January 1738. The South Carolina Gazette printed the following advertisement for the property that John Drayton will purchase that same year…
“TO BE SOLD, a PLANTATION on Ashley River, 12 miles from Charles Town, containing 350 acres, whereof 150 acres of it is not yet clear’d, with a very good Dwelling-house, kitchen and several out houses,…”
Recent archaeological work has revealed evidence of this original house that was demolished so that John Drayton could build what is one of THE most important examples of Palladian architecture in the United States.
The home that Drayton, a wealthy planter, built was a showplace – a place to entertain and a place for his family to enjoy and pass on. The home remained in the family for an astonishing 7 generations until 1974 when it was acquired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Some of those 7 generations had their height recorded as growing children and even one door jamb records the height of family dogs!
However, more than important canines have lived here! Several Draytons have played significant roles in South Carolina’s history.
Drayton Hall now welcomes 60,000 visitors a year to its remaining buildings and grounds.
This home of 300,000 bricks, the well maintained gardens of the period and the property’s indigo and rice harvests could not have existed without the system of slavery that was in place at that time. Drayton Hall offers daily interpretive sessions on that grim side of history and is the site of one of the oldest African American cemeteries in the nation that is actually still in use.
As far as the details of its architecture please reference this link that will take you to a post that I wrote recently for the Italian food site, Cooking with Nonna. There is a brief history of Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) and pictures of Drayton Hall that illustrate what elements of Palladian architecture are important. Drayton Hall is about to help host a second annual symposium, “Vitruviana”, April 12th and 13th , 2013, covering much, much more on this important style of architecture.
The house remains as it did several hundred years ago with no electricity, plumbing or other amenities. It has survived occupation during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Great pains have been taken to protect it from the touring guests yet it still all feels very approachable. It is completely unfurnished so as not to distract from the detail and design elements that grace it.
Elegant plastered ceilings and intricate woodwork are throughout the house.
Even the seating in the privy was well designed.
And the privy included a fireplace for the cooler months.
The day that my mom and I visited was the first cool (mid-eighties) day of late summer and the opened house was comfortable and the grounds pleasant to walk. In addition to the house tour there are two self-guided walking tours. One takes you along the Ashley River behind the house where some guests would have arrived by boat.
Thus the “back” of the house is as elegant as the “front” where the approach is from a long drive.
The other walk is through the marsh where there are remnants of old rice fields.
Drayton Hall’s grounds were also the site of phosphate mining after the Civil War. Above is an example they have of phosphate before it gets processed to provide fertilizer.
Before we left we stopped in the gift shop which has one of the best selections of books on the Charleston area, South Carolina, the South, plantations, slavery and both wars that I can remember seeing.
Drayton Hall is located on Highway 61 which runs from Charleston to Summerville and beyond. This historic highway is a designated National Scenic Byway and lined with beautiful oaks. Development has been kept to a minimum along Highway 61 and one of Drayton Hall’s goals is to help keep it that way. They have purchased the land across the Ashley River from the plantation to ensure that the visitor will always have the view that John Drayton did in 1738.
The next time you are in the Lowcountry of South Carolina take the beautiful drive on Highway 61 to Drayton Hall. Visit the property and enjoy the view too!