History Lives: Visit Charleston's Antebellum Plantations to Picnic, Explore and Learn
By Clare Sweeney
Charleston Local Expert
When touring Charleston, visitors may too often overlook the beautiful and historically meaningful areas located just off the city's small peninsula, including many parks, beaches and centuries-old plantations. Making a visit to the quiet, shady plantation grounds in the surrounding lowcountry can make for the ideal day trip for any traveler, especially families with children. Variety abounds in the historical features, facilities, and types of tours available at each plantation. Come January, visit Boone Hall Plantation alongside hundreds of Charlestonians at the Lowcountry Oyster Festival, or admire the Azaleas in bloom at the oldest unrestored gardens in the U.S. at Magnolia Plantation.
If you're traveling as a family, consider bringing the kids to Charles Towne Landing, home to the original South Carolina colony settlement, and a National Historic Site complete with life size colonial merchant ship and petting zoo. If you're up for a slightly longer road trip, visit Pick Pocket Plantation in Beaufort to enjoy its twice weekly Farmer's Market as well as face painting and pony rides!
Fancy yourself a tea lover? Plan a visit to America's only tea plantation, just a short drive from downtown Charleston. The Charleston Tea Plantation offers factory tours, trolley tours, and all the tea you can drink! Looking for an overnight romantic escape from the city? Stay in a historic B & B built in the early 1700's to enjoy bird watching, nature walks and plantation breakfasts at Mansfield Plantation in Georgetown.
Built in the year 1740 before the American Revolution, Hopsewee Plantation originally served as a rice plantation on the North banks of the North Santee River, and on fields across the river on Lynche's Island. This U.S. National Historic Landmark is located off of Highway 17 about halfway between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, about 48 miles outside Charleston city limits. Wooded trails, river views, and Spanish moss hung trees slow time to the plantation's eighteenth century golden days. House tours are run on the hour Tuesday through Saturday, or by appointment, and include a tour of the house and grounds. (843-546-7891)
Pick Pocket Plantation
Built in the mid nineteenth century in present day Beaufort, SC, Pick Pocket Plantation spans 15 acres and is home to nine historical buildings, including its restored plantation house. The property was originally a truck farm, or a farm that provides produce for local markets, and was part of the Trask family truck farming empire that once stretched from Beaufort north to Wilmington, NC. Pick Pocket Plantation runs a farmer's market Tuesdays 1 - 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. with pony rides, face painting, and of course fresh produce and local crafts to take home! Tours of the plantation home are led by a costumed guide and storyteller, and are $7 for adults, and free for kids. (843-271-1869, 843-812-6921)
Hampton Plantation State Park
The Hampton Plantation Park and Mansion, dating back to circa year 1735, is located about 16 miles south of Georgetown, which is situated just a short drive from Charleston closer to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Once home to Archibald Rutledge, the famous author and state poet laureate, Hampton plantation and State Historic Site was built by the French Huguenots who emigrated to the United States seeking religious freedom during the 1800s and 1900s, and was also once visited by the first United States president, George Washington, in the year 1791. Family friendly shady picnic areas are also available on site. (843-546-9361)
Established in 1718 on the banks of the Black River in present day Georgetown, Mansfield Plantation served primarily as a rice plantation, common for lowcountry plantations. This plantation, covering almost 1,000 acres, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is owned and operated by descendents of the original Parker family owners. The Mansfield property has changed hands between influential area families for 92 years before finally being sold back into the Parker family in 2004. Mansfield Plantation is now a bed and breakfast inn, but offers plantation tours and afternoon tea to large groups, as well as nature walks and bird watching available on site. A group day trip or even overnight stay outside the city at Mansfield Plantation is doable, with a slave village and chapel, Oak alley, and Cypress swamp making plenty to explore. Two weeks notice is required for tours and tea sessions. (853-546-6961, 1-866-717-1776)
Charleston Tea Plantation
If you're planning to explore the city's sensational gardens and area historical plantations while in Charleston, the Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island is a great place to start. Set against a timeless backdrop of towering oaks, verdant fields and expertly manicured gardens, this remarkable green space is the only tea plantation in all of North America. Take a guided tour to learn about how different Charleston plantation teas are made, and be sure to stop by the Tea Shoppe afterward for fresh tea samples and to pick up a box or two of local teas to take home with you. (843-559-0383 Ext. 42)
Plantations were once a common fixture around Charleston, South Carolina, which is home to a wealth of other important United States historic sites and attractions. The sole surviving whole intact Ashley River plantation, Drayton Hall is a favorite choice of visitors to the area. The stunning Georgian house has survived hurricanes, armed invasion and civil war duress. Not once updated or modernized, the stunning house and property grounds take you back to a time and place when rice and cotton were king, Charleston was a booming wealthy Southern agricultural center, and the seven generations of Drayton craftsmen built works of architectural art. (843-769-2600)
Charles Towne Landing
Set on land where the Carolinas' first permanent British settlers made their home in 1670, this 664-acre park property offers not only beautiful surroundings but a living history lesson that the whole family can enjoy. Found onsite are extensive grounds, a Natural Habitat zoo featuring an Animal Forest home to animals these early settlers would have encountered, along with a replica authentic wooden sailing ship, an experimental garden with plants from the South Carolina colonial era, and a restored village. Along with these wonderful opportunities for historical exploration, you'll find family friendly picnic areas, hiking and biking trails, and beautiful regional plant life, including azaleas, camellias and massive sprawling live oak trees. (843-852-4200)
Home to the country's oldest public gardens, this 17th-century Charleston lowcountry plantation also boasts one of the largest collections of azaleas and camellias in all of the United States. Take advantage of both the nature train and boat tour, which offer visitors breathtaking views and photo opportunities and an expansive tour throughout the plantation's picturesque wetlands, lakes, forests and mossy marshes. Two previous main houses on the Magnolia Plantation property were destroyed by fires during a raid by Union troops during the Civil War, and the current main house, furnished with beautiful antique wood period piece items, dates back to 1873. (843-571-1266, 800-367-3517)
Middleton Place Plantation is not only a National Historic Landmark, but also America's oldest landscaped gardens, and a great place to spend a day with the family outside the city. Enjoy Middleton Place's Camellias in winter, vibrant Azaleas in spring, and Magnolias, Crepe Myrtles and roses in summer, as the garden is blooming year-round. Visitors to Middleton Place may tour the gardens, the South Flanker House Museum, built in 1755 as the gentleman's guest quarters, as well as the surrounding landscaped property and ruins from buildings burned in the Civil War. Middleton Place is the birthplace of Arthur Middleton, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and has housed four generations of the Middleton family. (843-556-6020, 800-782-3608)
Boone Hall Plantation
An iconic row of ancient live oak trees welcomes you to one of America's oldest living and working plantations, and one of the most famous plantations in the South. Boone Hall Plantation is set on 783 acres and established in 1681, and was opened to the public in 1956. This beautiful property has been the filming location for dozens of movies, documentaries, and TV series with its historic buildings and old slave cabins still perfectly intact. Boone Hall offers guided tour group tours of the elegant house, a carriage tour of the grounds or self-guided tours through the slave quarters and the extensive gardens. (843-884-4371)
About Clare Sweeney
A South Carolina native and avid locavore, Clare also ventured abroad to Spain and north to Boston before returning to Charleston and her beloved Lowcountry.
Clare works and plays in downtown Charleston, spending her days enjoying the city’s perpetually sunny weather, nearby beaches and ever-growing food and craft beer scene. Follow Clare on Twitter @LocalExpertCHS for the latest in local happenings!
Read more about Clare Sweeney here.