Last New Year’s we were in Hilton Head, SC, and had an amazing time. After the new year celebration was over, we headed to Charleston to visit one of my high school friends. We had been to South Carolina before to see the state capitol, but had never really explored the area. I have to say, it is absolutely gorgeous. Our hosts showed us a great time and were wonderful tour guides. J One of the places that they took us was to see the Middleton Place Plantation. We had been to Monticello in Virginia before, so I had a small idea of what to expect, but this place was way more than I was expecting.
First of all, it is HUGE. It is approximately 110 acres! They have 65 acres of lush gardens, a 900-year-old oak tree, lakes, rice fields, stables, and our course the houses for the owners and the slave quarters. There is also the Inn at Middleton Place for those who want to explore more. They even have gift shops if you are interested.
Before I share more about our visit, I thought I would share a little about the Middleton family and what makes this place so unique among other plantations. John Williams began building Middleton Place in the late 1730s, Eventually Williams son-in-law, Henry Middleton took over the project and completed the house’s main section, its north and south flankers, and began early work on the elaborate gardens.
Much later, Middleton’s grandson and great-grandsons, Henry Middleton and Willian Middleton oversaw the transition of Middleton’s Place to a more active rice plantation. Sadly toward the end of the civil war in 1865, U.S. Civil War union soldiers burned most of the house sparing only the south wing, some walls of the north wing, and the main house.
In 1916, Middleton descendant John Julius Pringle Smith and his wife Heningham began the slow process of rebuilding the plantation’s gardens. They also had an architect design a complex of barns, stables, work buildings, and cottages. In the late 1970’s Middleton Place was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Middleton descendants transferred ownership to the non-profit Middleton Place Foundation which maintains the site to this date. On a historical note, the Foundation opened Middleton Place to the public on February 22, 1975, exactly 110 years to the day after all three parts of the mouse were burned.
Today, guided tours of the House Museum introduce visitors to the men, women, and children who made Middle Place their home for over three centuries. Their stories are told through a collection of original portraits, furniture, silver, china, documents, and many other period objects. One of the main things I wanted to see was the facsimile copy of the Declaration of Independence. A note of history, Arthur Middleton, son of Henry Middleton and Mary Baker Williams, was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence. I thought that was so cool.
As we started in the garden I will share some info about the garden. The first thing I noticed, and you can’t miss it even in the winter, is the Spanish moss that is everywhere. The other thing we saw a lot was what is called Camellia Japonica. While there were a few flowers here and there, it was winter so it wasn’t as beautiful as I imagine it is in the spring.
What was impressive was the huge reflecting pool on the west side of the gardens. It is apparently 800 feet by 100 feet. It was so beautiful and we had to stop on our way to take a bunch of pictures, including some of our friends, lol. While we had a great time exploring, the gardens we HUGE and we had a timed ticket for the house tour. We did get “lost” for a little while in the gardens, which was a little fun.
We made it to the house tour on time and had to place all our stuff in a locked locker, including our cameras. 🙁 No photos. 🙁 Anyway, we made our way into the two-story Middle Place House. The first floor included the Main Room, Music Room, Front Hall, and Dining Room. The main room contains portraits of the four generations of Middleton Place stewards from 1741-1883. We also saw some family silver pieces made in England between 1765 and 1771 in this room. It is in a cabinet next to a beautiful fireplace, which also contained some silver pieces on top. The front room was very informative and historical. In it we saw watercolors done by John Izard Middleton who is often considered the first American classical archaeologist.
There is also a case with a gold tiara mostly liked worn by Mary Helen Middleton, as well as a pass signed by President Lincoln allowing a Middleton daughter-in-law safe passage through Union lines. How scary. There are also artifacts reflecting the lives of plantation mistresses and their slaves. These include cookbooks, a silver soup tureen, a Charleston salve badge purchased to allow an enslaved servant to work for hire, and a library button marked with the family crest. It is a very interesting room. In the dining room, they display an early 19th-century table set with silver epergne and candlesticks both made in London in 1771 and engraved with the Middleton coat of arms.
We eventually made our way up to the second floor which included the Summer Bedroom, the Child’s Room, the Winter Bedroom, and the Library. The summer bedroom depicts their belief of how the bedroom looked when it was the residence of both Henry and Arthur Middleton. The rice bed is draped in mosquito netting and pushed to the center of the room to catch the river breeze. No air conditioning, duh, lol. The Child’s Room was added in 1870 restoration and contains a rosewood dressing and sewing table inlaid with mother of pearl marquetry.
On a side note, outside of this room, there are leather-covered metal buckets to hold sand for extinguishing fires. I don’t know why, but this made the experience even sadder for me for some reason. Eventually we made our way to the Winter Bedroom. In this room, there is also a rice bed with a leather trunk at its foot bearing the signature of Governor Henry Middleton. The Library is very interesting. It contains a photograph of the main house and north flanker after 1865 burning by Union troops but before the great earthquake of 1886. It is amazing it, as well as any documentation, made it through both incidents and we are able to see it today.
After we finished touring this amazing house, we explored more of the area including the stableyards. Apparently the stables are home to cattle, cashmere goats, water buffalo, Gulf Coast Sheep, Belgian Horses, and hogs. Sadly we didn’t get to see many animals but we did see horses, goats, and sheep.
