Charleston, South Carolina is one of America’s favorite vacation destinations; and for good reason. It offers pristine oceanfront beaches and an historical district that would take several days to cover on foot. The famous Market where you can watch local women as they make “sweetgrass” baskets the same way they have for hundreds of years. For the nautical lovers, there is Patriot’s Point where you can tour the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier. Or, you can visit the Confederate submarine the Hunley; the first underwater vessel to ever sink another ship. Or take a tour boat out to Fort Sumter where the first shots were fired in the American Civil War.

But the crown jewel of Charleston is located west of the Ashley River in the appropriately named suburb of West Ashley. About 10 miles from downtown Charleston, out Ashley River Road, lays the Middleton Place Plantation.

One of the oldest homesteads in America, the original property was deeded to Jacob Wayte over a hundred years before the American Revolution. The next owners were the Middleton family and this is where the Plantation drew its name. The Middleton’s were one of the richest and most influential families in the antebellum south. Henry Middleton (1717 – 1784) was President of the First Continental Congress. Arthur Middleton (1742 -1787) signed the Declaration of Independence. Arthur’s son Henry Middleton (1770-1846) was Governor of South Carolina and an Ambassador to Russia. Williams Middleton (1809 – 1883) was a signer of the Ordinance of Secession that launched the American Civil War.

The original plantation house was built in 1755 with the main house and north wing ransacked and burned by Sherman’s Army in February 1865. The southern wing of the house, which suffered less damage, was restored in 1870.

In the great Charleston earthquake of 1886, Middleton Place was dealt yet another destructive blow. The beautiful garden terraces that had taken hundreds of slaves decades to build were destroyed in a matter of minutes. After the earthquake the stately mansion and beautiful gardens fell into disrepair.

In 1916, J.J. Pringle Smith inherited Middleton Place and soon began a massive restoration of the beautiful gardens. If you’ve ever seen the Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot” you have seen the magnificence of the restoration. In 1991 the International Committee on Monuments and Sites named Middleton Place one of only six U.S. gardens of international importance.

In 1974, J.J. Pringle Smith’s heirs established the non-profit Middleton Place Foundation, which now owns the Middleton Place National Historic Landmark.

Today, Middleton Place is a thriving restoration of eighteenth and nineteenth century plantation life. If you plan to visit Charleston, make the short day trip out to West Ashley and Middleton Place. Bring your walking shoes. There are amazing gardens spread across 65 acres. For those not inclined or unable to walk the grounds, a 45 minute tour in a horse drawn carriage conducted by a knowledgeable guide can be purchased at visitor’s center.

In addition to the gardens, there is a house tour available and a plantation stable yard with displays of the tools and methods used in the daily life in the Old South. These stables are staffed by local volunteers who are willing to share insight into jobs and the daily lives of the slaves who used to live there.

Be sure to include Middleton Place in West Ashley in your Charleston vacation plans. It is a day you will not soon forget.

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