No less than 25 substantial plantation residences were recorded as having been erected along the banks of the Ashley River within the Ashley River Historic District between 1670 and 1861. While many of these properties, as noted by Edmund Ruffin during his assessment of the potential of the district for phosphate mining and production in the 1840s, were in derelict condition well before the Civil War, all but two, Drayton Hall and Archdale Hall, were destroyed during the final months the Civil War. Drayton Hall, which is considered one of the finest surviving examples of Palladian architecture in America, is the only surviving Antebellum plantation house in the Ashley River Historic District. Drayton Hall, and the ruins, outbuildings, and landscaped grounds of nearby Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantation provide clear evidence of the intense effort made by colonial settlers to emulate the style and aesthetic sophistication of the English gentry and, in so doing, to substantiate their establishment of the Lowcountry planter aristocracy. The power of this tradition was such that the sites of the burned-out mansion houses of the planter-elite were almost invariably avoided during the intensive strip mining for phosphates and logging that occurred on the land after the Civil War. Additionally, mining undertaken on the north side of the Ashley River Road appears, for the most part, to have been done by hand, where it was done by machine across the road—again respecting that relationship and hierarchy of the show-piece estates closer to the Ashley River.

The Ashley River Historic District also contains a variety of vernacular buildings, both as extant examples and as archaeological sites that represent the utilitarian architecture of the plantation system in the form of rice mills, barns, stables, slave housing, and other outbuildings. Additional contributing resources that support this category of significance and extend the breadth of the architectural inventory contained in the district include: tombs and funeral monuments, tenant houses, caretaker‘s cottages, mining structures, modest early-20th-century dwellings, and Colonial-Revival homes. Taken together, all of these different types of structures and sites help provide a greater understanding of how the region functioned and developed over time. They also give some depth to the district by demonstrating the direct relationship between the landscape and the people who lived, worked, and died there.

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…