Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

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On my last full day in Charleston, I boarded a bus headed to the oldest tourist site in the Lowcountry. This historic property also lays claim to the oldest public gardens in the US.

Was I excited? Not exactly. I felt…cautiously curious. Thirty other people chatted as we bounced along in the air conditioned bus. I remained quiet and introspective. The truth is, I almost didn’t join this tour, making a last minute decision late the day before to go.

Why?

Our destination was Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. While I looked forward to walking in the gardens, slavery is a huge issue for me. I wasn’t sure what the energy would feel like at the plantation and how that would impact me as an intuitive empath.

However, the city of Charleston is deeply connected to slavery. I discovered as I explored the city, listened during historic tours and talked to the people of Charleston that this city does not shy away from its complex history. Rather, they’ve expanded their history, instead of hiding it, glorifying it or ignoring it,  which is something I appreciate. Charlestonians tell their stories and make sure all of the past is talked about openly.

I decided not to shy away from Charleston’s history either. My first plantation choice was no longer reachable by tour bus. And while that one seemed like a “safer” choice, I chose another plantation, feeling a strange draw to that one for reasons I did not understand at the time.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens title meme

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens History

The Draytons

The plantation dates back to 1676, when Thomas and Ann Fox Drayton built the house and a small formal garden on almost 1900 acres along the Ashley River. During the Colonial Era, the plantation thrived, growing and accumulating wealth due to the cultivation of rice by enslaved people brought in from Barbados in the 1670s.

In 1825, upon the death of the great grandson of the first Drayton, the plantation passed to his daughter’s sons, Thomas and John Grimke. As there were no male heirs, the stipulation was that the grandsons must assume the last name of Drayton.

The elder brother Thomas died tragically a short time later on the steps of the plantation house, from a gunshot wound while hunting. Younger brother John, an Episcopal minister, unexpectedly found himself the owner of Magnolia Plantation at the young age of 22.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens live oak
There are live oak trees at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens that are hundreds of years old.

The Creation of the Magnolia Gardens

It was John Grimke Drayton that created the informal romantic gardens at Magnolia. His young wife, whom he met and married while attending seminary in New York, grew up in Philadelphia. John hoped the gardens would make Julia feel more at home in South Carolina.

The stress of managing the plantation and pastoring a congregation in a nearby church led to John developing tuberculosis. Working in the gardens, expanding them and tending to the plants, became John’s therapy. And it appeared that he responded well to being outdoors. Until his death, 50 years later, John devoted himself to creating an earthly paradise for his wife.

Magnolia Plantation an Gardens red bridge
Magnolia Plantations and Gardens – red bridge in the gardens

Surviving the Civil War

The first and second plantation houses burned, the first time due to an accidental fire and the second time, during the Civil War. Like the rest of the plantation owners in the Lowcountry, John emerged from the war low on funds and with many repairs to make. The rice cultivation stopped. Some of the former enslaved chose to stay on the plantation as free people, working in the gardens for a good wage, and continuing to live in cabins on the property.

To raise funds, John sold off most of the acreage, retaining 390 acres. And in 1870 Magnolia Plantation and Gardens opened to the public, receiving visitors as a way to restore and preserve the historic property.

John Grimke Drayton died in 1890, leaving Magnolia to his daughter, Julia Drayton Hastie. The estate remains in the Drayton Family, 15 generations of descendants from the first owner, Thomas Drayton. It is currently managed by a board of directors that includes members of the Drayton/Hastie family.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens gravesite
Gravesite of the Drayton Family, in the gardens.

The Magnolia Gardens

Our tour began in the magnificent Magnolia Gardens.

Included in these wild gardens are the Barbados Tropical Garden and the shrub maze based on England’s famous Hampton Court Maze. The Eden like gardens draw visitors from around the world.

John Drayton’s legacy here are the azaleas that bloom in the spring. He introduced these flowering shrubs to the United States. His camellia gardens were celebrated by horticulturalists as pioneering.

Although the gardens are most spectacular in spring, plants bloom year around, offering beauty to visitors who wander the extensive paths.

I could have spent the whole day walking in these gardens.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in bloom
Magnolia Plantation Gardens in bloom

Magnolia Plantation Swamp and Marshes

Audubon Swamp

The Audubon Swamp at Magnolia Plantation originally served as a basin to store freshwater to flood the rice fields. Today the swamp occupies about 60 acres of the plantation. Cypress and Tupelo trees stand in the water, providing homes for waterfowl and wildlife, including alligators.

This section of the plantation requires an extra fee to enter. While I was there, they were working in that area and the swamp was closed to visitors. My tour group rode a tram through the marshes and we got a peek into the swamp. To my surprise, I found the swamp beautiful, with its green water and abundance of flora and wildlife.

