A Window Into The Past
Historic Boone Hall Plantation is a Southern Paradise
Driving down the lane to Boone Hall just outside Charleston, S.C., you can’t help but think you’ve been transported to a mystical, magical Garden of Eden … Southern style.
Spanish moss drapes the grand live oak trees, contrasting vividly with the brightly-colored azaleas that bloom all along the edge of the lane. You don’t need to be a history buff to be enthralled by the breathtaking scenery and magnificent displays of Mother Nature here — but for those who do love American history, Boone Hall has plenty to share.
The History of Bonne Hall Plantation
The earliest known reference to the Boone Hall property is a land grant of 470 acres in 1681 from owner Theophilus Patey to his daughter Elizabeth and her new husband Major John Boone as a wedding gift.
John Boone was one of the first English settlers to arrive in the colony of South Carolina. When he died, the estate was divided among his wife and five children. His eldest son, Thomas, made Boone Hall his home until it later passed to another descendant known as John Boone.
Interestingly, both the original John Boone and his wife were ancestors of Founding Fathers Edward and John Rutledge.
Avenue of Oaks
The Avenue of Oaks that greets visitors is one the most picturesque spots on the plantation—and really, just about anywhere I’ve ever visited. The stunning entrance road is made up of 90 live oak trees planted in 1743 by Major Boone’s son, who arranged them in two evenly spaced rows. It took two centuries for the massive, moss-draped branches to meet overhead and create the stunning living canopy that visitors drive through on their way to the house today.
Over its almost 350 years as a working plantation, Boone Hall has successfully grown indigo, cotton, peaches, pecans, and several other crops. The estate still produces strawberries, tomatoes and pumpkins, making it one America’s oldest working plantations.
And while most people think of cotton and indigo crops as the major commodities of the South, Boone Hall became known for its thriving brick business after being purchased by brothers Henry and John Horlbeck in 1817. The Horlbeck sons went on to plant groves of pecan trees during their ownership of the property in the 1800s, and Boone Hall became the leading U.S. pecan supplier by the end of the nineteenth century.
Many of the structures in downtown Charleston were built from the bricks produced at Boone Hall, as were the slave cabins on the plantation, nine of which still survive today.
In the mid-19th century, as many as 85 slaves lived on the plantation and produced four million bricks per year. Today the cabins feature a Black History in America Exhibit which talks about different stages in the lives and struggles of Black Americans.
From the Avenue of Oaks, visitors will see the house sitting behind brick gateposts topped with ball finals. Formal wrought iron gates and a brick serpentine wall enclose the front courtyard of the house.
Open lawns at each side of the entry drive are flanked by formal gardens. Brick-paved paths meander among large live oaks, and if you’re visiting in the Spring, you’ll see plenty of camellias, azaleas and Noisette roses.
It’s not hard to imagine visitors arriving to the house in the 19th century by carriage, driving through the tunnel of oaks and past the slave quarters to the left of the road.
Behind the elaborate iron gates stands a beautiful, two-storied Colonial-Revival mansion, but it’s not like the antebellum homes you might imagine from Gone with the Wind.
The house has a symmetrical façade, side-gabled roof, and a centered-entrance, accentuated by 4 columns, but it wasn’t built until 1936, by Canadian ambassador Thomas Stone.
The first floor, which is open to tours, showcases what a house would have looked like in the 18th century.
The home that stood on the site of the current one was likely similar to a typical Lowcountry farmhouse instead of the grand mansion seen today. The house was demolished by Ambassador Stone, who mentions in his diary that demolition was started on Thursday October 17, 1935.
In 1955, the current owners (the McRaes) bought the house, opening it up to the public in 1957.
Since Boone Hall Plantation was developed in several stages from the late seventeenth century through mid-twentieth century, it’s remarkable to be able to wander through the different buildings that represent varied periods of history.
The property retains a slave street, smokehouse, oak allee, and pecan groves that date from the occupancy of the Boones and Horlbecks; an antebellum cotton ginhouse from the 1850s; and a brick manor house (circa 1936) with formal garden; two circa 1935 frame residences; an office/commissary; and a barn complex.
The related structures and landscape are significant for their association with the trend of wealthy northerners acquiring former plantations in the South and converting them for new agricultural enterprises or second homes for winter recreation.
The slave street, one of the few surviving such streets in South Carolina, is a good example of the nature of slave housing in the antebellum plantations of the state, and the oak allee is a significant work of antebellum landscape architecture.
In addition to the house tour and the slave cabins, visitors can also take a 40-minute ride around the property in an open-air coach, and then take a self-guided garden tour that includes beautiful roses that are more than 100 years old.
Perfect For Movies
Several blockbuster movies and TV series have been filmed at Boone Hall Plantation including The Notebook in 2004, Scarlett in 1994, Queen in 1993, and North & South: Books 1 & 2 in 1985 and 1986.
Boone Hall is said to have been the inspiration that inspired the entrance to Ashley Wilke’s Twelve Oak plantation in “Gone with the Wind.”
If You Go
· Where: Boone Hall Plantation, Hwy 17 in Mount Pleasant, SC
· Hours: Regular business hours
· Admission: $24 per adult
· Admission includes: 30-minute house tour; 40-minute narrated plantation coach tour; entry into the slave cabins, gardens, and butterfly pavilion; and performances at the Gullah Theater.