One of the best ways to experience the history of Charleston is to tour some of its plantations. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest plantation on the Ashley River (c. 1676). It played a part in the colonial settlement, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Magnolia Plantation is also the oldest major public Garden in America, and has over 500 acres of gardens and grounds to explore. The Plantation has remained in the hands of descendants of the original Drayton family for eleven generations.
The plantation and gardens will delight all family members from the youngest to the oldest. Begin your day at Magnolia Plantation with a 12-minute overview in the orientation theater. Then take the Nature Train (1 hr.) to get an overview of the marshes, ponds, forests and wildlife that are part of the plantation.
History lovers will want to tour the Plantation House (30 min.), where expert guides will delight you with tales of the Drayton family and the part their plantation played in the history of Charleston. (Did you know why there are no closets in these old plantation homes? Because hangers weren’t invented until 1915!)
Kids will love the petting zoo with peacocks, turtles, goats, roosters, rabbits, and other animals. And the entire family will want to experience the Nature Boat Tour through the canals of the 150-acre former rice field where alligators, turtles, herons, egrets and more can be spotted.
After a great lunch at the Peacock Cafe, explore more history by visiting a “Street” of antebellum slave cabins and a large Native American ceremonial mound. Then head for the 60-acre Audubon Swamp Garden via a boardwalk nature trail. Explore this blackwater swamp with its cypress and tupelo gum trees, alligators, turtles, and waterfowl.
A couple of interesting facts I learned during my day at Magnolia Plantation–Rev. John Drayton, owner of the Plantation during the Civil War, invited bird artist John J. Audubon to visit the swamp to obtain waterfowl specimens for his paintings. Also, Rev. Drayton, who planted many of the varieties of flowers still seen at the plantation, was the first to use azaleas in his gardens–now so popular in the South.