Paul Jebara was on the clock during a recent jam-packed trip to Charleston, South Carolina. He didn't regret taking a moment to tour Drayton Hall, an old plantation frozen beautifully in time.
CHARLESTON, South Carolina – There are several plantations in and around Charleston, but with just enough time to visit one, I went to Drayton Hall for one reason: preservation, not restoration.
Drayton Hall doesn’t have a picture-perfect canopy road entrance like Boone Hall, or luscious gardens like Magnolia Plantation. It is, however, the oldest unrestored plantation house in America open to the public, acting as a time capsule to the Colonial South.
The skeleton of the grand estate stands as the continent’s premier example of Palladian architecture, with its original Flemish bond-brick exterior, 18th-century windows, and mahogany accouterments.
"When something breaks, we don’t replace it," my tour guide Peggy declared while pointing to damaged plaster décor on the ceiling. "That’s why preservation is so important — history lives within the walls."
Unlike those on other house tours, the Antebellum mansion feels like an excavation site. The inside is void of any furniture or art, which could otherwise distract from the avant-garde design elements chosen by John Drayton himself, former governor of South Carolina and United States district judge.
I was surprised to learn that much of the paint on the walls dates to the 19th century and some is original to the construction of the house. Every room tells a story. In the drawing room, you can see where a painting once hung above the mantel by a rectangular outline of dust. One of the doorframes still has markings to track the Drayton children’s height over time (and even their favorite dog, Nipper’s).
It’s magical how historical preservation, and a bit of imagination, can recount a family saga of over 300 years, with traditions that carry on today.