While in Charleston with the Southeastern Society of Architectural Historians (SESAH) a couple weeks ago, I got in on a special tour of Drayton Hall, just across the Ashley River from Charleston. Owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1974, Drayton Hall is one of the oldest plantation houses in the country and the oldest that is open to the public. According to the Trust, “the main house (1738) is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian-Palladian architecture in the United States [and] the grounds represent one of the most significant, undisturbed historic landscapes in America.”
The National Trust’s preservation philosophy at Drayton Hall is to preserve the property “as found” rather than attempting to “restore” it to any particular period. While the main house has undergone a few changes in its life (for instance, the current famous two-story porch is a 1930s replacement of the original), the interior is almost as it was when it was completed in the 1730s. And if you think the exterior is nice, make sure to withhold your superlatives until you step inside. WOW!
The Trust has wisely decided that Drayton Hall is best when viewed without all the furniture that would have originally been there. Furniture is nice, but here, the woodwork and the plasterwork are the stars, and the house, which never had electricity and didn’t have any original furniture anyway, maintains its 18th century feel.
Strangely, little is known of the actual craftsmen who built Drayton Hall, but the design does appear to have been derived from plates in Andrea Palladio’s The Four Books of Architecture. National Trust staff continues to try to piece together the early history of the plantation and its buildings, and as you can see on their blog, they’re always uncovering interesting tidbits from both documentary research and the physical fabric of the house itself.
Enough talk, take a tour of the house yourself, but before you go, check out what a treat you’re in for.