"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Middleton Place: Charleston, SC

We had a grand Christmas day with Rick's family. Several of our Christmas gifts this year were tickets to local historical and natural attractions, as per our request for experiences rather than things if folks wanted to give us anything. One of those gifts, from Rick's brother Bob, was a pair of tickets to Middleton Place, a plantation just north of Charleston. 

The day was sunny and breezy, but with a little bite in the air. The visitor parking lot is graciously laid out under tall pine trees, so everyone's cars stay cool in the shade, although that wasn't a concern for us. It might have been had we brought Kona along.  After checking in at the ticket booth, we had the option to ride in a carriage for a little fee, but we chose to walk.  The carriage drives through the open Greensward area, shown here...

and here, with a view of the house in the background. The unusual peek-a-boo brick fence in the foreground ran throughout the property.

Our walk toward the house, where we had a tour scheduled at 1:30, took us past the Reflecting Pool...

...and this lovely and gentile lady, who is at the moment without a mate.  (If you know a nice southern gentleman swan looking for a good home, please let Middleton know.)

To get to the museum house we passed over the ruins of the main house, which like many Southern plantation homes, was burned by Union soldiers or sympathizers after the Civil War.

The only building left intact was what is called the South Flanker or the Gentleman's Guest Wing. The tour took us through seven or eight modest rooms decorated in original furniture and artifacts of several periods of Middleton history. (No photography was allowed in the building.)

Surrounding the house are several large ponds, fields and outbuildings necessary for running a plantation of this size.  We strolled by the Spring House/Chapel... 

and peaked inside both. The lower floor is the Spring House where perishables were stored.

and the upper was the Chapel, used by the Middleton slaves.

Leading down from the main house to the river is a wide expanse of terraced lawn and two ponds, called the Butterfly Ponds, named for their shape. The Middleton website has some great ariel photos that show both of these more effectively than ground level photos can. Below you can see just a little of the terraces and one of the Butterfly Ponds to the right.

The large pond above is the Rice Mill Pond. The Rice Mill, below, is where, you guessed it... the rice was milled.

There are grassy banks lining all these ponds, and on one we saw our first alligator - a little guy about 3 feet long, warming himself in the sun. Most alligators in the area brummate during the winter, so one doesn't see much of them. 

The surrounding low lands were cultivated for rice, which required flooding several times a year, but most of those areas are now filled in as ponds. (Ponds are a lot more attractive than stumpy ragged dry fields.) The view below takes in the terraces, the Butterfly Ponds, the Mill Pond and in the distance, the flooded rice fields.

On the other side of the Museum House there are domestic and agricultural buildings, such a barns, wood shop, farriers shed, blacksmith shops, etc. This little brick house was one of several marked "Private Residence" so I don't know what it originally was. Perhaps the plantation overseer's.

A further stroll led us into the formal gardens and along the rice ponds. Everywhere there were the majestic live oaks covered with spanish moss, framing romantic views of the ponds. 

You may (or may not) have noticed that the pictures in this blog are a little different from my usual photos.  The light on the day of our visit was very harsh, it being a clear, crisp midday visit. When I viewed the photos later I was unhappy with the results. There was just too much bright, hard space around the edges of the pictures. 



So I experimented with some special effects in Picasa and ended up treating almost all of them with the shaded edging technique called "vignette" and another effect called "soften." The results may look a little Hallmarkish to some, but it felt more appropriate to the humid, historical and romantic feeling of the scenes, and the whole plantation milieu.

This statue, the "Wood Nymph" by Rudolf Schadow typifies the Romantic influence represented in the 19th century expansions of the gardens. The original pre-Revolutionary gardens are the oldest landscaped gardens in the USA.

In contrast with the formal character of much of the older gardens, my favorite details were the natural combinations of large, shiny magnolia leaves hung with spanish moss.

The visit gave us a feeling for these older plantations, that were built on slave labor, and essentially destroyed after the Civil War. The life was not as glamorous as Gone With the Wind, but was certainly larger (and much harder for some) than the life we live now.  Middleton, and the Charleston area is so deeply steeped with history compared to most the western USA, where we've been traveling for the past year and a half.  Tomorrow we go to Brookgreen Gardens, built on the remains of another plantation, up near Myrtle Beach.

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