Very close to the stableyards is Eliza’s House. It is a reconstruction era African American freedman’s dwelling containing a permanent exhibit on slavery. It’s titled Beyond the Fields and is based on extensive research over the course of a decade. The exhibit documents the story of slavery in South Carolina and at Middle Place. It is named Eliza House as she, Eliza Leach, was its last resident. As stated, the building is now a museum and was opened in 1991. It is very informative and worth checking out if you are on the grounds.
It was a very eye-opening experience and one they are very happy to share. I really liked the way the tour guide just explained how it was during those times. No excuses, no apologies, just straight-up facts. No need to downplay or sugarcoat it, and I think that made it more real and authentic. I went through many emotions while on the tour, but so glad we were able to visit.
Here is a link to their website with more info. Even if you don’t have time for the house tour, make sure to check out the grounds if you are in the area. It is so amazing and beautiful. I can see why many people choose Middleton Place for an unforgettable wedding venue. If you have been to Middleton Place Plantation, please drop a line and share your visit. I would love to hear from you. Happy travels.
Middleton Place Visitor Information
4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC
843-556-6020 or 800-782-3608
Daily 9 AM – 5 PM
Christmas Eve (December 24), 9:00 am – 1:00 pm (House Museum and Restaurant closed)
Christmas Day (December 25), Closed
Adults: (14 and up) $29
Youth (6-13) $10
Child (Under 5) Free
Student (with ID) $15
Military (with ID) $24
Tour Add-Ons – Prices in Addition to General Admission Unless Specified
House Museum Tour $15
Combination Package $49. The package includes Middleton Place admission, House Museum Tour, and Edmondston-Alston House.
Carriage Tour $18.
Take a 35-45 minute ride through the less-traveled areas of the plantation in an open air carriage led by an expert guide and driver. Weather permitting.
Spend the Day Tour $55
This package includes Middleton Place general admission, House Museum Tour, and a 35-45 minute ride through the less-traveled areas of the plantation in an open-air carriage led by an expert guide and driver. Weather permitting.
From Downtown Charleston:
From downtown Charleston, take U.S. Highway 17 South across the Ashley River Bridge and stay in the right lane. Take the Highway 61 North exit just after the bridge. Follow Highway 61 North (Ashley River Road) for approximately 14 miles.
From I-95 traveling South:
From Interstate 95 South, take the Charleston exit onto I-26 and follow for approximately 30 miles toward Charleston. Exit at Summerville (U.S. Highway 17A). Follow Highway 17A through Summerville for approximately 4 miles to Carolina Avenue (five corners intersection). Turn left onto Carolina Avenue (Highway 165). Proceed on Highway 165 and veer right onto Bacon’s Bridge Road. Remain on Bacon’s Bridge Road for approximately 5 miles. Turn left onto Highway 61 South and proceed for about 5 miles.
From I-95 traveling North:
From Interstate 95 North, take the Charleston (U.S. Highway 17) exit. Follow Highway 17 for approximately 60 miles. Turn left onto Main Road and travel one block to Bees Ferry Road. Then turn right and follow Bees Ferry Road until it dead ends. Turn left onto Highway 61 North and proceed for about 6 miles.
Parking is free at Middleton Place for both daily and special event visitors. Spaces for buses and oversized vehicles are available behind the Garden Market and Nursery. Handicapped parking is available near the Visitor Center in the regular visitor parking lot (valid tag required). Please remember to lock your vehicle. Middleton Place is not responsible for damage or loss incurred in the visitor parking area. Parking overnight is prohibited.
Other notes of importance:
Allow Enough Time
We recommend that you plan to spend a minimum of two hours touring the Gardens, House Museum, and Plantation Stableyards. There is so much to see and do that you can easily spend the entire day. The Meet the Breeds Tour averages 30 minutes, the guided Garden Overview, House Museum Tour, and Carriage Tour 45 minutes, and “Beyond the Fields” Walking Tour 60 minutes.
What to Wear
We recommend walking shoes and comfortable clothing. Middleton Place is primarily an outdoor experience, so prepare accordingly for various weather conditions. While rarely needed, visitors to any outdoor venue in the Low Country are also well-advised to carry insect repellent.
Middleton Place offers handicapped parking and restrooms adjacent to visitor parking. The Gardens are generally accessible by wheelchair. Special maps outlining the best wheelchair routes are available at the Visitor Center. Please note that garden paths on this historic property can be uneven, as they are made of dirt and gravel. Walking on grassy areas is permitted and may be useful for those with difficulty navigating steps. The House Museum is accessible for most visitors but visiting the second floor requires an ability to climb a full flight of stairs. We recommend that you speak with a representative at the Visitor Center for personalized advice to make the most of your visit.
Due to free-roaming livestock and natural predators, pets are not allowed at Middleton Place. Highly trained service animals are permitted throughout the property; however, we can only accommodate emotional support animals and pets in the main visitor parking lot. Please do not leave your pet in your parked vehicle if weather conditions will result in dangerously high interior temperatures.
Middleton Place encourages photography (except in the House Museum), as well as drawings and paintings for personal enjoyment. However, commercial reproductions are prohibited without prior permission. Applications may be obtained in the Business Office during weekday business hours.
Flying drones at Middleton Place is not permitted except under special circumstances. Such exceptions require advance notice, written permission and supervision by a Middleton Place representative. A fee may be charged and drone pilots must be certified by the FAA. Call 843-556-6020 for details.
Wildlife and Animals
Middleton Place is a natural habitat for alligators, snakes, and other wildlife. Please keep a safe distance. Please do not attempt to pet or feed the cows, sheep, and other Stableyard animals or wildlife.
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