Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Visit to Middleton Gardens, the oldest formal garden in the US

Karin and I took our daughter Kristine to visit Middleton Place, the grandest of the old southern plantations and containing America's oldest landscaped gardens.  This one was started by Henry Middleton who got to SC in 1678.  He started the plantation in 1741 and was a president of the Continental Congress.   One of the wealthiest people in SC, he owned around 50,000 acres and 800 slaves.  When he died, Middleton Place passed to his son Arthur (prominent signer of the Declaration of Independence).  

The original great house was burned by Union troops during the civil war, and then leveled by an earthquake in 1886.  All that's left is this small bit you see in the pictures below.  (Don't feel too sorry for them, the Middletons had 19 agricultural estates, and a giant house in the most prestigious part of Charleston.)  Here's a map of the gardens.

Here's the road from the grand entrance, with a big circle to drive your carriage around.  The main house was straight ahead, but now all that's left is rubble, and the bit of house to the right.

 Here's what's left of the original house.

The left over bit.  When I was a kid, some of the Middleton's ancestors lived here still.  Now, its all owned by a nonprofit foundation.

Let's take a walk through the gardens.

The formal sunken octagonal garden - you can see the Ashley River in the background, where I used to train in my kayak for marathon kayak racing.

View from the top of the terrace, with the butterfly lakes to either side.  You can see the mill house to the right, and the Ashley River in the background.

Looking up the terrace to what would have been the main house.

This is a cool thing, a restored rice patty demonstration.  It's winter, so nothing much is growing.  Snowy egret in the background.

Spanish moss and azaleas....

and azaleas....

and azaleas...

The mill pond.

The spring house (for keeping foods cool)

Daughter Kristine and wife Karin enjoying the blooms

This hillside is not in full bloom anymore

This one is:-)

The mill house

Bamboo thicket. We used to have a lot of this in my backyard.  Great fun to climb in, make forts in, make whacking sticks. Usually full of lizards...

This is Eliza's house, from about 1870 shows the living conditions for slaves before the civil war, and freemen after the civil war.  Eliza still lived here when I was little, and you could see her out on the porch working.  She died in 1986 at the age of 94.

The gardens are pretty, and the plantation grand, but it was slaves that built the place and did the work. Here's a display of all the slaves from Middleton (bought, sold, born, etc.), along with the prices that each of them cost or was worth.  If you ever watched the miniseries Roots (which you should), this kinda puts things in perspective.

I'll just quit  writing and let you enjoy the fruits of their efforts, and the folks that restored the gardens in the 20th century.