This swamp served as the inspiration for Shrek’s home, in the animated film.

Audubon Swamp
A glimpse of the Audubon Swamp at Magnolia Plantation.

Magnolia Marshes

The 45 minute tram ride takes visitors through the surrounding woods and along the river, lakes and marshes, for a interesting look at the natural beauty found in the wetlands. The knowledgeable tour guide, who also drives the tram, shares history about the plantation as well.

We drove by the former slave cabins, fully restored, that are now part of the Freedom Tour.

And we saw egrets, herons and a large owl, along with turtles and alligators who seemed to enjoy the gentle rain.

Visitors can choose to walk in these areas too, along paved paths that hug the marshlands. Although our guide assured us there has never been an alligator attack on plantation grounds, he advised us to remain alert and aware.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens marsh
The marsh at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Alligator on a sunning board in the marsh
Alligator on a sunning board in the marsh.

The Magnolia Plantation House

After a quick lunch at the onsite cafe, my group gathered on the large covered veranda at the plantation house. Our guide informed us that no photos are allowed inside, due to the age of many of the furnishings and art pieces.

Ten rooms are open to the public in the plantation house. The family no longer resides here, living instead in houses built a short distance away. The current house, built in 1870 after fire destroyed the second home, features Doric columns, a gabled roof and dormers and a two story stucco tower.

The 30 to 45 minute house tour includes history about the Drayton Family and plantation life. Each room features early American antiques, art, porcelain, quilts and family heirlooms.

I enjoyed the quiet beauty of the house. It was not difficult to close my eyes and imagine a different world that changed through necessity and then through intention.

The Grimke Sisters

John Grimke Drayton’s aunts, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, born in 1792 and 1805 respectively, abhorred slavery. The sisters spent their adult lives as activists for abolition and for women’s rights.

Outcasts in the south, they moved to Philadelphia where they continued to fight for social justice until their deaths.

I also learned that the Draytons treated their enslaved people better than most, caring for them and providing education for the children even though it was illegal to do so. While that does not make enslaving others acceptable in any way, I’d rather hear that people were cared for than the opposite.

And finally, our guide shared that all descendants of Magnolia’s enslaved and freed people are welcome to work for above average wages and live free of charge at Magnolia (not in the former cabins). There are typically eight to ten or more descendants living on the property, working in the gardens or as tour guides.

Magnolia Plantation House
Magnolia Plantation House

I’m Glad I Visited Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

The night before my scheduled tour of Magnolia Plantation, I slept fitfully, feeling restless and unsure about my decision to visit the plantation and also the Slave Mart Museum.

But I wondered if my reluctance to visit was a way of keeping my eyes averted…of refusing to look at the issue of slavery head on?

As I dozed in that alpha state, between being fully awake and fully asleep, I had a visitor. It’s common for me to see spirits while in this state. This night, a very old woman approached me. She appeared as a Gullah woman, descended from enslaved West Africans, her gray hair long and curly, and wearing beads around her thin neck.

She put her face very close to mine, peering deeply into my eyes. Although she didn’t speak, she slowly smiled at me…and then faded away. I didn’t sleep much after that, but I determined to visit both the plantation and the museum, encouraged by the intensity in the Gullah woman’s eyes and her smile. It was the right decision and, as it turned out, the right plantation to visit.

Finding Who I am in Charleston

I’m grateful that I toured both places. I have African heritage, according to my Ancestry DNA results…from Nigeria in West Africa. I don’t know anything about my ancestor. However it is very possible that he or she passed through Charleston.

I appreciate that Magnolia Plantation and Charleston recognize the importance of acknowledging the crucial role enslaved people played in Lowcountry history. It’s important to me to hear their stories and to remember and honor those who labored in the houses and fields in this area.

I no longer fear what I will feel. What I experience is as complicated as the history in the south and that’s okay. I want to know all that I can and someday perhaps I’ll find a clue that leads me to my ancestor.

It’s even possible that I met her, in that space between worlds, and she smiled at me.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens small white bridge

Learn more about Magnolia Plantation HERE.

 

 


 

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Meeting Street Inn

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

As I planned my trip to Charleston, an important consideration was accommodations. I knew I wanted to stay in the historic district downtown, since I was exploring on foot. A base of operations is what I needed, a centrally located place that made it easy for me to walk to where I wanted to go.

That was my must have. Bonuses for me included a free breakfast, a charming room, a refrigerator in the room and as an extra, extra bonus, a pretty outdoor space. Could I find all that, without spending a fortune?

