All The Pretty Houses of Magnolia Plantation & Gardens

As is the case with most of the structures standing in and around Charleston, they come with a long and detailed past. A past that usually means at least one or two structures has stood on (or close to) the existing location, undergoing architectural changes, but always remain remarkable in stature. So is the case with the glorious Magnolia Plantation & Gardens located at 3550 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414, a 25-minute drive from Historic Downtown Charleston. No visit to Charleston is complete without strolling the grounds of at least one of the main plantations, and Magnolia will not disappoint.

The “cottage” that stands today is the third house to grace the beauty of the property. Not many properties can state that it has had continual ownership from the 17th century like Magnolia. The first house from 1676 sat about 25 feet from the existing house’s porch, perpendicular to the row of trees known as the Avenue of Oaks. It was a stunning Georgian manor with a grand marble staircase leading to the front door and lofty 18-foot-high ceilings throughout the first floor. Sadly, it was struck by lightning and burned down in 1810.
 
When the Drayton family, who were the original owners of Magnolia, decided to rebuild, it’s not clear as to why they changed the location slightly. How lovely the original house must have looked situated at the end of the Avenue of Oaks. Nevertheless, perhaps a bit superstitious, they just wanted a fresh start? Who knows? The second house was a two-story clapboard house that was no less grand, but a more typical low country plantation house of the early 19th century. It had porticoes on either side and rested on a large English basement. But, no matter how shiny and new, it would suffer a similar fate as the first house. It was burned at the hands of Union troops during the Civil War in February 1865. The only remaining house from this time period is neighbor Drayton Hall
Ten years passed with no house standing at Magnolia. But, the Draytons were hardly homeless. They had several houses in and around Charleston to choose from. It wasn’t until 1874 that then owner John Grimke Drayton, who had owned the plantation throughout the 19th century, would build a small cottage, as he called it, consisting of four rooms. Two rooms on each side and an attic upstairs. The only thing visible from the second house is the (now) back stairs, which once served as the front entrance when the mode of transportation arrived via the Ashley River by boat. (Later, in the years of the automobile, a descendant will move the front door entrance to where it is today.)
 
Because they had other larger homes, this 4-room “cottage” served he and his wife, Julia Ewing quite well in the springtime. It was he, the Reverend John Grimke Drayton, who decided to create the magnificent gardens you see today – as a loving gift to his wife, who was truly missing her Philadelphia city girl roots. This romantic and lovely gesture now gives countless visitors immeasurable joy. If only he could come back and see how many thousands upon thousands of daily visitors have strolled the picturesque pathways, gazed upon the mesmerizing lakes, crossed the charming bridges, clicked millions of photographs in every season, and thoroughly enjoyed his “vision.” It was a former visit to Europe which inspired his romantic garden for his beloved wife.
 
The next owners of Magnolia would make significant enlargements to the cottage. The house passed to eldest daughter Julia who at the time of her inheriting Magnolia, had been married for 21 years to one of the wealthiest men in Charleston, William Smith Hastie, Jr. The layout became what visitors see today. Her dream was to recreate a sort of Victorian English era country house and later generations have added even further embellishments.
 
If the walls could talk, what would they say? Would the former owners be delighted that so many people have traipsed through their home and gardens?
 
I think, yes. I think they were lovers of beauty, lovers of entertaining, generous and kindhearted people who, over the many years, built more than a working plantation or a showplace. They constructed and preserved exquisite historical grandeur. Much too beautiful to erase, or ignore.
I have visited Magnolia many times over the years. My photo collection always changes, as do the blooms throughout the year. Seasonal flowers and flowering trees were intentionally planted to always be blossoming from one month to another.
 
To learn more about the different tours available and for ticket information, please visit their website:
 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Great blog post! With beautiful pictures, glad I was able to make the Grimke connection!

    1. Thank you, my astute and wonderful friend. The history is fascinating!!

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