The up-and-coming West Ashley neighborhood in Charleston is known for its lively bars, unique restaurants and beautiful oak trees.
Located west of Downtown Charleston and across the Ashley River, West Ashley’s location explains the name. Folks of all demographics flock to the West Ashley district in search for a vibrant and scenic place to call home. With the majority of homes in the area being mid-size family homes and close proximity to both Downtown Charleston and the beaches, families are finding this area a great place to live.
But many don’t understand the significant history of the area, namely its plantations.
With 20 plantations located within the town limits (West Ashley is not considered its own city), there is plenty of South Carolina history to absorb while visiting or driving through the area.
Plantations originated in South Carolina in the 1670s, when English planters began to migrate from Barbados to what is now known as Charleston. They founded the city, which was then called Charles Town, and set up large plantations along the outskirts.
During this time, an estimated 2,000+ plantations appeared in South Carolina; most of them located in the Lowcountry. Many of these plantations were located along the Ashley River or on the sea islands, such as Wadmalaw Island, Edisto Island and Johns Island.
Most of these plantations existed to farm rice and indigo, which grew well in the Lowcountry’s swampy marsh waters. In the 1800s, cotton became a popular crop on the plantations as well. These plantations became profitable for South Carolina; unfortunately, at the devastating expense of cheap labor by African American slaves.
At the beginning of the American Civil War, the plantation system that made South Carolina, namely Charleston, so popular came to an end. The South lost the war, and slavery was abolished. Many plantations were looted and damaged by the North troops and most were burned to the ground.
Today, some of the former plantations still exist as wedding venues, event spaces and even private residences. Couples often choose to say their vows in the gardens or lawn of the large plantations for the photogenic opportunities and blooming florals.
Many of them offer plantation and ground tours, educating visitors of the history of the historic site.
One of the most popular West Ashley transformed plantations is Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a historic house with gardens that folks can visit or host an event. This is a beautiful spot to pencil into your itinerary in the spring, when the gardens are in full bloom.
Another popular modified plantation is Middleton Place. This space now contains an event space, on-site restaurant, and a quaint and beautiful inn. Equestrian and animal enthusiasts can also enjoy the livestock that resides on the land, and even participate in trail rides.
Drayton Hall is another West Ashley plantation open to the public. Unlike its neighbors, Drayton hall has simply been maintained rather than restored. So, while you can’t see a fully furnished and painted home at Drayton like you can at the other historic properties, when you step into Drayton’s quiet and empty rooms boasting of the original architecture, you’re truly stepping back in time.
Drayton hall is the oldest unrestored plantation house in America that is still open to the public and has survived both the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
These three locations are considered Plantation Row.
When visiting West Ashley for an afternoon or weekend, stop by one of the plantations for lunch or a quick stroll through the gardens or grounds. Be sure to take the time to learn about the history of the area and how it came to be what it is today.
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