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.
Though built only in 2011, the nonprofit Redux Contemporary Art Center’s new 12,000-square-foot facility stays bustling all year, hosting six to eight free exhibitions in two galleries. After taking in the artwork, visitors can attend numerous free events, such as artist talks, film screenings, panels, and concerts. More than 100 classes foster artistic inclinations throughout the year as local qualified instructors help students master disciplines such as painting, drawing, and printmaking.
Redux's galleries stay full thanks in part to its 22 private artist studios, which accommodate emerging and mid-career artists with up to 240 square feet of creative space. Twenty-four-hour studio passes grant access to Redux’s darkroom, print studio, and woodshop. To encourage a sense of community, artists can participate in quarterly critiques, attend visiting-artist lectures, and debate their studio neighbors on artistic controversies such as whether Michelangelo’s David is as good as the earlier one he sculpted from Play-Doh.
The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry is an adventurous outpost for the developing population demographic. The museum currently hosts eight different exhibits, giving kids who are sick of increasingly hallucinatory children’s TV programming an exciting educational outlet. The medieval creativity castle brings the Middle Ages to life through storytelling, monthly puppet theater, and passageways for hands-on exploring. The 700-square-foot TREEscape makes a playground out of an Angel Oak and a conversational partner for young tree whisperers. In addition to the exhibit octad, the museum holds free programming with topics that change monthly. Science, history, culture, and more are covered by the programs, putting young museum goers on the path to becoming the 21st century’s first true renaissance men and women, not withstanding Renaissance Faire workers.
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.