Set off on an educational excursion and step back in time. As you cruise up the winding Ashley River, Charleston’s Lowcountry beauty is on full display. Your destination? The 300-year-old Middleton Place, home of the oldest landscaped gardens in North America.
You may have already fallen in love with Charleston’s coastal appeal. A peninsula surrounded by water, glimpses of its blue shimmer peak out behind historic mansions and cobblestone streets. But beyond historic downtown, Charleston’s living history comes alive in an even more impactful way.
Slip away for an insightful cruise with Coastal Expeditions and Master Captain Chris Crolley, one of the state’s most knowledgeable naturalists. As you pass the site of the first settlement dating back to 1670, Charles Towne Landing, you’ll be regaled with tales of those first settlers and the Kiawah and Wando tribes, who called the Lowcountry home. As you traverse up the Ashley River into more peaceful waters past notable sites like Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation, feel the ocean spray, smell the rich scent of pluff mud and be amazed as dolphins and pelicans glide past.
As Middleton Place slowly comes into view, you’ll be reminded of how life once was, when visitors arrived via the waterways 200 years ago. Established in 1741, the plantation was the primary residence of several generations of the Middleton family, many of whom played prominent roles in the colonial and antebellum history of South Carolina along with the enslaved West Africans who lived and worked tirelessly to sustain the thriving plantation. Now a National Historic Landmark, the grounds are used as a museum to tell the complete history of the early Colonial period through the Revolution, the early Republic, the Civil War era and beyond.
Surrounded by water on a tiny split of land, you’ll pull up onto the historic field dike, still preserved, as wild flowers and sea reeds blow in the distance. Birds fly over head and alligators can be seen swimming and sunning themselves on the adjacent bank. As you round the corner and traverse the grass path toward the main house, you’ll notice rolling terraces and buildings dating back to the 19th century.
Escorted by Middleton Place’s expert Historian, a carriage ride will take you past the Cypress Lake and live oaks covered in Spanish moss, as you learn more about the upkeep – then and now – of these storied grounds. Next, you’ll be guided through the house museum, which contains original furniture before going “beyond the fields” to learn about the personal histories of the enslaved people. As you explore the working stableyard and barnyard, you’ll get a glimpse of the tools, pottery and clothing made by the skilled enslaved artisans. They also tended to an array of livestock and you’ll see that numerous animals still call Middleton Place home, including horses, sheep and water buffalo.
After, get lost in thought among the allées in the formal gardens, considered to be the oldest in the country, where camellias date back to 1787 including the first four camellias brought to North America. The gardens are also home to the oldest tea olive and crepe myrtle trees in the country. Past the Butterfly Lakes, you’ll discover the most notable feature of the gardens, the Middleton Oak, a massive Southern live oak tree with a trunk diameter of 35 feet, generally thought to be amongst the oldest in the Southern United States. As you reflect on your day, discuss all that you learned as you savor a farm to table lunch with vegetables grown at the on-site organic farm before departing for downtown Charleston and your home away from home.
An essential American experience, Anchored in History is exclusively available for guests of Charleston Place, A Belmond Hotel. For more information or to book this incomparable experience, contact us at 843-722-4900.