Gene Heizer: Volunteer at Drayton Hall, Sui Generis

By George McDaniel

One of my pleasures in my first ten or fifteen years of working at Drayton Hall was the chance to work with Gene Heizer, our remarkable volunteer photographer. Gene was sui generis. He was devoted to Drayton Hall and enjoyed the company of our staff, volunteers, and site council.  In one year alone, he contributed close to 200 hours of service. He consistently took excellent photographs for our newsletters, press releases, brochures, ads, and archives, and did so in ways that lifted our spirits. In the days before digital photography, his work saved us countless hours as well as dollars. Not only did he take the pictures, he processed the film, made the contact sheets, filed the negatives, printed the photographs, and created exhibits for special events and other purposes. A retired commercial photographer, he had a good eye and would carefully compose his shots so they would communicate the intended message. Through his fine work, Gene contributed substantially to documenting, preserving, and communicating our recent history, which as the years pass, become all the more an integral part of the ongoing story of this site. In fact, Gene’s photographs remain very much a part of our archives and will serve well those who follow us.

A volunteer profile on Gene Heizer from a Drayton Hall newsletter published in 1995.

A volunteer profile on Gene Heizer from a Drayton Hall newsletter published in 1995.

Gene recently passed away at age 90. He and his lovely wife Phyllis had been married for 59 years, and she too had been a devoted volunteer for Drayton Hall, especially helping with public relations and special events. I attended his funeral in the chapel at Franke at Seaside, a retirement community in Mount Pleasant, SC, and offered to Phyllis the respects and condolences from all of us at Drayton Hall. In attendance were a number of former staff and volunteers who had worked here with Gene. His long-time friend, Harold Robling, also a long-time Friend of Drayton Hall, gave a heartfelt “remembrance.” In his homily, The Rev. Canon Michael Wright, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, captured Gene’s spirited character. He began by saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” a fact that Gene knew well and to which his photographs attested. He summarized Gene’s outlook on life in two words, “faithfulness and purposefulness” and elaborated on how Gene’s life represented each word. He also let the congregation know that he knew Gene well, for he told of how Gene’s presence filled a room and of how his absence now leaves a void – and also told how that void may be filled by the love that Gene knew and that connects us all.

Both Gene and Phyllis were a lot of fun to be with and to us all, stood as wonderful testimony to a lasting marriage and to one that worked in real life. We remember Gene fondly and are so glad he was a part of our lives and of the history of Drayton Hall.

Fall Distinguished Speakers Series Kicks Off with a Presentation by Colonial Williamsburg’s Ronald L. Hurst

By Tara White, Development Events Coordinator

As the oppressive heat and humidity of summer abates and the almost forgotten promise of a crisp breeze moves through Charleston’s streets, it is apparent that fall has thankfully arrived yet again. With the return of this more comfortable season also comes the return of Drayton Hall’s Distinguished Speakers Series. Beginning on September 18, the fall season will commence with Ronald L. Hurst, the Vice President for Collections, Conservation, and Museums and The Carlisle H. Humelsine Chief Curator at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Ronald L. Hurst, the Vice President for Collections, Conservation, and Museums and The Carlisle H. Humelsine Chief Curator at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, will be speaking to the Friends of Drayton Hall on Sept. 18.

Ronald L. Hurst, the Vice President for Collections, Conservation, and Museums and The Carlisle H. Humelsine Chief Curator at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, will be speaking to the Friends of Drayton Hall on Sept. 18.

Included in those lengthy titles is Hurst’s lengthy list of responsibilities. He oversees the foundation’s curatorial operations, educational conferences, conservation, architectural preservation, and museum operations, including direction of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. It is at the Dewitt Wallace where Hurst’s ties to Drayton Hall are presently the strongest, as this museum holds his latest curated exhibit, A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South, which features 27 objects from the Drayton Hall collections. His presentation at the Distinguished Speakers Series will highlight this exhibit and provide a look into the history of material culture at Drayton Hall.

Already seven months into its five-year-tenure, A Rich and Varied Culture: the Material World of the Early South has been hailed as a groundbreaking exhibit that is the first of its kind in 50 years. The exhibit highlights the breadth of the material culture of the 18th century – furniture, ceramics, metals, archaeological artifacts, and more.  The objects chosen from Drayton Hall’s Collections span the first and second periods of Drayton Hall when John (1715-1779) and his son Charles (1743-1820) were in residence. Included will be the most significant piece of furniture in Drayton Hall’s collection: a rare, English-made desk and bookcase, c. 1745. Described by Hurst as “the finest example of furniture to survive from Colonial America,” this exquisite piece is a testament to John Drayton’s wealth and sophistication, and his position as one of colonial America’s most significant merchant planters.

