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Magnolia Plantation and Gardens – Charleston, South Carolina

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One of the oldest estates in South Carolina, Magnolia Plantation dates to 1672. It stands proudly along the Ashley River near Charleston. Though named for the grand Southern magnolia tree, the property is better known for its wide variety of camellias and azaleas. Together, along with a profusion of other vivid flora, they make Magnolia the Lowcountry’s most visited plantation.

Magnolia Plantation Long Bridge

John Diskes of Summerville, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Originally granted to Morris Matthews during the Colonial period, the property was acquired by Thomas and Ann Drayton in 1676. The Draytons, who had come to Charleston from Barbados, built a small home on their land and quickly established a successful rice plantation, cultivating what would come to be known as Carolina Gold Rice. This cash crop made Lowcountry planters extremely wealthy, the Draytons included.

Magnolia Plantation Cottage

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

While known for their sprawling beauty, Magnolia’s gardens originated from a much smaller, formal design. Thomas and Ann Drayton added the first garden, which they would later name Flowerdale, shortly after the completion of their home in the mid-1680s. However, the gardens and estate suffered much damage when the property was used as an encampment for both British and American forces during the Revolutionary War. The Drayton sons fought against the British and later became South Carolina statesmen.

Magnolia Aerial

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2010 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

In 1825 the estate was left to brothers Thomas and John Grimke, who inherited it from their grandfather, Thomas Drayton, the great-grandson of the original Drayton owners. As part of the condition of ownership, the Grimke brothers were to change their surname to Drayton, their patriarchal name. Soon afterwards, Thomas Grimke Drayton died on the property in a hunting accident, and John Grimke Drayton, who had been studying theology in England, became the sole owner.

Magnolia Plantation House

John Diskes of Summerville, 2011 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Not to be deterred from theology, Drayton continued his seminary studies in New York, where he met his future bride, Julia Ewing of Philadelphia. The two married and returned to his estate at Magnolia. A theologian at heart, Drayton found managing the expansive plantation to be physically and mentally taxing; he eventually contracted tuberculosis.

Magnolia's Red Bridge

Carol VanDyke of Herndon, VA © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Though running a plantation was burdensome for Drayton, he discovered peace in tending the gardens. He recovered from tuberculosis, even attributing his convalescence to working in the English Romantic gardens on his estate.

Magnolia Bridge View

Mark VanDyke of Herndon, VA, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

He deeply loved his wife and expanded the gardens in the 1840s. He wanted to remind her of her Philadelphia home while creating an Eden for her in Charleston. He also found satisfaction serving as rector of nearby St. Andrews Church. St. Andrews is the oldest church edifice south of Virginia in which weekly services are still held.

Magnolia Gardens Cypress Swamp

William Manning of Cincinnati, OH © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Not only did the Reverend Drayton survive his illness, but the plantation itself withstood disaster. The original home was destroyed by an accidental fire, while the second was burned during the Civil War, most likely by Union troops.

Live Oaks at Magnolia Plantation

Dave Allen of Hendersonville, NC, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Following the Civil War, much of the estate was sold, reducing its acreage from 1,172 to 390. It was also during this post-bellum period that the gardens were first opened to the public. In 1870, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens began receiving visitors as a means to help preserve and restore the historic property to which the Reverend Drayton had dedicated so much of his life.

Magnolia Entrance

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2010 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Among the Reverend Drayton’s many legacies are azaleas; he is responsible for introducing the flowering shrub to the United States. Though neighboring Middleton Place is the first garden in the country to grow camellias, brought to the estate in 1786 by French botanist Andre Michaux, Drayton’s camellia gardens were also celebrated by horticulturalists as pioneering. He cultivated many hybrids of camellia on the grounds of Magnolia.

Magnolia Gazebo

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The current home, which originally served as the summer cottage for the Reverend Drayton, was built in nearby Summerville prior to the Revolutionary War. Reverend Drayton had the cottage disassembled and floated down the Ashley River to the plantation, where he then had it rebuilt at the original location in 1873. The bones of this home predate the Revolutionary War, but it has undergone several modifications since being reassembled.

Little White Bridge Magnolia Platation

Dave Allen of Hendersonville, NC, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The slave cabins at Magnolia were built around 1850 and remained in use by freedmen after Emancipation. Rice was an exceptionally labor-intensive crop; records show that in 1850 most rice plantations were using around 225 slaves. This number stands in glaring contrast to cotton plantations, which utilized an average of 25 slaves. Slaves of all ages were used to harvest the rice; prepare the rice for shipping through flailing, winnowing, and pounding; and prepare the fields for the next growing season. The grueling work had little to no downtime and exposed slaves to extreme heat and malaria.

Magnolia Gardener's Home

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2010 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The Gardener’s Home, seen above, was built years after Emancipation. It is one of several cabins on the Magnolia property which housed people who worked on the property – slaves prior to the Civil War and freedmen afterwards.

Magnolia Plantation Walking Path

Thia Beniash of Ladson, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The cabins vary in structure, with slave cabins having two entrances – essentially built as two-room duplexes – designed to house a family of six or more occupying each side. This Gardener’s Home, which features a single entrance, was constructed around 1900. Its last occupant was a man named Allen Haynes, a groundskeeper who lived here until 1999.

Magnolia on the Ashley

Barry Peters of Greer, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The Reverend John Grimke Drayton died in 1890, leaving Magnolia to his daughter, Julia Drayton Hastie. The estate continues to be owned by direct descendants of the Draytons and is managed by a Board of Directors, which includes Drayton/Hastie family members.