Indeed I could. I found it all at the Meeting Street Inn.

Meeting Street Inn title meme

History of Meeting Street Inn

Although there are some hotels specially built for that purpose in Charleston, many of the city’s accommodations began life many years ago as something else. This is true for Meeting Street Inn.

The Charleston Theatre, built in 1837, originally occupied four lots at 173 Meeting Street. Unfortunately, the theatre burned to the ground in 1861. German immigrant Adolph Tiefenthal purchased the lots where the theatre once stood. In 1874 he constructed a three story brick building in the traditional Charleston single house style, characterized by the single room width with the house set at right angles to the street.

On the ground floor, Adolph opened a restaurant and saloon, selling German beers and Rhine wines. He and his wife and their three daughters occupied the top two floors. Adolph died four years later and descendants sold the building in 1903.

Over the years various businesses came and went on the first floor including an antique boutique, liquor store, auto parts shop, bicycle rentals and a dental equipment supplier. After Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, the building fell into disrepair. Francis F. Limehouse bought the building and renovated it, creating the lovely Meeting Street Inn. Her work on the inn sparked the restoration movement that transformed the Charleston Historic District.

Meeting Street Inn lobby
The beautiful Meeting Street Inn lobby.

Meeting Street Inn Amenities

The inn features 56 charming, spacious rooms, six of them in the historic building, each with private baths. The rooms open onto piazzas that overlook the garden courtyard or open directly onto that outdoor space.

Amenities include:

  • oversized jacuzzi in courtyard
  • complimentary continental breakfast
  • complimentary evening wine and nibbles
  • valet parking and self parking off site
  • 24 hour front desk assistance
  • recommendations and help with travel planning
  • four poster beds
  • turn down service
  • hair dryer
  • complimentary shampoo, conditioner, soaps and lotion
  • ironing board and iron
  • safe for valuables
  • refrigerator in room
  • high speed internet
  • charging station in room to plug phones into
  • elevators at either end of the piazzas
  • ice machine and snack vending machines in covered outdoor room in courtyard
  • complimentary coffee, tea, hot water and ice and water dispenser in lobby

Guests may enter the property through the lobby, where the front desk is located. Or, after checking in, you may enter through the privacy door which opens into the courtyard.

Rooms

Traditions rooms include standard room with one queen size bed, standard room with two full size canopied beds and standard room with two full size canopied beds that open directly onto the courtyard.

Deluxe rooms include one queen size canopied bed with walk in closet and double French doors that open to private café style balcony or two full size canopied beds with walk in closet and double French doors that open to private café style balcony.

The larger historic rooms, in the oldest part of the building, include king size canopied beds, walk in closets, high ceilings and a shared, outdoor veranda.

Meeting Street Inn piazza view
The view from my fourth floor piazza.

My Experience at Meeting Street Inn

All the history and amenities are impressive, however, what you are really wondering is…how was my stay at Meeting Street Inn?

It was wonderful! What began as my “base of operations” quickly became my cozy home away from home. Here’s the breakdown of what works so well, staying at Meeting Street Inn.

Location

Situated in the heart of the historic district, Meeting Street Inn, at 173 Meeting Street, is close to everything. The City Market is across the street as is one of the stops for the free DASH bus. I could easily catch the bus if I wanted to ride around the city instead of walk.

One block over is King Street, the avenue for shopping, dining, art, antiques and nightlife. A short walk in the other direction brings you to Waterfront Park, Charleston Harbor, the Battery and East Bay Street with the famous Rainbow Row of colorful houses.

And Broad Street is a few blocks south, which means the South of Broad neighborhoods full of beautiful, historic houses begin right there. Everything I wanted to see, with the exception of Magnolia Plantation, was all within walking distance from Meeting Street Inn. I’d head out in the mornings to explore. Eat lunch. Go back to the room for a cup of tea and then head back out late afternoon for more exploring and supper.

Extra Bonus Points

The only concern I had, the whole time I was in Charleston, was where a nighttime walking ghost tour I experienced was going to end. It began in Waterfront Park, half a mile away. I knew it would be dark when the tour ended and I wasn’t sure how far I’d need to walk, alone, to get back to the inn. Happily, the tour ended TWO blocks from Meeting Street Inn. I smiled all the way back to my room.

Jacuzzi pool
The oversized jacuzzi in the courtyard.

My Room

I stayed in a traditional room with a queen size four poster bed, on the fourth floor. My room was exceptionally clean, comfortable, charming and cozy.

The bathroom was large, and super clean, with a tub/shower combo and complimentary toiletries. The wide counter was perfect for setting up my own packed toiletries from home.

