During a recent trip to Charleston, SC, I was advised to visit Drayton Hall, an 18th century plantation house. Aside from the architecture, what makes this mansion unique is that it was owned by the Drayton family from the start of construction in the 1730’s until control was passed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1974. It has never been repurposed, remodeled, restored, redeveloped. Other than some minor modification, it is as it was. It has been largely uninhabited for the last 100 years. Being it was never electrified, plumbed or HVAC’ed, no one in modern times really wanted to live there. The last family member to occupy it would “camp” there twice a year with her chauffeur and chef.
The house is not in move-in condition. The Trust has decided to not restore it but to preserve it, maintaining the status quo. There is quite a bit written about the concepts of preservation, conservation and restoration. If it interests you, I suggest you look it up. Since the house in not heated or humidity controlled, all the furniture has been removed. It is a bare house with some truly impressive architectural woodwork. Heart pine floors. Cypress mill work, much of it faux wood grained.
On the tour, our guide seemed quite knowledgable and shared many interesting fact and stories. (Much of this blog until now is an efficient restatement of her spiel.) She shared freeley and then constantly fussed about how behind schedule she was. Until the end, I found her to be above average and informative. In a room on the second floor, there was a mockup of a piece of furniture from the mansion on loan to and being conserved by Colonial Williamsburg (Colonial Williamsburg with the modest web address of http://www.history.org.) She talked a bit and mentioned the original was imported from England because Charleston was not known as a center of furniture production.
I wanted to correct her but I was struck dumb. Not a center of furniture production? Has anybody told the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA). Much of their low-country collection is Charleston made furniture. They published a three-volume set titled The Furniture of Charleston, 1680 to 1820. And there are many other books. And why does Colonial Williamsburg have 26 pieces from Drayton Hall, much of it made in Charleston, on exhibit?
I lost some faith in the lady. The only reason I am using her information here is that it is easier than doing original research.
An interesting note. According to a display at The Charleston Museum, much of the furniture from Charleston was made of mahogany because it was easier to import mahogany by sea than it was to drag large walnut logs from inland forests. True? I don’t know but it’s easier than doing research.
If you want to buy a copy of The Furniture of Charleston, buy it HERE. Don’t pay more than $325 as I have seen it on eBay and used book stores.
Next blog will be about antiques in and around Charleston.