Drayton Family Tomb

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Among the many things to experience at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens are the Barbados Tropical Garden, an indoor garden of tropical plants; the shrub maze, a replica of England’s famous Hampton Court maze; and the petting zoo, which includes injured and orphaned animals as well as animals typical to a rice plantation.

Oak on the Ashley River

Larry Gleason of Aiken © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Visitors can also tour the main house as well as the gift shop located within the historic home, walk the expansive rice field (pictured below), and grab a bite at the lunch counter. For those who prefer guided tours, the boat tour and the From Slavery to Freedom Tour are not to be missed, and a bird walk is offered each Sunday morning at 8:30.

Magnolia Rice Field

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

One does not have to enter the maze, however, to get lost in the beauty of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Wander the paths along the banks of the river, stroll the historic bridges, and explore the grounds that wind through one of the most scenic spots in America.

White Bridge at Magnolia Gardens

Jack Nevitt of Woodbridge, VA, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Magnolia Gardens Bamboo

William Thursby of Ware Shoals, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Alligator Crossing Magnolia Plantation

English Purcell of Charleston, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Gazebo at Magnolia Gardens

Melissa Van Camp of Charleston, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

St. Francis statue at Magnolia Gardens

Melissa Van Camp of Charleston, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Springtime scene Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Melissa Van Camp of Charleston, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Paintings of Magnolia Plantation

Columbia artist Pete Holland says about his painting, seen below: “While visiting Magnolia Gardens with a group of artist friends, I noticed this view of the Drayton Family home through the large live oak tree and wanted to paint it.”

Magnolia Painting

Pete Holland of Columbia, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation

Originally constructed as a basin to store freshwater for flooding the rice fields, the Audubon Swamp Garden occupies roughly 60 acres of the plantation. Today bald cypress and tupelo trees stand guard in the blackwater, providing homes for an abundance of waterfowl and wildlife.

Egret in Flight

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Egrets, herons, wood storks, and anhingas build nests and raise their young in the trees’ branches, as do native mammals like racoons. Otters, turtles, snakes, and alligators abound, and one can even spot a bald eagle now and then. The swamp is traversed via wooden boardwalks and bridges, allowing vistas not typically available to people.

Audubon Swamp Garden

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Please note that entrance to the Audubon Swamp Garden is not included in admission and requires an additional fee. Though the garden is named in honor of ornithologist and painter John James Audubon, the swamp is not connected to the National Audubon Society. Audubon visited Magnolia prior to the Civil War and is reported to have collected several specimens here. A self-guided tour will take between 45 minutes and an hour; beware that wildlife will not be as readily obvious during the winter months.

Audubon Swamp Alligator

English Purcell of Charleston, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Magnolia Gardens

Guenter Weber of Summerville, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Magnolia Gardens

Guenter Weber of Summerville, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Magnolia Gardens

Guenter Weber of Summerville, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Magnolia Gardens

Guenter Weber of Summerville, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Great Blue Herons

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Snowy Egret Magnolia

B.G. Flanders of Johns Island, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Egret Family at Audubon Swamp

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Solitary Blue Heron

Vanessa Kauffmann of Charleston, 2015 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Magnolia Gardens Audubon Swamp Egret

Norma Armstrong of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is listed in the National Register:

(Magnolia-on-the-Ashley) Magnolia Gardens, which consists of 390 of the original 1,872 acres, has a long heritage that dates back as far as 1672 when Morris Mathews, one of the first settlers to arrive in the province, received a warrant for 750 acres of land which eventually became part of the Drayton estate and Magnolia Gardens. The gardens were created by the Reverend John G. Drayton during the mid-nineteenth century and is the only private wild fowl sanctuary in the Charleston County area. It is also significant that Rev. Drayton planted many of the first camellias in South Carolina and through hybridization developed many new varieties. The property includes seven wooden slave cabins, the Drayton vault, the plantation house, in addition to the gardens and nursery. Magnolia Gardens has had three plantation homes built on its grounds since its beginning. Both the original and second home were destroyed by fire. The present home, built in 1873, is a one-and-a-half story stucco construction which includes a raised basement and tower. High steps lead to a piazza which is supported by Doric columns and enclosed with a balustrade. A two story, stucco tower is set in a gable roof which also features gabled dormers.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens Info

Address: 3550 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414
GPS Coordinates: 32.870800,-80.089926

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens Map

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens – Add Info and More Photos

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6 Comments about Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

LindaNo Gravatar says:
March 15th, 2016 at 9:10 am

To Ann Bonnett,
I am not sure if you will read this…I am not on Facebook. Are you sure your great, great grandfather is not Thomas Bennett?? The Thomas Bennett House in Charleston.

Loretta FreedlundNo Gravatar says:
March 12th, 2016 at 8:57 pm

When we were on a tour of the house a couple of days ago, the guide, Larry, mentioned a book about abolitionist called something with “Angel”? Could you please tell me the name of the book? Thank you

Ann Bonnett says:
January 23rd, 2016 at 11:26 pm

My great great grandfather had a plantation in sc at one time ,but I don't know how to locate it,any ideas.thomas bonnett

alpha collettNo Gravatar says:
May 15th, 2015 at 11:22 am

This is the most beautiful place I have seen yet. Gorgeous.

Julia DircksNo Gravatar says:
May 1st, 2015 at 1:35 pm

I grew up in Charleston, but I never knew so much about the fascinating history of this plantation. Thank you for sharing its story, and thank you to the photographers for sharing their truly stunning photos with us.

Chanel St ClairNo Gravatar says:
November 6th, 2010 at 11:35 am

I cannot wait to come for another visit to be able to see the gardens.

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