Fall Series FlyerIn addition to this exhibit, Hurst also oversees collections containing a myriad of British and American fine, decorative, and folk art,  millions of archaeological artifacts, and thousands of architectural elements. He has published articles and essays and curated multiple exhibitions relating to history and material culture.

If you should have any questions about Hurst’s presentation or the Distinguished Speakers Series please contact Tara White, Development Events Coordinator, by phone at 843-769-2627 or by email at Additionally, if you are interested in sponsorship opportunities please call Tara to learn about how you can keep making these presentations possible.

Know Before You Go

All Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series programs will begin promptly at 7:00 p.m. and will be hosted at South Carolina Society Hall, 72 Meeting Street, downtown Charleston.
Doors will open by 6:30 p.m., seating is limited, and a dessert reception will follow. This program is free to Friends of Drayton Hall and their guests.
The fall 2014 Drayton Hall Distinguished Speaker Series will bring another trio of accomplished academics, researchers and speakers to Charleston, with a September 18th presentation by Ronald L. Hurst, Colonial Williamsburg, entitled A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South; an October 16th presentation by Andrew O’Shaughnessy, University of Virginia/Monticello, entitled The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire; and a November 20th presentation by Architectural Historian Jill M. Lord entitled Improvement of the Americas: The Architecture of Colonial American Libraries.

Hurricane Hugo, 25 Years Later

By George McDaniel

When Hurricane Hugo struck, I’d accepted the job as site director, but was not due to start until November, so I was still in Atlanta where I worked with the Atlanta History Center. I drove from Atlanta to Summerville, and will never forget that Monday morning after Hurricane Hugo. I drove from Summerville down Ashley River Road, passing downed trees on either side. It was impossible to reach anyone by phone, so I had no idea if I was going to be the director of a historic site or an archaeological site. George Neil, our assistant director at the time, met me at the gate, and together we walked down the allee towards the house, climbing over and under broken or uprooted trees. As we were both Vietnam veterans, George turned to me and asked, “Remind you of III Corps after an artillery barrage?” And it did. We were pleased to see the house remarkably intact, but were also overwhelmed by the amount of damage done to the landscape.

Drayton Hall already had the reputation of being a survivor, still standing after the Revolutionary War, Civil War, the earthquake of 1886, and now Hugo. Chris and Booie Chappell, caretakers of the property, had weathered the storm inside the main house. “We decided since the house had survived all those years, we’d be better off in the basement of the big house,” said Booie. “We took water, food, and provisions. We were as prepared as we could have been. When the storm got really bad, we went to the Great Hall on the first floor and slept. You could hear the wind in the fireboxes.”

Clean-up took six months or more, and we were closed to visitors for a while.  Because I was new, I relied upon assistant director George Neil for his logistical skills and knowledge and on building and grounds supervisor John Kidder, and in fact, on all the staff.  There was no flooding, so the damage was due to strong winds. Downed trees littered the landscape and the ponds. We lost about 70% of the trees on the high ground, mostly pines. With a small staff, we relied on volunteers to walk the grounds in search of artifacts, marking their location with a pin flag in order to protect archaeological sites. Except for a short period immediately afterwards, heavy machinery was not used to remove trees on the high ground. In the African American cemetery, downed trees were cut up and removed by wheelbarrows.  On the riverside, the late 19th century barn was knocked down by high winds. It was in the process of being renovated to be an educational facility, but it was a total loss. As for the main house, most of the damage was done to the window glass. Three sashes were damaged so badly they needed to be rebuilt, while 36 panes of glass were replaced and 11 were re-glazed after the wind rattled the glazing away.

Hurricane Hugo changed the way we think about disaster preparedness at Drayton Hall. We now have well-tested plans for how to take care of the house, landscape, and facilities during a disaster and how to maintain effective communications.  We regularly document and photograph the current condition of the house and landscape.  Our staff is well trained in how to prepare for and respond to a natural disaster. It is our goal that the house continues to stand for many centuries to come.

Celebrating 25 Years of George McDaniel as Executive Director

George W. McDaniel in 1989, shortly after becoming executive director of Drayton Hall.

George McDaniel in 1989, shortly after becoming executive director.

How has Drayton Hall changed since you arrived in 1989?

