by Steve Gates, chair of the Board of Trustees for Drayton Hall Preservation Trust
First published on the op-ed page of the Post & Courier on July 9, 2015
At Drayton Hall, the sweep of history is measured in generations. We work every day to preserve an important historic house, the focal point of the property, built more than 250 years ago.
Drayton Hall has experienced prosperous times and lean times, but few people have had a greater impact than George W. McDaniel, Ph.D., executive director for the last 26 years.
George retired from his post on June 30, leaving a legacy of visionary preservation, education and community building.
We thank George for his distinguished service. Because of his leadership, the future of this irreplaceable historic site has never been brighter.
Incredibly, George’s first day as executive director was the Monday after Hurricane Hugo. Driving in from Summerville along Ashley River Road, George passed downed trees and devastated houses, unsure if Drayton Hall still existed as a physical structure.
The house was intact, but the grounds were severely damaged — the first of myriad challenges that George faced and overcame. Over the course of the next quarter century, George would become the driving force behind one of the most remarkable historic sites in America.
George’s outreach to both Drayton and African American family descendants and his conservation efforts in the Ashley River region now serve as models for other historic sites across the nation
He enhanced Drayton Hall’s financial sustainability and stewardship of the archival, archaeological and museum collections. Since its acquisition from the Drayton family in 1974, Drayton Hall had been owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of its stewardship sites.
George, working with board members, was instrumental in engineering a co-stewardship model of governance and administration that created the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust, a new 501(c)(3) organization, that is now responsible for the operation, preservation, interpretation and enhancement of Drayton Hall.
Most importantly, George has been a tireless advocate of whole place preservation as he believes the preservation of both natural and cultural resources is essential to maintaining the character of places.
He strengthened Drayton Hall’s connections to the community, created a transformative experience for visitors and led the exemplary preservation of the site and the surrounding landscape of the Ashley River corridor.
In July, George is transitioning to president emeritus, a consultative position to our Board of Trustees. He will take a well-deserved (and long deferred) sabbatical through the rest of this summer.
Vice President and Deputy Director Carter C. Hudgins, Ph.D., will serve as interim executive director until the Board of Trustees makes a permanent appointment.
The Drayton Hall of today is very different from the storm-scarred property George inherited more than 25 years ago.
Thanks to his efforts, Drayton Hall’s place in the story of American history has been magnified and enriched.
So, too, has its responsibility in conveying its history — the history of all of its residents — to visitors from around the world. With that in mind, the Board of Trustees is dedicated to taking Drayton Hall into a new era of thoughtful preservation and interpretation, and planning has begun.
We encourage the Charleston community, friends of historic preservation and students of American history everywhere to join us in thanking George McDaniel for his tireless efforts.
We also ask for your support as we move forward into a new era, ever mindful of our storied and celebrated past.