Start driving down the long dirt lane to Boone Hall, three quarters of a mile under almost 100 ancient and massive live oaks that form a tunnel, you would be forgiven for thinking that this must be the most breathtaking part of this plantation.
But as you approach the end of the road, a long row of brick cottages stands to the left. These nine small houses, all the same, standing in a straight line, are original slave cabins, once inhabited by enslaved people who worked the plantation before the Civil War. Exploring the cabins and learning about the lives of the people who lived in them is truly the most riveting part of this fascinating historical site.
Boone Hall in Mount Pleasant was founded in 1681 by Maj. John Boone, an Englishman. Located about 20 minutes outside Charleston, it is one of the oldest continuously operating farms in the United States. Its first crops were indigo and rice, followed by cotton and pecans from an enormous pecan tree orchard planted in the 19th century. Today, the farm is well known for strawberries and peaches, as well as a variety of other fruits and vegetables. Certain fields are open for the public to come and pick fruit for themselves during the season, and the farm hosts a huge pumpkin patch and corn maze with lots of activities for kids in the fall. Throughout the year, different agricultural family festivals celebrate the harvest.
The main house might be familiar to moviegoers. It, and the magnificent oak alley, have appeared in movies like "The Notebook" and "North and South." The house presently on the site, however, is not the original plantation house. It was built in 1935 after the original house was torn down. A tour of the house lets visitors see many of the first floor rooms, and knowledgeable docents explain the house’s history.
And then there are the remarkably well-preserved slave quarters. Because they were built of brick, the cabins have stood the test of time. While the plantation has always been a working farm, agriculture was not Boone Hall’s main source of income. Brickmaking was. The slaves of Boone Hall made millions of bricks over the decades, including the bricks they used to build the one room cabins where two families and up to 15 people lived.
A tour guide gives a brief lecture about the lives of the people enslaved at Boone Hall many times a day, and it’s well worth going to. The real fascination comes from the history told in each cabin about the people who lived there, from the time the cabins were built, through the war and Reconstruction, sharecropping and Jim Crow, and into the 20th century.
A trolley tour, included with the entrance fee, takes visitors throughout the plantations fields and orchards. The knowledgeable and funny tour guides cover both the agricultural history of the plantation and the modern-day farming that still goes on today.
Boone Hall not only has extensive farm fields but gorgeous gardens as well. The gardens that spill out in front of the main house are truly beautiful year round, and well worth the time to wander.
On the way out, driving down that astonishing oak alley, you can’t help but think of the history you've just experienced and the families who made it possible. And don't miss a stop at Boone Hall Farms market and cafe, just across US 17. They sell farm fresh meats, vegetables, fruits and other products, and the cafe turns out sandwiches and traditional country meals made from farm-fresh ingredients, complete with homemade ice cream.