John Drayton built the Georgian plantation house north of Charleston in 1738, when, my tour guide reminds me, George Washington would have been a six-year-old boy. In the 272 years since, the home has been battered with hurricanes, survived an earthquake, been the staging ground for both Colonial and Red Coat attacks during the Revolutionary War, and yet the house is the only plantation home on the Ashley River to remain intact today. The Drayton Hall of today has remained miraculously close to its original condition.
Drayton Hall is one of the finest examples of Georgian-Palladian architecture. The style’s emphasis is on symmetry, immediately evident when you see the completely balanced façade of the building. The effect is continued inside, where fake doors are put in place to create complete equilibrium in a room.
But the real story of Drayton Hall is the people who lived there. Although the rooms are empty, there are traces of the family who made the hall their home for seven generations. One room features a growth chart where Drayton children scratched their heights over the years. A childless Drayton, not to be left out, also included the heights of her several beloved dogs.
The grounds also were home to generations of African-Americans. Caesar Bowens was born into slavery on the plantation in 1841. His son, Richard Bowens, who was born on the property in 1908 and was buried there in 1998, collected rich oral histories about African-American life at Drayton Hall before he passed away. His work is now a part of the Connections: From Africa to America program that is offered at the plantation, which examines African-American life at Drayton Hall. While visiting, you also can pay your respects at the African-American cemetery, the final resting place of over 40 people, enslaved and free, who died at Drayton Hall from 1790 to the present. It is the country’s oldest African-American cemetery that is still in use.
Drayton Hall is open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., November-February and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. March-October. There are tours offered at the top of the hour with the last tour starting a half hour before closing. Connections: From Africa to America is offered daily at 11:15 a.m., 1:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.
Admission is $17 for adults, $8 for kids ages 12-18, $6 for children ages 6-11 and free for children 5 and younger. There are $2 military discounts and a $1 discount for members of AAA. Admission includes the house tour, Connections program and access to the beautiful grounds along the Ashley River. Contact Drayton Hall for more information.