Inger and Jeff Latreille
The "Notebook" Plantation
~Sunday, March 14, 2021~
It’s kind of strange when you visit a new area of the country, you feel like such an outsider, unfamiliar with the stores (what’s a Winn-Dixie?), or how the cities configure their lights, lanes, etc. , or how the people drive, the weather, wildlife, and vegetation. Everything is so completely different. But being in the southeastern part of the country for a few months now, we feel completely “at home”, as if we’ve been here for years. This aspect of the trip is very interesting to me as I really didn’t know what to expect, never having spent such a large chunk of time in any other part of the country, then our homestate of California.
One of the must-see places to check out while in Charleston are the many plantations. Not all are open to the public, but of the 5 that are, we were able to narrow down our selection…...Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens. Sadie was excited to join us as well, with the only exception of not being able to go into any buildings or vehicle tours. When we arrived, THE most beautiful part of the visit are the rows of 250-300 year old oak trees that line the entrance to the plantation (check out the unedited video). Thankfully, they’ve all endured hurricane force winds over the years due to their interlocking root system. You definitely feel welcomed after driving through this impressive entrance.
The first thing we did was plan out which tours on the plantation, we wanted to see in our 3 hour visit and work everything else around that. First on the agenda was a visit to the plantation garden, located in front of the main house.
There is something always in bloom at this butterfly shaped garden composed of 22 beds of historical flowers and plants. Next was the main house tour with the first floor being the only accessible part of the home for tourists. The current owners retain the upper floors as private space. An interesting side note is the movie, “The Notebook” was also filmed here whereby using the stately mansion as Allie’s family’s summer home. Inside, tourists can see what’s called the Loggia, an Italian word meaning “covered breezeway”, that leads you into the dining room and the parlor or what would be called today, “a man-cave”. This Colonial Revival-style mansion was built in 1936 and is believed to be the 4th house built on the site with the previous 3 being very modest in size and design. The first house was a cabin-like structure built by the Boone’s in the late 1600’s and was destroyed by fire. Boone was one of the early settlers of the Lowcountry and acquired 470 acres as part of his wife’s dowry. Their son Thomas, planted much of the impressive Avenue of Oaks we filmed as we drove in. His grave is in fact, under one of the oaks so that he can keep a watchful eye on these impressive trees. We’ve never seen an entrance quite like it. These trees and the many slave cabins visible at the front of the property was a way of exhibiting wealth.
The second house, similar in structure, was blown down in a great hurricane. The third house stood from the mid-1700’s until 1935 and about 3,000 square feet, typical of 18th century plantation houses. Six families have owned and lived at Boone Hall, with its current owners having owned the property since 1955. Now at 400 acres, it has an estimated worth of $25 million (actually that doesn’t seem that high to us).
The once 3,000 acre plantation had evolved over the years by its variety of agriculture leaving its success or failures in deciding the integrity of the estate. Much of it has been sold off as a result of some failures. The initial cash crops were indigo (a flower crushed for blue pigment) and cotton. During the winter seasons, bricks were made when fieldwork was minimal. 15,000 pecan trees were planted after the civil war, making Boone Hall one of the largest pecan plantations in North America. Sadly, after a major hurricane wiped out most of the orchards back in 1911, they were forced to grow other crops. It takes 15-18 years before you can harvest your first crop.
Our favorite exhibit of the day was ”Exploring the Gullah Culture”. This was a live presentation of the evolution and development of the Gullah Culture in the Lowcountry, performed by one woman singing songs of their enslaved people, and sharing stories of what it was like living and working in this region as a slave. It definitely causes you to reflect and realize just how awful and completely unacceptable this institution was. The presentation was so moving, it nearly brought me to tears.
The second tour was a discussion of enslaved life at Boone Hall and the architectural signifiaance of the slave cabins. What a trying, most difficult environment for these people. With the harsh environment and the many diseases that came along with it, the life expectancy was on average, 35 years. There were once, over 100 slave cabins on the property, all built of the handmade brick made on the property. The clay was harvested right on the grounds and had a pigment that was yellowish/brown, not the red brick that we see elsewhere in the east.
Our final tour at the plantation was the farm and nature tour-a tractor pulled, open air wagon ride (though canvas covered for dropping snakes-seriously 😳), through the woods and around the farm. The agriculture is amazing and for the locals a great hang out during the Fall and Christmas seasons. During the academic year, schools are able to visit and harvest pumpkins, strawberries, blueberries, what have you. It’s definitely a community highlight.
An added bonus today was witnessing the setup of a wedding being held later that evening. The old dock house, which kind of looks more like a barn, was quite a venue for the reception, with the lawn area in front of the main house as the location for the ceremony itself. At a cost of about $30,000, you too can host the wedding event of the year! And that’s just for the location. It was a stunner for sure!!
On the way home, we stopped at a hoppin’ brewery called Revelry Brewing (Jeff’s got to check off the top 5 breweries in Charleston before we leave). I know a difficult task! Definitely a thumbs up!