The 4 Best Plantations in Charleston SC

May 20, 2022
Middleton Place

Tourists are drawn to southern coastal cities for their healthful climate and not so healthful food. Also drawing us to this region is the deep, historical value of Charleston, which undoubtably includes the former working plantations. These plantations were large agricultural properties dedicated to planting cash crops like indigo, cotton, and rice, or manufacturing a product, like bricks, while utilizing the labor of slaves. Many years later, what is left of these plantations are their historical grounds and their stories, which will be our criterion as we discuss the four best plantations in Charleston SC.

While all plantations used slave labor to run their operation, there was tremendous variety in their dynamics. Some plantations featured stunning gardens, while others operated like factories. A plantation could change owners several times over the course of its lifetime spanning two hundred years or more, and with ownership change a completely new direction in production could occur.

The plantations in Charleston SC are important relics of what life was like in the early south. They are magnificent and they are harrowing, and paying one of them a visit is a quintessential component of any Charleston tour. We hope you enjoy reading about these significant societal cornerstones.

1. Middleton Place Plantation

Plantations in Charleston SC

Middleton Place Plantation is considered the oldest landscaped garden in America, and has been welcoming visitors for over two centuries. Located on the Ashley River to the northwest of Charleston, Middleton Place is located beside two other famous plantations, Magnolia Plantation and Drayton Hall.

The botanical arrangements at Middleton Place are exquisite, surpassed by no other plantation. Spend hours walking along rows of azaleas, wandering between formal and informal gardens, beside river paths beneath rows of moss-strung oaks.

The expanse of the backyard overlooking the river is awe striking: Twin butterfly lakes rest at the bottom of a vast, tiered lawn. It is a setting fit for Royalty, adorned with fountains, statues, and the occasional alligator.

While at Middleton Place you can visit the home of the distinguished Middleton family, and learn about the African Americans, both enslaved and free, who sustained the agrarian plantation economy. There are horse stables and blacksmith workshops to tour. Rice threshing is discussed at length, as Middleton Place was known to produce the valuable product. As much as there is to see and experience, the unquestioned star of the show are the gardens.

Available Tours:

Beyond the Fields — Slavery at Middleton Place.

Meet the Breeds — Historic breeds of livestock.

Garden Overview — Significance of the gardens.

Nature Walk — Explore flora and fauna.

Cost to Enter: $29

Address: 4300 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414

Phone Number: (843) 556-6020

Hours: 9-5

Website: middletonplace.org

Middleton Place

2. Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens has been a crowd-pleaser for generations, and further increased in popularity after the release of The Notebook in 2004. The central feature of the plantation is a self-guided rowboat tour through the black water swamp. It is a magical experience for couples or families, and by itself makes Cypress Gardens one of the best plantations in Charleston SC.

They call it a “swamp boat adventure,” which sounds highly unromantic. Rest assured, fans of The Notebook, it will be incredibly romantic (with moments of fear and uncertainty when you steer the boat into a cypress tree, wobble the boat while posing for a photo, or look too closely into the black water.

Pro Tip: Be the first to arrive when the park opens, and head straight to the boat tour in the back-left corner. You cannot beat the pleasing combination of still water and solitude.

The gardens were originally part of the 1750 Dean Hall rice plantation, which used the confluence of two rivers to their advantage. In 1931 Cypress Gardens was opened to the public, and it was donated to the city of Charleston in 1963. In 1989, the park was hammered by Hurricane Hugo. Tragedy struck again in 2015 when the region flooded. The park reopened four years later in 2019 after which substantial improvements were made.

Cypress Gardens has a splendid line-up of attractions. Firstly, there are miles of gorgeous hiking trails all throughout the swamp.There is a butterfly house, the largest in South Carolina. The “swamporium” is an aquarium/reptile zoo that houses all sorts of interesting species. Have you ever heard of or seen a siren? It’s the stuff of nightmares — a long fish lizard with arms and hands.

Cost to Enter: $10

Address: 3030 Cypress Gardens Rd, Moncks Corner, SC 29461

Phone Number: (843) 553-0515

Hours: 9-5

Website: cypressgardens.berkeleycountysc.gov

Plantations in Charleston SC

3. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens

Plantations in Charleston SC

Magnolia’s claim to fame is they are “Charleston’s most visited plantation.”

Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, Magnolia Plantation is the oldest public tourist site on the Carolina coast, and the oldest public gardens in America, having opened its doors to visitors in 1870.

Plantations in Charleston SC

Like Middleton Place, Magnolia Plantion has a large, multifarious property, the highlight of which is a sprawling garden setting along the river. They have a delightful zoo of peacocks, owls, deer for petting, and scores of other interesting critters.

Magnolia has been selected as one of “America’s Most Beautiful Gardens” (Travel + Leisure Magazine), and is the only garden honored with this distinction in the State of South Carolina.

Another claim Magnolia makes is to be “America’s last large-scale romantic-style garden.” Unlike most of America’s gardens, which are formal and seek to control nature, Magnolia cooperates with nature to create a tranquil, Eden-like landscape where humanity and nature are in harmony. 

The gardens at Magnolia Plantation are beautiful and there is much to see and experience.

Available Tours:

The Drayton Family House — The third to grace the property.

Guided Romantic Garden Tour — Ahem, the “world renowned” romantic gardens. Walk along the paths laid out by the Reverend Drayton and his enslaved garden superintendent Adam Bennett in the 1840s.

Slavery to Freedom Tour — No visit to Magnolia can be complete without an understanding of the families who have lived here.

The Swamp Garden — A unique tour where trees grow from the water.

Nature Boat Tour —  Boat along Magnolia’s old flooded ricefield on the Ashley River.

Nature Tram Tour — An action-packed tour of the plantation’s wetlands, lakes, forests, and marshes.

All tours are an additional $10 cost, except for the Slavery to Freedom Tour.

Plantations in Charleston SC

Cost to Enter: $29

Address: 3550 Ashley River Rd. Charleston, SC 29414

Phone Number: (843) 571-1266

Hours: 9-5

Website: www.magnoliaplantation.com

Plantations in Charleston SC

4. Boone Hall Plantation

Plantations in Charleston SC

Boone Hall Plantation was founded in 1681 when Englishman Major John Boone came to Charleston and established a lucrative plantation and gracious home on the banks of Wampacheone Creek. The family and descendants of Major Boone were influential in the history of South Carolina, the colonies and the nation.

Boone Hall continues to be a working farm to this day. During its peak production years the plantation’s cash crop was indigo (until the market went soft). At the time the production of indigo was big business and took a discouraging amount of work to produce. At another time, the plantation focused on producing bricks. It is said that many of the bricks comprising downtown Charleston were manufactured at Boone Hall.

Plantations in Charleston SC

Boone Hall is the only plantation in the Charleston area to give a live presentation of the unique culture adapted by African slaves. Gullah, short for Angola, is the culture of the African slaves in Charleston. At Boone Hall you can learn about their crafts, language, and historical culture through storytelling, song, and dance. This was the highlight of our Boone Hall experience, and beside the Old Slave Mart Museum, we learned the most about slavery from Boone Hall’s presentation of Gullah culture.

Plantations in Charleston SC
The slave quarters are small in size, but a big highlight at Boone Hall.

While not as beautiful as the others mentioned, historically speaking, Boone Hall is one of the best plantations in Charleston SC. it is an actual working farm that can be toured on a tractor. The house tour is limited in breadth, but interesting (its not the original house).

Plantations in Charleston SC
One of the saddest pieces of paper in existence.

Cost to Enter: $28

Address: 1235 Long Point Rd. Mt. Pleasant, S.C. 29464

Phone Number: 843-884-4371

Hours: 9-5, Sunday 12-5

Website: boonehallplantation.com

Plantations in Charleston SC

An Honest Conclusion

Middleton Place was our favorite because of the superior beauty and variety. The Magnolia Plantation — with its many claims — was somewhat disappointing by comparison If you’re going to see both, which you should, see Magnolia first. That said, if you’re only going to visit one plantation, see Middleton Place.

We recommend Cypress Gardens in addition to any other plantation tours, because Cypress Gardens is a different experience altogether.

A final note: The plantations do their diligence to portray slave life with honesty and respect. It is an important component of the plantation, and the slavery focused tour should not to be missed. To obtain a fuller understanding of slavery in the south, be sure to visit the Old Slave Mart Museum in downtown Charleston. It was the most comprehensive source of information we found in our Charleston travels.

Thank you for visiting our site and reading about plantations in Charleston SC! If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment. God bless!

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