Entertainment & Recreation

The growth and development of tourism as a significant leisure activity is intimately tied to the Ashley River Historic District. In fact, it is claimed that Charleston‘s tourism industry had its beginnings in the district in 1870 when Magnolia Gardens was opened to the public. Tourists were mainly transported to the plantation via steamboat from Charleston. The popularity of the tours was initially based more on the scenic qualities of the former plantation grounds, particularly when their designed and natural landscapes were in full spring bloom, rather than on their historic resources. However, Magnolia Plantation‘s gardens gained national recognition in the 1870s and were written up in European editions of Baedeker’s as one of three foremost attractions in America—alongside Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. In time, the financial success of the tour operations spawned competitive garden-focused attractions, such as Middleton Place and lesser-known Mateeba Gardens.

As automobile transportation became increasingly reliable in the early decades of the 20th century, gardens that were accessible from the historic Ashley River Road were opened to the public at Middleton Place, Runnymeade Plantation, and Mateeba Gardens. Today, the focus of interpretation for the public at principal tourist destinations in the district – Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Middleton Place, and Colonial Dorchester State Park – is on architectural and social history, archaeology, landscape architecture, and African-American heritage with corresponding outreach and education programs for school-age children.

Additionally, hunting and equestrian sports became popular traditional uses for large portions of land in the interior of the district at the turn of the 20th century. Two such clubs are the Middleton Hunt Club and the Sportsman Hunt Club which hunt deer on leased lands of Middleton Place and Millbrook, and have for decades. Middleton Hunt Club was established in 1908. The exact founding members of the club are unknown, but the earliest known president of the club is T. Tristam Hyde, well-known Charleston developer and political activist of the early-20th century. Historically, the club has hunted deer exclusively using time-honored hunting practices. Middleton Hunt Club is a more formal hunting club (a gentlemen‘s hunt club) than others in the area, and is steeped in tradition. Middleton Hunt Club leases Millbrook and Middleton Place lands for the rights to hunt annually August 15th through January 1st.

The Sportsman Club was established in 1962 and is exclusively for African-Americans. Many of the members of the Sportsman Club are descendants of the original drivers from the Middleton Hunt Club and the two clubs hunt together a few times a year. There are additional hunt clubs that were established shortly after WWII and hunt on the surrounding acreage of Watson Hill and on Bulow Plantation.

The members of the hunt clubs still use many of the historic roads and causeways that have existed in the district for centuries—demonstrating how many of the features of this vast cultural landscape are continually used and reused throughout time without major alterations.

Conservation Spotlight

Poplar Grove and Watson Hill: A Case Study In Coalition Building and Land Conservation

Two converging development threats in the Ashley River Corridor beginning in 2003 catalyzed a major conservation effort led by the Coastal Conservation League, Ducks Unlimited, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust and others…

Established in 1947, Historic Charleston Foundation is dedicated to preserving and protecting the architectural, historical and cultural character of Charleston and its Lowcountry environs, and to educating the public about Charleston’s history and the benefits that are derived from preservation.

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