There are a lot of historic homes in South Carolina that are open to the public, but there's only one that I know of where you can pet two purring house cats or say hello to the owners as they return home with their dry cleaning.
Hopsewee Plantation in Georgetown was first opened to the public by its previous owners, The Maynards, who refused to sell the waterfront property to developers. They hoped, instead, to find someone who would love the place as they had and who would be committed to preserving the historic site.
Enter Frank Beattie, who not only bought the Maynard's home but has since bought additional acreage, assisted in environmental conservation, and has kept the house open to the public.
Frank and his wife Raejean call Hopsewee Plantation home, but to scores of visitors it is a unique window into history.
The main house is typical of an 18th century rice plantation, and informative tours point out original architectural details as well as give a history on rice production in the area.
Situated on the North Bank of the Santee River, conditions at Hopsewee proved perfect for rice cultivation. In 1850, Hopsewee Plantation produced nearly half a million pounds of rice.
The rice crop made Hopsewee's owner, John Hume Lucas, a wealthy man. Meanwhile, the people who cultivated and tended the crops, the 178 slaves who lived and worked there, lived in overcrowded shacks on the property.
One of the most interesting things to see at Hopsewee is one of these remaining slave quarters. There aren't that many slave dwellings left to see in South Carolina; hurricanes, weather and age have destroyed many of the meager structures. It's a chilling experience that brings the reality of slavery into harrowing focus.
Only five families have owned Hopsewee during the course of its 200-plus year existence, and the way that the Beatties preserved it honors the lives of all of its residents - white and black - throughout the ages. Displays of the Beattie family can be found upstairs. They are now a part of its history as well.
Raejean Beattie also runs a charming tearoom on the premises, offering a Southern take on the traditional British high tea along with a la carte lunch and dessert options. It's a beautiful place to take a break and enjoy the Santee River in the distance.
Hopsewee Plantation is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. with tours on the hour. Tours are by appointment only in December and January. Admission is $17.50 for adults, $7.50 for kids ages 5-17, and free for children 4 and younger.