By Amy Kovach, Girl Camper Guide, South Carolina, December 23, 2022
In 1676, Thomas and Ann Drayton purchased a 2,000 acre tract of land along the Ashley River, near what is currently Charleston, South Carolina. The Drayton family lived primarily in the burgeoning city, growing their wealth and becoming a dominant force in the city and state’s economic and political engine. The historic property, known today as Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, is privately owned by the 13th generation of the Drayton family.
The Drayton land was at one time dominated by the cultivation of rice fields and enslaved approximately 150 men, women and children. Rice cultivation was a harsh and labor-intensive endeavor. While water was plentiful in the swampy Lowcountry, the work was backbreaking and often dangerous as venomous snakes, hungry alligators, and disease carrying mosquitos preyed on people.
Of the original 2,000 acres, about 500 acres remain intact today. Following the conclusion of the Civil War, the plantation slave labor source was not available, the Confederate economy had collapsed, the Union Army burned down the house, and the Drayton descendants began selling land to offset their losses. In 1870, John Drayton, desperately needing a source of income and not wanting to sell more of the property to speculators, opened the property to the public. Charging $1.25 per person (about $29 in today’s dollars), tourists from Charleston could take a steamboat from Charleston Harbor up the Ashley River (following the tides), tour the gardens, have lunch, and take the steamboat back to Charleston. This brilliant ploy to boost the Drayton bank accounts worked! Magnolia Gardens became the first publicly toured gardens in America and today is the one of the last large scale romantic-style gardens remaining with origins of more than 350 years.
The best time to visit is in the spring during the peak blooming season, March through May. For a quieter, more peaceful visit, try the off-season of December through February. While the weather is less hot and humid, you’ll have time to enjoy the beauty of the paths without the pressing crowds.
General admission for adults is $29 (discounts are available for seniors, military, and children). Included in general admission is entrance to all of the grounds, conservatory, nature center, and a complimentary tour of the four remaining slave cabins (From Slavery to Freedom). A nature train (+$10) takes visitors on a tour of the property that includes a Native American mound, former rice fields, and preserved wetlands. A tour of the historic house (+$15) allows visitors to glimpse inside the Drayton family dwelling. Finally, the Audubon Swamp (+$10) is a self-guided 1.5-mile boardwalk that is full of wildlife, birds, and alligators. During the peak season, a pontoon boat tour (+$10) takes visitors into the swamp and rice fields. Dogs on leashes are welcome at Magnolia but may not go on tours and may not disturb wildlife.
Great camping options near Magnolia Plantation and Gardens include:
- The Campground at James Island County Park (https://ccprc.com/1729/Camping-Lodging)
- Oak Plantation Camp Ground https://oakplantationcampground.com/index.html)
- Lake Aire RV Park Campground (www.lakeairerv.com)
- KOA Charleston (https://koa.com/campgrounds/charleston)
- KOA Mount Pleasant/Charleston (https://koa.com/campgrounds/mount-pleasant-charleston/).
Article written by and photos taken by Amy Kovach | Girl Camper Guide South Carolina
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