Keith Fields and Dave Horne were raising a bit of a racket from inside the Work Barn on the Brattonsville Plantation one recent Saturday. Dressed in period costumes but toiling like true 18th-century farm hands, Fields and Horne were repairing a fence post using replicas of period tools.
Fields, who has been a volunteer at Brattonsville since 1986, tightened a vise on the plank as Horne, a relatively new volunteer, pried at a nail with a period hammer ... no easy task but eventually he was able to remove the nail.
Because he's been associated with Historic Brattonsville so long, Fields spoke about the Brattons with impressive authority and intimacy. As he showed me the pens constructed to corral the sheep, he noted that the Brattons used much more fencing than was necessary to get the job. "They weren't conservative people," Fields said, with a smile. "I think they wasted a lot of material." Too often they chose to toss out damaged fences or other material rather than repair them, he added. This likely reflected the abundance of wood available on the property.
"Brattonsville presents the history of the Scots-Irish or Ulster-Scots in the South Carolina upcountry largely through preserving and interpreting the story of the Bratton family," according to the Historic Brattonsville website. "Featuring more than 30 historic structures from the 1760s to the late 19th century, the site provides visitors with an opportunity to see the evolution of Southern culture and architecture in the South Carolina Piedmont. "
The authenticity of the York County culture and heritage museum is impressive, as is the knowledge of the staff who cheerfully greet visitors wandering among the 38 structures on the Bratton family's 775-acre estate. From the family's main residences to the work sheds, overseer's cabin and slave quarters, visitors are immersed in the daily lives of those who called Brattonsville home. As one tours, interpreters describe the purpose to which the Bratton family put the herbs in the garden outside of the Homestead; the way they sheared sheep, cleaned and spun the wool; and the day-to-day lives of the slaves and sharecroppers.
The interpreters are living history.
Volunteer interpreter Robert McLeod was manning the blacksmith's forge on the day I visited. McLeod, who has volunteered for about three years, said the Brattons didn't actually have a blacksmith's forge at the plantation, but ne was added to the exhibit to demonstrate the ironworking craftsmanship from the era.
McLeod pulled a glowing iron rod from the coals and twisted the end with pincers.
"Maybe by this afternoon this candle holder will be in the gift shop," he said with a smile.
1444 Brattonsville Road, McConnells
Historic Brattonsville is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults 18-59, $7 for adults older than 59, $5 for children 4-17 and free for children three and younger.