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.