My goal was to sustain Drayton Hall’s pursuit of excellence by building on the strong foundation of my predecessors, who established our core beliefs in preservation and education. Things were much smaller back then. Our budget was around $600,000, and now, thanks to Miss Sally Reahard’s endowment, it’s at $2.2 million, and we have a larger and more professionally trained staff, plus more visitors. Since about 1992, we’ve been self sufficient, receiving no cash support from the Trust, but it has provided critically needed professional support and guidance as well as grants that have funded preservation, collections, education, and research.  We have been fortunate to have a wonderful site council that has supported Drayton Hall in many ways over the years. When I came here, our collections were not on site—they were at Montpelier, the Southern Regional Office and elsewhere. We have made a real effort to bring those collections “home” to Drayton Hall. Also, the land across the river was still a threat, zoned at 22 units/acre, and now we have purchased that land.  It’s gratifying that our work has won awards at the local, state, and national levels and is recognized as a world-class site.

What sets Drayton Hall apart from other historic sites?

George McDanielDrayton Hall has a long tradition of striving for excellence, and that can be seen in the architecture, material culture, Drayton family papers, and oral history. Drayton Hall as a place is unique. We all are very careful to preserve this survivor, and want to do the best for it because of the legacy it stands for in Charleston and the nation. Because Drayton Hall has been preserved, or stabilized, and not restored to a specific period of time, it gives us the opportunity to tell a richer and deeper story of how this place and its people changed over time. The good news is that we continue to have excellent relations with the descendants, both black and white, and they contribute substantially to Drayton Hall’s ongoing story. Because this site has been preserved and has not been “gussied up,” it evokes history in ways that deeply touch our visitors. Just last week I met a person in Maine who had visited Drayton Hall years ago and who said how inspirational her visit was. Such comments are not unusual.

When most people think of Drayton Hall, they think of the main house. How did you change the conversation to include the landscape and the Ashley River?

There’s no doubt that the main house is the crown jewel, and it’s not so much a question of changing the conversation as expanding upon it because to truly understand the main house you need a more complete picture. The main house didn’t  pop out of the ground like a mushroom. We began to ask important questions. Who built the house? Who worked the land? I believe it is important to study the landscape and the African American history in order to tell a more complete story. Having grown up in Atlanta, I saw how suburban sprawl radically changed the landscape. I could also see this happening on Ashley River Road. My predecessors were already fighting this in the 70s and 80s. At Drayton Hall, we’ve had a long-standing tradition of conserving not just our own site, but also the larger cultural landscape including the Ashley River and Ashley River Road.

If you could only be remembered for one thing here at Drayton Hall, what would you want it to be?

I want to leave a tradition of striving for excellence and integrity. It’s about trying to make a better world and working for something greater than yourself. I have enjoyed being part of that larger mission.

Ten years from now, where would you like to see Drayton Hall in terms of its mission?

Drayton Hall’s education programs and interpretation have been grounded in scholarly research and professional pedagogy. Our experts on staff have made a difference. Ten years from now, I would like to see an interpretive center to properly display our collections and that would serve as a physical representation of Drayton Hall’s mission, that is, it conveys the story of this site in ways that educates and inspires visitors to support history and historic preservation.

Praise for George McDaniel’s Leadership

stephanie meeks“George McDaniel’s tenure at Drayton Hall represents the embodiment of stewardship and whole place preservation.  He has led the preservation and maintenance of the site’s extraordinary buildings and landscape, as well as the surrounding landscape of the Ashley River.  He has worked tirelessly and creatively to recover and tell the stories of the site, especially those of its African American history. His work has established new and expansive ways in which historic sites provide public benefit.  George’s leadership, which is always grounded in a good story and his easy laugh, has made Drayton Hall an exemplary historic site and it has strengthened the National Trust as an organization.” -Stephanie Meeks, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation


“Historic sites often narrowly focus on their own limited slice ofAnthony Wood history. Their narratives are limited to the minutia of their own story and their concerns stop at their borders. Not the case with Drayton Hall. Guided by George’s broader vision, Drayton Hall has used its compelling history to connect visitors to larger historic themes and to instill in them a preservation ethic that they can take home with them. Drayton Hall has gone beyond its gates to protect the larger cultural landscape of which it is such an integral part. By linking its story to larger themes and by playing a leadership role in regional preservation, George has established Drayton Hall as a national leader. Drayton Hall is a world-class historic site. That recognition is due in no small measure to the enlightened vision, generous spirit, and exceptional dedication of its world-class leader, George McDaniel.” -Tony Wood, Drayton Hall Site Advisory Council Chair Emeritus

