Monday, December 17, 2012

Destination Charleston: Drayton Hall, day 2

taken from my travel journal
Wednesday, the 10th of October 
part 1
I awoke this morning to a pale skyline pierced by spindling church steeples, and the smell of toasting bagels.
 After a leisurely breakfast of the stuff with large amounts of cream cheese and a few mugs of tea, we began our inspection of the city and surrounding countryside, starting by crossing blue-grey Ashley River to visit Drayton Hall and its lovely grounds.

The gatekeeper was a very nice lady with tortoiseshell specs, who gave us a 'discount' because Little Brother was so cute and warned us not to splash about or throw stones in the waterways and river for fear of alligators.

 On seeing the Hall for the first time as we emerged from the shaded lane into full view of the house and lawns, a single yet potent thought took up firm residence in my mind: I was born in the wrong era.
 Oh, what it would have been like to belong to one of those important families back then..! I'm telling you, my writer's fantasy spinner went into overdrive.

Our tour began with a talk under a wooden shelter a little ways from the gift shop where a lady with a sophisticated drawl gave us and several others an overview of Drayton's history, which began in 1738 when young John Drayton, at 23, purchased the land next to his family's (Magnolia Plantation) believing that he would not inherit as he was the second of two sons.
 He wished Drayton Hall to be a statement of his accumulating wealth and success and I think he very much succeeded.
Prior to the late 1960's when the National Trust bought the plantation for preservation, Drayton Hall remained in the Drayton family. The oldest unmodified plantation house in the United States, it stands alone on the banks of the Ashley as the only authentic survivor of the area's turbulent past. All the other plantation houses in the district were burned to the ground by Union forces during the Civil War. There are several stories and theories given as to why Drayton survived, the most popular being that the head of the house at the time hung out the yellow flags of quarantine (falsely) warning away the soldiers.

Inside the house we were warned not to touch the walls since the last time they were painted (save one room) was in the 1870s-1880s. To put that in perspective: About the height of the British Empire, Queen Victoria, British Occupied India, and the South African war.
the Lawn Entrance
The Hall is unfurnished, I don't recall if they ever told us why exactly, but the immaculate carvings of the woodwork and mantles, plus the amazing moulded plaster ceilings spoke their proud history with a clear enough voice. The grand staircase and the ballroom on the second floor were my favorite places.
The house isn't completely bare of minor detail, either. On the back of a broom cupboard door is actually Union graffiti, the only thing legible the scrawling name Simon.
civil war graffiti
 Also, in one of the family rooms, a curved doorframe made for the perfect place for a growth chart, that dates back to Charles Drayton's (John's son) children or grandchildren. The doorframe is pretty black now for all the marks as the present generation continues the tradition.
servants' stair
 The last member to own the house, a Miss Charlotta, since she had no children, measured her terriers instead in the year 1915. It was she who most firmly requested that the house remained unmodernized when she passed it on in her will to her two nephews who, after only a few short years, sold it to the National Trust to be cared for and preserved as this precious gem of American history deserves.
looking at drayton from the river entranceway 
river entrance 
After our tour of the ballroom and bedrooms, we made our way to the River Entrance. John Drayton insisted that the Hall have no back, but rather two entrances; the River and the Lawn.
Then it was down into the kitchens, a large open place with supports to hold up the great weight of the Hall. The walls and supporting arches dare for the most part just whitewashed plaster, but in some places the plaster has fallen away revealing the red brick muscles of the house.
 It's hard describing the feeling of touching those bricks made from the mud of the Ashley by hands that worked nearly 280 years ago. 280. Two-hundred and eighty years. If that's so hard for me to comprehend, imagine what it will be like when(not if, but when) I go to Europe!
The kitchen hearth is very large; about ten feet in length. The Drayton's were a very influential family and entertained many important guests in their time who would all arrive either by the wooded road like us, or by boat on the Ashley River itself, located perhaps a quarter mile from the River Entrance of the Hall.
On the grounds little remains of the other structures (such as the smithy and greenhouse) besides excavated foundations. However, the privy and the well (a much later aesthetic addition) are still intact.
To the left of the Lawn Entrance (looking from the house) a little ways lies the exquisite reflection pond who's only purpose it to reflect the image of the Hall on its still waters. It was added when they were all the rage in the Victorian period.
 This was by far my most favorite place. It was just perfect to sit under the magnolias and live oaks near the water, and would make the perfect place to come and imagine and write.
 After Sister and I had stood on the bank looking at the reflection of Drayton on the shady waters for a time, we both decided we would need to have reflection ponds for our future mansions, too.
The four of us -- Mum, Sister, LB, and I -- then walked along the marshy banks of the river which was a beautiful color blue that day. But much to LB's and my disappointment, we never saw any gators. :(
 Before we left the plantation, we paused at the Negro cemetery that shelters many generations of Drayton Plantation workers. I personally didn't think the place should open to the public, and felt more than a little intrusive, so we didn't stay long.

We left Drayton with reluctance and rumbling tummies, so it was decided that now would be a good time to try out some real Southern BBQ.
 Sister knew a place on the way home called 'The Home Team' or 'The Team' or something or other. I didn't really catch it, but the sign has a funky-looking pig on it (that should narrow it down - ha).
 It was kind of a loud road house - with blaring old rock'n'roll not-quite-hits and tall barstools, washtub chandeliers (oh yes) and enough Harly Davidson orange paint to make your eyes cross. I'll admit I did pause when I crossed the threshold, this not looking like the kind of place I like to frequent. But as soon as the food was set in front of us I realized we were in good hands. We ate until we were like stuffed toads, and then headed down on the road.


  1. Ok, I lived in Charleston my entire life up till a few years ago and you taught me more about the places I used to hang and play at than I knew after living there for, well, ever :). I have fond memories of the Ashley river especially. We used to start at the mouth of it and boat all the way up through the locks and up to the lake. We'd make almost a weekend of it. Sorry, reminiscing!

  2. Oh my goodness! I love love love Charleston and Drayton Hall is one of my favorite plantations ever. I'm so glad someone else knows about it!