When land is batten down to sea level, a gentle rise in topography becomes a desirable outlook.
Many aspects of the Lowcountry have evolved over the past 307 years, yet one spot remains as picturesque as it was in 1705, when a planter named John Williams picked it to be his homestead. Some 15 miles upstream from Charleston harbor, a 40-foot knoll—lofty by Lowcountry standards—sits atop the western edge of the Ashley River. Panoramic views of the wetlands fan out from this pitch. Snow-white egrets stalk small fish amid the reeds and alligators sun themselves on the bank. The air is sweet with the scent of tea olive and roses, and branches of broad-trunk trees sway gently with the river breeze.
Welcome to Middleton Place, the placid oasis that offers an inviting step back in time.
While the site is an enclave of nature, a dynasty of ardent and outspoken statesmen and revolutionaries resided here. When Williams died, the land conveyed to his daughter Mary. As part of her dowry, the deed transferred to her husband Henry Middleton, a politician who later served as second president of the First Continental Congress. They had seven daughters and five sons, including Arthur, a passionate revolutionary and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Arthur’s son Henry became Governor of South Carolina, while son Williams was a signer of the Ordinance of Secession. The perch on the river served as the family seat for four generations of the Middleton family, which remains the steward of this National Historic Landmark.
Today, Middleton Place is home to free-grazing sheep, cashmere goats, Belgian draft horses, guinea hogs, peacocks and majestic water buffalo. The stableyard’s craft artisans—blacksmith, cooper, carpenter, potter and weaver—help visitors envision the self-sustaining lifestyle of a bustling plantation. During Plantation Days, October 13 – 14 and November 10 – 11, Gullah storytelling and antebellum cooking methods demonstrations fill the stableyard with even more sights, sounds and smells reflective of real plantation life.
As home of America’s oldest landscaped gardens, the grounds are—quite literally—rooted in history, and the oldest oak tree is thought to be more than 900 years old. Trace the humble rice seed’s journey from subsistence crop to sterling commodity, which made Charleston the wealthiest colonial city during the eighteenth century.
The Middleton Place Restaurant dates to 1928, when the Junior League of Charleston set up a spring Tea Room located in the Rice Mill. League volunteers prepared okra soup and made sandwiches that were served to guests seated at tables overlooking the Ashley River. In 1950, the Junior League of Charleston published Charleston Receipts, a 350-page cookbook that has been described by Food & Wine as “reflecting the nostalgia for the Old-South that prevailed among low-country aristocrats during the postwar (Civil War) era.”
In the mid 1980s, Chef Edna Lewis, a doyenne of authentic Southern cuisine, was hired to develop a menu for the restaurant that reflected authentic Charleston plantation era cuisine. Her classic and unfussy approach to seasonal cooking is a tradition carried on by the Middleton Place restaurant today. Go there and experience it for yourself. middletonplace.org