“As a member of the Drayton family, I would like to express our appreciation for George McDaniel’s 25 years of dedicated commitment to Drayton Hall. He spearheaded the effort that has successfully secured the view shed of Drayton Hall in particular and the Ashley River region in general. He has put together a talented staff who are outstanding in their respective fields. His vision has enabled all descendants of those who helped to make Drayton Hall what it is to feel pride in their heritage. He has also broadened the outreach of Drayton Hall through educational programs and expanded recognition with cooperative ventures with other historic-minded organizations. We are truly grateful that his leadership and love of history has borne such fruit at Drayton Hall.” -Anne Drayton Nelson


Drayton Hall Instagram Receives National Recognition

drayton hall instagram screenshot

Thank you to Grant Stevens of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for including Drayton Hall on his list of recommended Instagram accounts to follow. In his blog post Attracting New Audiences through Instagram Tours, Stevens wrote about the great potential Instagram has for historic sites. We’ve loved sharing day-to-day life at Drayton Hall with all of our followers. Find us on Instagram at @draytonhall, and follow some of the other sites Grant recommends in his post.

What Is It? GR Stoneware Jug Medallion

GR Stoneware for Web

One of the most beloved artifacts in the Drayton Hall Archaeological Collection is this “GR” medallion from a stoneware jug. Most likely made in Westerwald, Germany, these jugs enjoyed great popularity during the reigns of King George I (1714-1727) and King George II (1727-1760) as George Rex (GR) is Latin for King George. This artifact was found during the 1980 archaeological excavations of a well just south of the South Flanker building. It is salt-glazed stoneware with an elaborately incised medallion and cobalt blue decoration. It’s an enticing artifact from the past that makes us wonder, when did the object cease to be used and why was it tossed aside?

Host Your Family Reunion at Drayton Hall

brown fam reunion
This has certainly been the summer for family reunion groups to visit Drayton Hall. Drayton Hall hosted the Brown family (pictured above) who participated in our “Day in the Life of a Plantation” program with a house tour. This popular program is perfect for family reunions as it includes interactive stations for all age groups.
“I have heard nothing but wonderful comments from the family about their visit and experience at Drayton Hall,” said family member Jasmin Green. “The next reunion has a lot to live up to. Thank you so much for making this a great family reunion.”
Let our experienced staff help you create some of your best reunion memories by customizing your visit to your family’s interests and schedule. Please call Debbi Zimmerman, our group tour coordinator, at 843-769-2630 for more information or to make reservations.

10 Questions for Intern Katie Dykens

Drayton Hall Intern Katie

Katie Dykens is a graduate student in the historic preservation program at Clemson University and the College of Charleston. She is from San Diego, California.


Describe your internship: I am working on an updated version of Drayton Hall’s National Historic Landmark nomination form. A lot of things have been learned about Drayton Hall since the original nomination form was submitted in 1976.

Weirdest fact you’ve learned about Drayton Hall: The property was the site of two plane crashes in the 1970s.

A story about Drayton Hall that most people don’t know: I was really surprised to learn that the Great Hall may have originally been designed to be smaller than it is. The builders had a difficult time getting the intricately-designed cornice to fit correctly in the new space, and you can see that the pattern doesn’t quite match up if you look up in the corners of the first floor Great Hall. This is a “story” that is told by Drayton Hall, not just about it!

Use three words to describe Drayton Hall: stately, elegant, enduring.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Charleston? The adorable tree frogs that come out whenever it rains.  We don’t have those in California!

If you could time travel, what era would you visit? Assuming that I am magically able to speak any language, I would pick Italy in the fifteenth century. If I am stuck with the language skills I actually have, I would play it safe and head to England about a century and a half later.

Your dream job: My dream job would involve equal parts archival research, beautiful buildings that tell a story about the past, and travel… with a healthy dose of puppies thrown in for good measure.

Name a place that matters to you: Route 66!

If you could give one tip to future visitors, what would it be? Wear comfortable walking shoes. You don’t want to miss out on seeing the grounds because you are not wearing your best “exploring” footwear.

Describe your idea of the perfect Saturday morning: I don’t usually have Saturdays off, but when I do I like to go out on my porch and do yoga in the sun before anything else. I am also a big fan of brunch.

