This very cold day is making me think fondly about our plantation visits a couple of weeks ago! The weather was mild, the sun was out and watching the Spanish moss blow in the breeze was dreamy!
We visited Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place Rice Plantation. There were distinct differences between the two, but I would be hard pressed to pick which was my favorite!
Magnolia Plantation dates back to the 1600s. This is significant in its style – it has a much more romantic feel than its cousin, Middleton Place, up the river. The winding pathways through its freeform gardens make me dream of wind swept muslin gowns swishing around young ladies laughing at a garden party.
We toured the extensive gardens, the house (which is not the first main house on the property – between fires and retreating Union soldiers, these riverside plantations took a beating over the years), took a tram tour of the swamps and old rice flats and had a fabulous time in their lovely little zoo.
This plantation is absolutely gorgeous and a must see if you visit Charleston, in my opinion. When I lived in the area over 20 years ago, I remember visiting Magnolia and it is just as lovely as I remember!
Middleton Place (it used to be “Plantation”, but they thought the word had a negative connotation so they changed it to “Place” – a little too revisionist for me) was built largely in the 1700s and the style and layout reflected the “newer” techniques and agendas of the more modern version of Magnolia. Again, the house standing as the main house is not the original, like Magnolia, as they suffered the same fate.
The grounds of Middleton are glorious! They are not the meandering “romantic” style of Magnolia, but rather employ the fine lines and purposeful plantings like a traditional English or French garden of the times. The Live Oaks that line the passageways and Ashley River are wrapped in Spanish moss and southern charm, and alligators sun themselves on the shores.
This “Gone with the Wind” view of Plantation life is easy to fall in to, but the truth is, it was a harsh place – especially for those enslaved, who worked the land and cared for the people, livestock and estates. Between these two plantations, over time, thousands of people were owned and suffered under the institution of slavery. They suffered through swamp miasmas, harsh weather, dangerous creatures, poor living conditions, and treatment that folks today cannot fathom. Their knowledge, strength and forced participating in genteel life were the foundation of such extreme prosperity.
At both Magnolia and Middleton, Kelly and I took additional “tours” to learn about the enslaved peoples who were the backbone of these gorgeous estates. The dichotomy of the beauty of the place, verses the method in which it got that way, creates confusing feelings to say the least. But these places are worth the study and preservation. They provide lessons from which we, as modern people still navigating our way through the love of all peoples, can reflect. History is about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and plantations certainly have it all.
Here are some extra pictures of our two plantation visits. I hope you can feel the warm southern breezes wash over you as you look at them!