No, no, no…. the Sydney Opera House isn’t along Highway 17 (which you already know). But don’t you just love it… when a newspaper from the other side of the world, The Sydney Morning Herald, writes a piece titled ‘The Grande Dames of old Dixie’ where six of the eight ‘Grande Dames’ mentioned reside along the Highway 17 Corridor? Boone Hall Plantation, located in Mt Pleasant, SC, along with Biltmore and Monticello, were included as the three best examples. Here’s what they have to say about Boone Hall Plantation:
Twenty kilometres from the charming South Carolina town of Charleston, Boone Hall is one of the US’s oldest working plantations. Established by Englishman John Boone in the early 1700s, it evolved into one of the south’s biggest cotton producers, employing 325 slaves to work 1200 hectares. In 1743, Boone’s son planted two evenly spaced rows of oak trees leading to the house. This avenue of oaks, draped in Spanish moss, has become one of the most photographed driveways in the country.
There are several tours included with admission to the property. The 40-minute plantation tour takes you around the now smaller, 300-hectare working farm, which grows a variety of crops including blueberries, strawberries, sweet corn and melons. It’s an entertaining ride narrated by a guide whose slow, southern drawl is straight out of the film Sweet Home Alabama. When a lively Dutch gentleman complained that he couldn’t see any alligators in the swamps, the guide suggested he “geyt in there an’ start flappin’ aroun’ a bit theyn”.
The 30-minute tour of the main house is led by a guide in 18th-century historical dress. As well as showing us through a selection of the elegantly furnished rooms, she provides an insight into what life was like for plantation owners. In the 1700s, access to the house was by boat and it was a two-day paddle from Charleston. You’d need to choose your guests wisely because when they came, they’d stay for six months to a year.
The elements I found most interesting were the tour and presentations on slave life at the property. Eight original slave cabins have been turned into museums that cover aspects of slave life such as religion, work and their eventual emancipation and freedom. Of course, this has become particularly relevant since Barack Obama’s election and his famous speech in which he referred to his wife’s slave ancestry. And it’s easy to forget this is recent history – one of the granddaughters of a slave born in one of these cabins is still alive.
The tour culminates in a live performance on the Gullah culture, the unique dialect and way of life developed by slaves who were brought across from west Africa. Through songs and stories, this is an entertaining presentation about slaves’ daily lives and how they endured working from dawn until dusk; as they described it, “from can’t see to can’t see”.
The other grande southern homes mentioned in the article that reside along the Highway 17 corridor include: the Aiken-Rhett House, Charleston, SC; Drayton Hall, Charleston, SC; Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, SC; Owens-Thomas House, Savannah, GA: and the Wayne-Gordon House, Savannah, GA.
Now, if you have a few minutes, why don’t you join a tour guide at Boone Hall Plantation for a ride down their avenue of live oaks?