Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Boone Hall Plantation And The Taste Of Charleston 2016--The Old, The New, And A Ghost Story Too

Lining both sides of the earthen driveway, the procession of evenly spaced ancient oaks stretched for a distance of three quarters of a mile. Their broad branches extended skyward like outstretched welcoming arms intertwining into a embracing green canopy high above where light beams from the sun cut through the open areas of the tree's thick leaf clusters. A charming and unforgettable southern reception for visitors entering the resplendent Boone Hall Plantation. NBC Daytime television called it "a must see stop on any trip to Charleston, S.C."

There is no official documentation pointing to when the famous trees were planted. Boone Hall's web page states the son of Major John Boone planted the live oak trees in 1743. Other research seems to indicate that the Horlbeck’s planted the avenue a hundred years later in 1843. There is only one sure way to settle the controversy. It would involve cutting down one of the trees to count its rings, but such an action would constitute desecrating a symbol of long standing southern heritage and spoiling an idyllic narrative.

Boone Hall’s beginnings go way back in American antiquity. Theophilus Patey was granted 470 acres on Wampacheeoone Creek (Boone Hall Creek) in 1681, who at some point in time gave 400 acres of the land to his daughter, Elizabeth Patey, and John Boone as a wedding gift. It is not known when John Boone built a house on the property, but at his death, he left third of his estate to his wife and the rest to his children, Thomas, Theophilus, Susanna, Sarah, and Mary.

Thomas, at some point in time before 1749, took over Boone Hall. He is credited with planting the two evenly spaced rows of live oaks in 1743 according to the narrative of Boone Hall. If true, the Avenue of Oaks is at least 273 years old. In 1749, at his death, he willed the plantation to his son, John Boone. He left the plantation to his nephew, whose name was also John, and in turn, in 1792, John the nephew left it to his wife Sarah Gibbes Boone and his children, Thomas, Susan, and Maria.

The working plantation left the Boone family when Sarah Gibbes Boone sold it to Thomas A. Vardell for $12,000 in 1811. By then, it had expanded to 1,452 acres and included buildings on the property. It changed hands a couple more times before Henry and John Horlbeck took possession of the plantation, which now included a brickyard. The other component of the controversy, the Horlbeck family is credited with planting the Avenue of Oaks in 1843, according to the opposing research. The brickyard was producing 4,000,000 bricks per year and at some point during their ownership, pecan trees were planted on the property. By the late 1800s Boone Hall was one of the leading producers of pecans in the United States.

In 1935, Thomas Archibald Stone and his wife, Alexandra, purchased Boone Hall Plantation from John S. Horlbeck consisting of 4,039.5 acres. The Stone's demolished the 1790 wooden house. It was a two-story frame house with a one-story front porch. In its place, they built the much grander Colonial Revival-style house that stands there today and presently owned by the McRae family. Along with the house there are nine of the original slave cabins which date back to 1790-1810, a smokehouse dating from 1750, and a Cotton Gin house dating around 1853.

Boone Hall is one of America's oldest working, living plantations producing strawberries, tomatoes, and pumpkins, as well as many other fruits and vegetables. It also is host to some of Charleston's most popular festivals held throughout the year: Lowcountry Oyster Festival, Lowcountry Strawberry Festival, Scottish Games and Highland Gathering, and of course, the Taste of Charleston, which this year takes place on Sunday, Sept.25, 2016.

The Taste of Charleston is a 3-day event showcasing taste-tempting delights served by 40 of the Lowcountry’s favorite casual and fine dining restaurants. Highlights of the Main Event include a specialty and imported beer tasting tent, live music, the legendary "Waiters’ Race" and the "Kid's Kitchen Sideshow." Food and drink tickets are sold separately.

There is a famous story associated with the long history of Boone Hall. It is called "The Thirteenth Step." Its telling raises the specter of another controversy. This one having to do with the house. Not the present house because the story takes place in the 1700's and the present house was built in 1935. The only other house mentioned in known historical records of the plantation is the house that was demolished to make way for the present house. This is where the controversy arises. This house was only a two-story house with a one-story front porch. Looking at the photo taken of the house, it only has a short flight of stairs leading onto the porch. In the story, there is a reference to a thirteenth step, the premise on which the story is based. The thirteenth step of what?

Boone Hall.PNG
Photo by Leonard Hayes 1899
Ammie Jenkins is the main character of this story that takes place in the 1700's. It is not stated whether Ammie was born on the plantation. It only states she grew up on the plantation. During those years, she formed a friendship with an Indian boy named Concha, and the two of them spent time together doing the things friends do. She grew to be a beautiful young lady. On her 18th birthday, Concha surprised her with a stunning revelation. He told her he loved her and wanted to be with her. Ammie did not share the same feelings and brushed him off. Concha was broken hearted.

Due to her beauty, she caught the eye of other suitors and in short time, fell in love with one them. In time, the admirer proposed to her and she accepted. Concha heard of the proposal and disappeared. On the night before her wedding, she was standing in her upstairs bedroom before an open window when an arrow struck her in the chest from the outside.

Despite being fatally wounded and with every bit of strength she could muster, she managed to make her way downstairs to the front door where her fiancĂ© was waiting for her. She collapsed into his arms and died, right there on the porch's 13th step. There was no doubt in people’s minds as to who was responsible for firing the arrow that ended young Ammie’s life and the reason. Concha was never seen or found.

As the story became legend, it related how the blood stain left on the 13th step could not be removed, no matter how much scrubbing was attempted to remove it. As time passed, the blood stain on the 13th step was eventually removed, but people since have claimed to have seen it clear as the day it was made, only to disappear upon looking a second time. A ghostly figure, likely Ammie, is said to have been seen sitting on the step staring down to where the blood stain was left, only to fade into nothing whenever someone got to close.

Even though known records don't state it, by this story, one would have to conclude another house existed on Boone Hall before the two-story house was built. A house constructed with at least thirteen steps leading onto the porch and the front entrance. Either John Boone or his son, Thomas, would have been the likely builders and no doubt styled in the grand tradition of plantation homes of its time.

Sadly, that original house has faded away with the passing of time, but the unforgettable Avenue of Oaks remains along with other historical features, which makes Boone Hall a must-see. And, what would a respectable southern plantation be without a good ghost story? It would be like Charleston without carriage rides.

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