Drayton Hall Archaeologist Attends DAACS Research Consortium

Camille Chambers of the College of William and Mary and Sarah Stroud Clarke enjoying their DRC training session in May at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Camille Chambers of the College of William and Mary and Drayton Hall archaeologist Sarah Stroud Clarke enjoying their DRC training session in May at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

In 2012 Drayton Hall became an institutional partner of the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS), an extensive archaeological database created in 2000 by the Monticello Archaeology Department to foster scholarly collaboration and data sharing of archaeological resources. Sarah Stroud Clarke was in residence at Monticello for five weeks in 2012 as an International Center for Jefferson Studies/DAACS fellow to train on the database before its installation at Drayton Hall later that year.

A glowing lead-crystal bottle stopper from the Drayton Hall Collection.

A glowing lead-crystal bottle stopper from the Drayton Hall Collection.

This UV lightbox is used to determine if glass is leaded.

This UV lightbox is used to determine if glass is leaded.

In April of 2014, DAACS received a $450,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation to support the DAACS Research Consortium or DRC as a web-based initiative. Eleven partner institutions were chosen to take part in the DRC including Drayton Hall, Monticello, Mount Vernon, the South Carolina Institute for Archaeology, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, and six universities. As part of the DRC, each partner institution was charged with choosing a case study to catalog using the DAACS protocols in the new web-based format. Drayton Hall has chosen the South Flanker well, a wood-lined well that was partially excavated during 1979/1980. Sarah is currently spending much of her time working to catalog the estimated 60,000 artifacts excavated from this context. It is hypothesized that the well was filled in during a post-Revolutionary War clean-up of the property. When the detailed analysis of the artifacts from this feature is complete we will hopefully know much more about the residents of Drayton Hall in the eighteenth century.

The DRC grant also funds a series of trips to Monticello for DRC meetings and training sessions for Sarah and Dr. Carter C. Hudgins, as well as new equipment for the Drayton Hall archaeology lab. One recent purchase is a short-wave UV light used to determine if glass is leaded. Artifacts glow an ice-blue color if there is lead present in the glass as is demonstrated by this lead-glass bottle stopper that was found in the South Flanker well (pictured above). The project is set to be completed by the end of March 2015.

Profile on William Henry Drayton

Portrait courtesy of the Library of Courtesy.

Portrait courtesy of the Library of Congress.

If Charles Pinckney (1751-1824)—Continental Congressman, signer of the U.S. Constitution, Governor of South Carolina, and minister to Spain—is considered to be a “forgotten founder” by historians,  then so to is William Henry Drayton (1742-1779). 

But, it is William Henry Drayton—Chief Justice of South Carolina, Continental Congressman, and signer of the Articles of Confederation (1778)—that perpetuated what has become the time-honored tradition of celebrating the establishment of our nation with a “grand fireworks” display on the “glorious anniversary” of Independence. 

Although not the first pyrotechnic exhibition, Drayton felt it essential to carry on with commemoration of the signing in 1779, even if the day fell on a sacred Sunday or in the midst of the yet uncertainty and casualties.  He believed it would be “calculated for improving bodily strength—to make Men athletic & robust,” a moral boost for a weary nation and so it was!

Unfortunately, William Henry only lived a few months after his arguments for continuing commemoration in the Continental Congress.  His death at the age of thirty-seven in September of 1779 ended the trajectory of this young founding father, but his contribution, although brief, laid another course in the foundation of the United States of America.

If you are interested to learn more about William Henry Drayton, please read Keith Krawczynski’s William Henry Drayton: South Carolina’s Revolutionary Patriot.

What is it? William Henry Drayton Mirror Knob

W.H. Drayton mirror knob RESIZED for blog

Late 18th century mirror knob. Copper alloy, enamel, and iron. Gift of Mr. John Mayer. Photographed by Russell Buskirk.

This unique object from the Drayton Hall Museum Collection illustrates the popularity of Revolutionary War patriot William Henry Drayton. While research on this item is ongoing, this object is thought to be a mirror knob used to help support the frame of a mirror to the wall; an explanation of mirror knobs can be found in the 1904-1905 edition of House BeautifulOther potential terms for this item include cloak pin or curtain pin. Whatever its use, the bust of W.H. Drayton is depicted in black on white enamel. Copper alloy with dot decoration serves to frame the ‘miniature,’ the reverse is brass with a threaded iron shaft. The image is taken from the Benoît Louis Prévost engravings of Pierre Eugène Du Simitière’s c.1777 portraits of American patriots which included William Henry Drayton. It is important to note that Du Simitière is also the artist that painted the 1765 watercolor depicting Drayton Hall.