A visit to historic Drayton Hall near Charleston, SC
I think I’ve told y’all before that BeeBop spent ten years serving our country in the U.S. Navy. For many of those years he was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, one of my most favorite places on the face of this beautiful earth. We try to go back to Charleston when we can to visit all the old familiar places that we still love. Over the years, we’ve done the typical tourist things – a carriage tour of the historic district, toured gardens, visited Patriot’s Point, seen the Angel Oak, shopped at the Market, but somehow in all these years we’d never been to Drayton Hall. We talk about it every time we visit but never had gotten out there until recently.
Last month we made a trip to Charleston for a ship’s reunion. During his navy days, BeeBop served on a fast attack nuclear-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Sandlance. He was one of the reactor operators. They don’t let just anybody run the reactor, you know. You have to be pretty darned smart to take the controls of a nuclear reactor. But that’s just what he and a few of his best buddies did. And they met up again after more than twenty years to remember those times. It was so much fun! The all-crew dinner that Saturday night was aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown and since we had a few hours to kill before that, we decided to drive out to Drayton Hall. Let me tell you a little bit about it.
First, I should explain that I love anything old and historic. Anything. But especially old houses and domestic artifacts. I love holding a kitchen implement in my hand knowing that generations of people before me held and used that same object. It gives me a feeling of connection to the past. A sense of where I came from and where I’m going. The Drayton Hall experience was so much more than that. I need to warn you before we go further that this post is really heavy on photos. Be patient :-)
Drayton Hall is virtually unchanged from the time it was originally constructed in 1738. To give you some perspective on that date – George Washington was 6 years old when the builders started on Drayton Hall.
This plaque located on the grounds gives a short overview before you begin your tour. The text at the bottom reads in part:
“More than a House.
Today you are visiting a house that has changed very little since the builders first broke ground in 1738. Set back from the Ashley River Road, and surrounded by marshlands, river, woods, and broad unspoiled vistas, Drayton Hall’s majestic house and historic grounds have preserved the authentic American and distinctively Southern experience as it was lived for over three hundred years.
Period features and artifacts layered within these historic grounds reveal Drayton Hall’s status as a once-active and profitable plantation, the headquarters of a network of as many as fifty other Drayton-owned plantations.
This is living history in its purest form — one of only a handful of rare encounters still available to visitors in this country, in this century.”
Drayton Hall is a survivor. It survived both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War intact. It stood through the earthquake of 1886 and Hurricane Hugo. It has never been updated with electricity or plumbing and the interior paint has not been refreshed since around the time of the Civil War. And it is absolutely breathtaking.
The home was owned by the Drayton family from its building until 1974 when the family transferred it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The goal of the Trust is to preserve, not renovate, the home and grounds in as near original condition as possible.
The home originally had a wing on either side as depicted in the 1765 watercolor above. Those areas are currently undergoing archaeological exploration.
Of course, the grounds are beautifully maintained. We had some time before our tour started, so we walked down to the river. I could just imagine boats arriving from Charleston and passengers disembarking at this spot. A lovely place to sit and watch the river flowing by, but I could hardly wait to get inside the house.
We entered from the river side of the house.
Two beautiful mahogany staircases are located in the rear entrance.
The main hall, or withdrawing room, features a beautiful plastered ceiling.
And a fireplace with an intricately carved mantel. Most of the paint throughout the house has not been refreshed since the Civil War era. In places you can see where it has faded and the wood shows through. The wood is cypress.
The ceiling in an adjacent room. Even more beautiful, I think, than the withdrawing room ceiling.
A view of one of the staircases looking back from the withdrawing room. I love the light in this photo.
The entire bottom floor of Drayton Hall is a raised English basement. This is where all the work of the household took place. Cooking, laundry, sewing and storage of food and goods.
There’s beauty everywhere at Drayton Hall. Even the view looking out from the basement is beautiful.
I was fascinated by the different views from the house. This is the view from the first floor looking toward the road approach to the house. In its earliest days, the grassy area you see here would have been filled with houses and workshops occupied by the plantation’s enslaved people.
The last member of the Drayton family to live in the house was Miss Charlotta Drayton. Miss Charlotta also owned a home on the battery in Charleston which was her primary residence, but every year she went for six weeks to “camp out” at Drayton Hall. When she died the house passed to two of her nephews neither of whom wished to lived there. The unoccupied house became the site of unauthorized parties and trespassing became a problem in the 1960’s and early 70’s. The nephews decided that the only way they could keep the home and honor their ancestors was to turn it over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Trust has a staff on-site who work diligently to preserve this national treasure. They give daily tours and work to keep the house in as near original condition as possible. There’s still no electricity or plumbing. Never will be.
Oh, and the Drayton family – they do visit. Every year they gather for Thanksgiving at their ancestral home. I love that.