Rose Hill Offers Visitors Glimpse of Life on Cotton Plantation

By:Marie McAden


As one might expect from a home that once served as the governor’s mansion, ​Rose Hill Plantation in ​Union has all the accoutrements of a posh estate: inlaid woodwork, a gilded fireplace mantel, a handcrafted spiral staircase and a large ballroom.

What you won’t find in the 4,000-square-foot house is a single commode. Built in the 1830s, the 2.5-story residence has no running water or indoor plumbing. For more than a century, it had no electricity.

Such was life on the cotton plantation owned by William Henry Gist, the 68th governor of South Carolina.

Think it’s a hassle when your cable goes out or your smartphone can’t connect to a wireless network? Imagine living in the South without air conditioning or even a ceiling fan.

Visitors to Rose Hill Plantation, now a state historic site, can tour the antebellum estate and get a glimpse of life back when homes were lit by candles and the bathroom “en suite” meant a chamber pot, washbowl and pitcher.

The plantation, encompassing some 5,000 acres overlooking the Tyger River, was used to grow cotton, corn and oats. Gist inherited the property from his father and built a Georgian-style brick house for his family.

Over time, he added 20 cabins for his 100-plus slaves, a smokehouse, blacksmith shop, dye house, cold storage building, brick kiln, loom house and shed for his carriages.

Elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1840, Gist went on to serve as a senator for three terms before being elected governor in 1858. Believing South Carolina could protect slavery only by withdrawing from the Union, he came to be known as the “Secession Governor.”

Upon his election to the state’s top post, Gist began remodeling the home, transforming the exterior into the more fashionable Greek revival style. The 18-inch brick walls were stuccoed, and double porches were added to the front and back of the house.

He also built a brick kitchen behind the home. It is the only other antebellum structure remaining on the property.

Named after the many varieties of roses planted in the formal gardens, Rose Hill Plantation still features hundreds of the original plantings, including two 150-year-old magnolias.

Among the furnishings in the house that belonged to the family are a bible, a pianoforte, a four-poster bed, an armoire, a leather trunk, several items of clothing and a quilt made by Gist’s wife.

The 44-acre historic site also includes a half-mile loop trail through the woods surrounding the property. A one-mile spur trail takes you down to the Tyger River.

Park rangers offer guided tours of the mansion at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. daily March to October and Thursdays through Mondays November to February. Cost is $5 for adults and $4 for youth 6 to 16. Admission to the grounds is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

For more information, contact Rose Hill​ Pla​ntation

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