The recent anniversary of Hurricane Hugo reminds us of the dangers of hurricane season. As Drayton Hall prepares for the hurricane season of 2010 we thought it important to look to our past. Hurricane Hugo hit the southeast September 21, 1989, as a category 5 hurricane. Although warnings encouraged evacuation some Carolinians chose to remain in their homes. Chris and Booie Chappell, Drayton Hall caretakers, chose to take refuge in Drayton Hall during the storm. This decision was made, according to Chris, because the structure had survived three centuries of natural disasters including numerous hurricanes and even an earthquake.
Equipped with only camping supplies, Booie, Chris, their son David, his wife and their two grandsons stayed in Drayton Hall during Hugo. The winds and driving rains generated a tremendous noise, Booie describes it as, “the worst noise that I can remember was wind in the chimneys and it sounded like the worst thunder you can imagine.” Despite the racket Booie states, “We felt, I felt, Chris felt perfectly safe.” The Chappells received updates as the storm progressed via a two way radio tuned to a Jacksonville station.
The morning of September 22, 1989 the Chappells emerged from the building to find “A lot of debris on the lawn,” according to Chris. Booie chuckled, “that’s putting it mildly.”
“About 6:00 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. in the morning David and I walked out and it was just unbelievable. We looked at one another. There wasn’t much we could say at first except thank the Lord that we were still here,” remembers Chris.
“When I walked out of that house I felt like Scarlet must’a when she saw Tara burn,” Booie reminisced.
Drayton Hall itself suffered little damage. The landscape, however, did not fare as well. We know that 70% of the trees were topped or uprooted as a result of the storm. For days, the drive connected to Highway 61 was impassable for motor vehicles. The Chappells’ on-site home was severely damaged as two trees had penetrated the roof. The debris took months to clear.
Thanks to the kindness of strangers, Booie found solace in her responsibilities as a Drayton Hall tour guide. A ladies tour group from London arrived days after Hugo looking forward to a previously scheduled tour. Booie recounts, “They came in a bus and I was the only person here who could give them a tour. I led them to the portico steps and lost it. I just boo – hooed. I don’t know why it hit me right then – trying to get back to normal things with all that devastation around. And those were the dearest ladies. One lady put her arms around me and said, “darling we had a really big blow in London not too long ago, you’d never know it because nature recoups so quickly and that’s what will happen here.” I’ll never forget it.”
After the storm, the community rallied together with equal parts determination and compassion. And nature did recover. Visitors today experience not only Drayton Hall but also the extensive historic grounds.