Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Day At Majestic Drayton Hall By The Ashley River--Preservation At Its Best

We entered the old, narrow gate off of Highway 61--the main road the Drayton's used on their trips to Charleston. Shortly after, we came to the small ticket shack, presented our ticket, received instructions and assigned tour time. In the distance, straight up the narrow, dirt driveway beyond a large pond on the left and a reflecting pond on the right stood the resilient and impressive Drayton Hall flanked by weatherworn, hundreds centuries old oak trees--a survivor of two wars, phosphate mining, a devastating earthquake and a category 3 hurricane.

Originally a fruit orchard, Drayton Hall was built somewhere around 1738, thus making it over 265 years old. Considered one of the earliest and finest examples of Georgian-Palladian architecture in the United States, it is part of the most significant, undisturbed historic landscapes in America. Inside, the amazing, undisturbed wood and plaster carvings are a testimony to the artful skills of the master craftsmen of the day.

To us, the house is a surviving relic to look at in curiosity and wonderment, but to the people of the era, every nuance incorporated into its design had a very special meaning. Guests, upon arrival, could tell where the party was going to be held just by looking at the tops of the columns on the portico. Just some of the finer points highlighted by our knowledgeable tour guide, Tara, who riced up her narrative with a balanced touch of humor. One amusing fact you will learn about was the Drayton's innovative version of flushed toilets.

There are no furnishings in the home. All the surviving furniture and rugs have been stored away over the years for safe keeping. Arrangements have been made recently to display for viewing the furnishings of Drayton Hall in Williamsburg, Virginia. There is a plan to build a museum on sight to house the furnishings when the needed money becomes available.

Due to the fragile nature of the decor, some sections of the house are off limits, but can be observed within marked-off areas. In those 265 years, the interior walls have been painted only twice. At the beginning of the tour, while sitting under one of the massive oaks in full view of Drayton Hall, the guide requested that we be careful not to touch the painted walls or to inadvertently bump into them. The aged paint could crumble at the slightest touch and be lost forever--difficult for me because I like to touch everything.

Years ago, Charlotta Drayton, the last of the Drayton's to use the estate, made a decision to preserve Drayton Hall and not restore it. For the weeks she stayed at the house, the only modern conveniences she had installed were a wood-burning stove and an icebox that was later replaced by a refrigerator, powered through an extension cord plugged in at the Victorian caretaker’s cottage. She called it "camping out." In 1974, the National Trust for Historic Preservation purchased the house and 125 acres from the Drayton's with the mission to fulfill Charlotta's wishes and keep it in near-original condition.

A trip to Charleston would not be complete without a visit to majestic Drayton Hall, if you are looking for the complete southern experience. From the moment you enter the gate and drive up the narrow causeway toward the columned porticos of the front entrance, you sense a change in time, a transference of today into yesterday. And when you climb the stone stairs facing the Ashley River and step through the door, the sudden rush of air carries you back to the era of English gardens, rice fields and plantation living. You will treasure the tour and the pictures.

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