thanks to the efforts of the foundation and other preservation organizations.


The foundation also aimed to preserve and interpret the history of those who lived and worked on the plantation. They carried out:


  • Extensive research


  • And searched for primary source documents and artifacts from the plantation


The end result is a museum that shows visitors more than just the Middleton family’s contributions. The museum also depicts life on the plantation for all residents.


Features and Attractions at Middleton Place


Middleton Place is a one-of-a-kind destination with a variety of features and attractions. The following are some of the plantation’s most notable features:


Middleton Place House Museum


plantation houseThe Middleton Place House is a plantation home that dates back to the 18th century. It was built by Henry Middleton, who founded the plantation in 1741. The current house was built as a south flanker to the main house in 1755.


Union troops destroyed the original house in the Civil War, yet the south building still stands.


Inside, visitors can see many interesting and historically significant artifacts, including:


  • Period furniture


  • Artwork


  • And silver


Much of the collection is made up of donations from the extended Middleton family.


The house is also home to a collection of:


  • Documents


  • Photographs


  • And letters


All of which provide insight into the history of the Middleton family.


The first and second floors of the mansion are usually covered in house tours. The foundation updated rooms to correspond to different eras of the house. Many rooms retain their original appearance, including many original furnishings and artworks.


The Middleton Place Gardens


The gardens are a must-see attraction and are regarded as one of America’s oldest and most significant landscaped gardens.


The following are some of the must-see attractions in the gardens:


rice field at middleton place charleston sc

Restored rice field


During the 18th and 19th centuries, rice was one of the most important crops grown on the plantation. It was also the crop that made Charleston and South Carolina extremely wealthy during the colonial and early nineteenth centuries.


Middleton Place rice was of high quality and popular. As a result, rice was a significant source of income for the Middleton family.


Enslaved people at Middleton Place were responsible for:


  • Planting


  • Cultivating


  • And harvesting the rice


The rice fields sat alongside the Ashley River. Growers used the water supply to flood and drain the fields. This nearby source allowed them to control water levels and create ideal growing conditions. Slave laborers tended the fields by hand, using hoes, plows, and other tools.


A restored rice field near the Ashley River is now open to the public. It is an accurate depiction of the historical rice-growing process. The field is not actively cultivated, but it gives visitors an idea of what fields looked like in the 18th and 19th centuries.


butterfly lake at middleton place charleston sc

Butterfly Lakes


The Butterfly Lakes are two small lakes near the gardens’ edge. They are symmetrical, artificial, and identical. When viewed from the top of the hill where the mansion is located, they resemble a pair of butterfly wings.


Hence the name.


The Middleton Oak


The Middleton Oak is thought to be one of the world’s oldest known living specimens of live oak. Experts estimate that it is over 1000 years old and still alive along an old rice field.


Ashley River


The Ashley River has an important connection to Middleton Place. It was vital to the history and development of the plantation, as it was to all of the plantations along the Ashley River.


The Ashley River was an important transportation route for South Carolina’s Lowcountry in the 18th century. The river provided transportation to markets and resources. It served as a highway for goods such as rice and indigo grown on the plantation. Wharfs and landings for ships on the Ashley River were available at Middleton Place.


live oaksInstead of facing the road, the plantation house faced the Ashley River. Most visitors would arrive from Charleston via the Ashley River, which at the time was a much smoother and faster way to travel.


The Ashley River also supplied water for irrigation and power generation. The plantation had a network of canals and dams that were used to direct water from the river to the fields for irrigation. This system was critical for rice cultivation, which requires a lot of water.


The river had an impact on the design of the gardens as well. The natural terrain of the river and marshes was used by enslaved laborers to create a picturesque landscape with artificial lakes, canals, and other features.


Today, the gardens and house offer panoramic views of the Ashley River. Much like the antebellum period’s viewpoint.


Stable Yards and Slave Quarters


peacock in the Middleton Place stable yardsThe stable yard was a hive of activity in the 18th and 19th centuries. The enslaved people who worked on the plantation lived and cared for the animals here. The stable yard was made up of several small cabins where enslaved people lived and worked.


The stable yard also had a number of outbuildings, including:


  • Stables


  • Barns


  • Storage buildings


  • Kitchen


  • Laundry


  • And a smokehouse


Today, the restored stable yard is an exact replica of what it would have looked like in the 18th century. The Middleton Place Foundation restored the buildings using original materials and techniques.


Livestock at Middleton Place


Middleton Place’s stable yards are home to a variety of animals typical of those kept on a plantation in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Plus, an oddity or two.


The stable yards were home to:


  • Horses


  • Mules


  • Cattle


  • Pigs


  • Sheep


  • Chickens


  • Geese


sheep on the middleton place lawnAll were a common sight at Middleton Place.


The animals served a variety of functions, including transportation, plowing, and other farm work, as well as providing food and other resources.


Water buffalo at Middleton Place


Water buffalo were another historic variety of livestock at Middleton Place.


The Middletons imported water buffalo to work in the flooded rice fields. They were an unusual feature that didn’t catch on elsewhere in the South.


When the Union soldiers occupied the plantation, they killed and ate five of the water buffalo and stole six more. The stolen six were eventually discovered at New York City’s Central Park Zoo.


Current Use and Significance of Middleton Place in Charleston, SC


view of house from garden

Being designated as a National Historic Landmark has aided in the preservation and protection of Middleton Place and its history. It is officially recognized as a location of exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting American history.


But Middleton Place is more than just a historical landmark. The plantation is open for tours to the public, and the gardens and museum are popular with both tourists and locals. The plantation’s buildings and grounds are also used for weddings, parties, and events by locals.


General admission to Middleton Place


General admission to Middleton Place in Charleston, South Carolina, typically includes access to:


  • The gardens


  • The stable yards


  • And the exhibit hall


The admission fee varies based on the time of year, age and type of visitor. Admission usually includes a guided tour of the main house and its grounds.


walkway along a river at middleton place charleston scMore plantations in Charleston, SC


Charleston, South Carolina is home to many historic plantations, some of which include:



This plantation was founded in 1676 by the Drayton family. It is America’s oldest public garden. Visitors can tour the main house, which was built in 1873. The biggest draw are the beautiful gardens, which include camellias and azaleas among other plants and flowers.



An extension of the Drayton family built this plantation in 1738. It is one of the oldest and best-preserved examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in the United States.



This plantation, which dates back to 1681, is one of the country’s oldest working farms. Visitors can take a tour of the main house, built in 1936, and stroll through the beautiful gardens, which include camellias, azaleas, and live oaks.



This plantation dates back to the 18th century and was one of the few plantations in the area dedicated to the cultivation of sea island cotton. Visitors can explore the restored slave cabins, the main house and learn about the history of enslaved people who lived and worked there.



swamp trail

This plantation was built in 1820 and is an example of a townhouse plantation, used for commercial and residential purposes. It is an excellent example of an urban antebellum home.


Whether you are:


  • A history buff


  • A lover of beautiful gardens and flora


  • Or simply looking for a unique and interesting place to visit


Middleton Place is sure to be a highlight of your trip to Charleston, SC.

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