The day was shaping up to be a hot one. I started it off at the pool. Even at that early time of the day the skies were looking threatening, but as of yet no rain. I bumped into a friend and got into a conversation about Middleton Place and the fireworks. I expressed my concern about the potential for storms and what that could mean for the days planned events. A heavy downpour at the wrong time could alter expectations.
She looked at the weather radar on her IPhone and it was looking pretty ominous. Oranges and reds were surrounding the Lowcountry. Even as we spoke, dark clouds were building in the distance, but time and the prevailing winds would prove favorable for the moment. Even after leaving the pool, I kept a weary eye on any potential development. As the day progressed through the afternoon hours the skies brightened and the dark clouds dispersed.
We arrived at Middleton Place around 7 pm and parked the truck. On the short walk through the tall trees to the ticket table and will call, I could here the music of a live band. One of the days scheduled bands were entertaining the late afternoon crowd scattered around the historic Middleton Place grounds. Our first objective was to check out the menu and purchase food tickets. A three piece chicken dinner with a biscuit was available and cost $6. For refreshments, we chose wine for $6 and a soda for $2. A fruit salad for $2 was an after thought. Picnic tables were available, but all were occupied. So, we sat in the indoor dinning area, which was thankfully air-conditioned.
So far pretty much a seemingly ordinary experience, but this was Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark. Nothing ordinary about that fact. Notably, its owners played an important role in American history. The main family residence was constructed in 1705. It no longer exists. Burned by Union troops in 1865 and destroyed by the earthquake of 1886, it is now just a pile of bricks overlooking the Ashley River. The remaining building that survived, called South Flankers, was restored and now serves as the House Museum. Middleton Place has been honored with the designation of being America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a rejuvenated 18th and 19th-century plantation stableyards that offers carriage tours to remote parts of the plantation not seen by visitors. It has a restaurant on the grounds as well as an inn.
After finishing off the food, we headed out onto the grounds to take in the extraordinary history. Gnarled and sprawling oak trees, as old as the plantation, stood like guardians in the retreating sun. The Belgian draft horses used on the plantation could still be viewed, so a few moments were spent observing these magnificent animals and peppering one of the stable workers with questions. Peacocks strutted around the stable fencing and a bird called a guinea squawked frantically when we got too close.
With the time nearing 8:30 pm, I headed towards the main stage to photograph the band making final preparations. A boisterous party crowd scattered around on blankets and fold-up chairs waited patiently for the Red Stick Ramblers to kick-off the festival finale and highly anticipated closing fireworks. Behind the stage, the original house's ruins laid seemingly frozen in time. Beyond the terraced landscape, the old Ashley River wound through the marshy landscape, once the watery highway that transported plantation residents into Charleston on the outgoing high tides and back again on incoming high tides.
The Louisiana based band began and a hearty bunch of festival goers gathered in a roped off area in front of the stage to dance. They cranked out their Cajun, country, stringband and swing style music. It was interesting music, not what I generally listen too, and if you do not know French, sometimes quite foreign. Still, the catchy beat lured you in and the desire to dance was irresistible.
In conclusion, the fireworks were spectacular. The crowd cheered with every explosion as the dazzling array of colors lighted the darkened skies. It was a great final tribute to the Spoleto Festival.
For a complete list of events at the plantation, go to Middleton Place Events.