There was a small balcony off of the back of the room, that looked directly into a tree. However, that was fine with me. I love trees! And it became a silly little ritual to step onto that balcony, morning and evening, reach out and shake a branch of the tree, as if greeting an old friend. The balcony was also my temperature check point. Every morning, it was warm and humid!

Enjoy these photos of my room:

Meeting Street Inn bed
Gorgeous four poster bed. On the other side of the bed was a little step stool, in case one needs help getting into bed! I didn’t need it.
Chairs by the window
Comfy chairs by the shuttered window. This was my afternoon tea spot.
Writing table and refrigerator
Writing table, that became my catch all every day, little refrigerator and next to that, the armoire with TV, drawers and hanging space.
private bathroom
And the bathroom. I loved the ample counterspace plus the door had a full size mirror.

Amenities

I loved everything about my room, slept so soundly in the comfortable bed and felt at home. Additionally, how convenient to grab breakfast in the morning before going out to wander about. I’m vegan, however the inn offers cereals and packets of oatmeal that I could eat, plus bagels, English muffins, banana and blueberry muffins, yogurt, milk, coffee, tea and juices. All food items are packaged or wrapped for safety. The nibbles in the evening, which consists of crackers, cheeses and fruit, are already plated and wrapped as well.

The in room refrigerator meant I could keep plant based milk, snacks and leftovers there, which was so helpful.

I appreciated the water and ice dispenser in the lobby. I stopped by three times a day, at least, to refill my metal water container. And in the afternoons I fixed a hot tea. I brought my own tea bags, but no need. Meeting Street Inn offers an assortment of teas.

And the garden courtyard is a wonderful place to relax. I walked through it multiple times each day and spent my first evening in Charleston perched on a chair there, soaking the wonder in. The beauty of the courtyard soothes the soul…and a weary body after a full day of fun exploring.

Meeting Street Inn courtyard 3
I adored the courtyard.

Meeting Street Inn Staff

And finally, I must mention the staff.

From the moment I walked into the lobby on Sunday afternoon, until I left on Thursday morning, I felt cared for. I called the inn a couple of days before arrival, to let them know what time my flight landed in Charleston and when I expected to be there. I was greeted by name on Sunday, as I walked into the lobby. The kind man at the front desk had my keys ready for me and all the paperwork printed out for my inspection.

Everyone at Meeting Street Inn, from front desk personnel to cleaning staff, expressed kindness, courtesy and helpfulness. If I asked a question, I got an answer. When I walked by the lobby via the courtyard, I received a friendly wave and a smile through the window. When I filled up my water container I was asked how I was enjoying Charleston.

I Love Your Hair!

My first full day at the inn, I met one of the cleaning staff, up on the fourth floor veranda. Because I adopt eco-friendly practices as much as possible, I placed a “Do not disturb” sign on my door so that my room wouldn’t be cleaned. I reused my towels, made my bed each morning without a change of sheets  and gathered up my own trash. This sweet young woman told me if I needed anything, to let her know. And then she complimented me on my long silver hair.

I smiled and returned the compliment. She had the most gorgeous long dark hair, styled in micro braids. And her beautiful face just lit up when she smiled. On Tuesday morning, she quietly knocked on my door, just as I was about to leave to join a historic tour. She wanted to make sure I was okay and wondered if I needed anything. I gratefully accepted two washcloths. We laughed as we said again how much we liked each other’s hair. And as I walked with her down the veranda, toward the elevator, she told me that she was off the next two days and wouldn’t see me again. This endearing woman told me goodbye and wished me much fun during my remaining days in Charleston and safe travels when I left. She made my day.

The staff is truly exceptional here.

Meeting Street Inn courtyard street view
The welcoming view stepping through the street side door, into the courtyard.

I Highly Recommend Meeting Street Inn

The location, the rooms and amenities, that courtyard and the staff…together they create the perfect place to stay while in Charleston. I highly recommend this accommodation because where you stay has a profound effect on the rest of your trip.

When I return to Charleston, and I will return, Meeting Street Inn will once again become my cozy temporary abode. In fact, it will feel like I’m returning home when I visit.

Have you explored Charleston’s Historic District? Where did you stay? And do you have any questions about Meeting Street Inn? I’m happy to answer them or tell you more about my happy experience there. If I can’t answer your question, I know the good people at the inn will help me out.

I can’t wait to see them all again…and walk through that courtyard on my way to my room.

Courtyard

Click this LINK to learn more about Meeting Street Inn or to reserve a room.

Plus check out my post Fun Things to Do in Charleston and this helpful Charleston historical district map from Amazon.

 

Cindy Goes Beyond is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate program provides a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, all at no extra cost to you.