When John Drayton broke ground on Drayton Hall in 1738, he had no idea that his estate would survive the American Revolution, the Civil War, an earthquake, and numerous hurricanes. The stories contained in the building’s walls span seven generations of history tied to the Draytons and the Bowens family, an African American family that lived and worked at Drayton Hall before and after emancipation. Since 1974, when Charles and Frank Drayton sold their ancestral home to the National Trust, visitors have been able to transport themselves into the past with more ease than rubbing the beard at the Lincoln Memorial.
The main house, a sweeping example of Georgian Palladian architecture, is the oldest near-original, unrestored colonial home in the United States. Like a helpful ghost, the grand rooms and original fireplaces whisper history into the ears of all visitors, telling tales of British and colonial soldiers who occupied the house during the American Revolution. Views from the portico are filled with drooping trees, spanish moss, and a grand driveway. Surrounding the estate, an undisturbed historic landscape backs up to the Ashley River, and also encompasses A Sacred Place, the oldest African American cemetery in the country still in use.
To get to Black’s Camp, visitors follow a long, winding country road bordered by towering pines. At the end, this idyllic retreat sprawls out across the shores of the Santee Cooper lakes, surrounded by 170,000 acres of wilderness. Though its location is isolated, the camp furnishes hunters, fishers, and nature aficionados with ample amenities.
Hunting and fishing guides lead expeditions into Francis Marion National Forest and across 200,000 acres of water, and charter captains take leisurely voyages to Charleston Harbor. A waterfront restaurant hosts a seafood buffet on Friday and Saturday nights. At day’s end, guests can retreat to lodging at campsites or the camp’s waterfront cabins and motel to rest up or pen love letters to Mother Nature.
When the Charleston Museum was founded in 1773, South Carolina was still a British colony. Today, the museum is itself a historical gem, surviving both the American Revolution and Civil War and acquiring an astounding collection of South Carolinian artifacts along the way. Nine permanent exhibits include the Armory, brimming with antique weaponry, and the Lowcountry History Hall, which chronicles the land's metamorphosis from a tribal society into an agricultural empire, telling the story with early trading goods, slave badges, and pottery. Temporary exhibits change regularly, keeping visitors on their toes in the same way changing cell phone numbers every 24 hours does.
The museum extends its history-preserving mission to two area homes: the 19th-century Joseph Manigault House, once home to a wealthy rice plantation owner, and the Heyward-Washington House, where George Washington once stayed during a weeklong visit to the city. Restored rooms, period pieces, and loudly snoring grandfather clocks await guests during scheduled tours.
A National Historic Landmark since 1972, the former plantation at Middleton Place boasts one of America's oldest landscaped gardens, designed with mathematical precision by sentient colonial protractors, as well as living history re-creations and a house museum. Buzz between formal rows of bee-tempting blooms laid out in 1741, or act out Swamp Thing scenarios at Cypress Lake, a romantic later addition to the grounds, as you inspect the acclaimed 65-acre garden. Stop by the plantation’s stable yards, where costumed artisans re-create crafts once performed by slaves. Complimentary tours of both the gardens and stable yards are available, and tours of the house museum, crammed with porcelain and Middleton-family heirlooms, are available for an extra fee.
The knowledgeable guides of Charleston Culinary Tours and Lowcountry Walking Tours acquaint tour-goers with the rich cultural and historical heritage of the largest historic district in the United States through two distinct branches. Lowcountry Walking Tours's guides delve into the histories and mysteries of Charleston, revealing its both dark and romantic origins. Their excursions venture downtown or out to Mount Pleasant, each exploring the events that shaped the region with an emphasis on the areas toured. They often meander the streets of the French Quarter as guides opine on the historic churches, horticulture, and reason why the city had to change its name from Tokyo to Charleston.
Charleston Culinary Tours introduce groups to the area through their taste buds. Each restaurant tour journeys to four acclaimed restaurants, granting a bounty of food tastings alongside a meet-and-greet with restaurant owners and chefs. On the farmer's market tour, groups explore the farm-fresh finds of a market named one of the nation's best by Travel + Leisure, then venture to an area restaurant where they can savor the newly picked produce within a gourmet meal. The farm-to-table theme continues on the mixology tour, where participants sip specialty cocktails infused with fresh herbs and produce as the learn about the secrets to Charleston's craft cocktail scene.
The guides at Free Tours by Foot offer their expertise to visitors on free group tours for a simple reason: they love to share their city's history and quirks with others—and if they get a tip from thoroughly entertained tour-goers, all the better. They've curated a handful of tours for about nine cities, including a roundup of public art in New York City's subway system, a colonial jaunt featuring Revolutionary War sites in Boston, and visits to architectural feats in Chicago's Loop and the hospital where the first Chicago-style hot dog was born. Tour guides can also be commissioned for private, fixed-price tours of the same spots.