Final Phase of the Portico Project Is Now Underway!

A view of the great lawn from the portico.

A view of the great lawn from the portico.

Anticipation has been building at Drayton Hall as we gear up for the final phase of the portico rehabilitation project, which includes preservation contractors from Richard Marks Restorations, Inc., beginning the careful demolition and removal of modern concrete that has compromised the structural integrity of the portico for years. An extensive research and planning process was carried out to ensure that the new building materials will meet the present day demands placed on the house without negatively impacting the historic building materials that survive from the 1740s.

Last week, our Curator of Historic Architectural Resources Patricia Lowe Smith shared the good news with Drayton Hall staff:

I am excited to tell you that I just received the official Notice to Proceed for the portico project. (Cue champagne corks!) You may have already noticed some materials being delivered to the house in recent days, and you will see more of that through the end of the week. Before any demolition takes place the workers will be implementing a very thorough protection plan that will include lots of foam, plastic sheeting and plywood to protect the house. A plywood wall will be erected in the basement to shield visitors from flying dust and debris, and the view will be obscured from the great hall(s) by plastic sheeting and plexi glass that will be used to keep dust and flying objects from damaging anything.

We are working to schedule a meeting for the guides to discuss the project and its potential impact on tours in detail. All staff are welcome to attend this meeting. At this point I can tell you that the contractors are being as careful as they can to plan for the most noisy and potentially disruptive work during early morning or evening hours. I hope to have meeting details to you shortly, but in the meantime you are welcome to contact me with any questions.



Visitors can expect to see preservation in progress through October 2015. The house will remain open for tours during this time, and we hope you will pardon our dust as we carry out this important preservation work. Watch for frequent updates on our blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages, and you’ll also be able to see the project unfold hour by hour on our website where we’ll be posting time-lapse photographs of work underway. When the dust settles it will be our pleasure to welcome you onto Drayton Hall’s iconic portico once again.

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.

Regis Pluchet Visits Drayton Hall

Following in the footsteps of his ancestor, French Botanist André Michaux


Regis Pluchet, a great-great-great-nephew of André Michaux, visited Drayton Hall earlier this month while touring the same areas of the southern United States that his ancestor explored. George McDaniel, executive director of Drayton Hall, described Pluchet’s visit as “a living connection to a remarkable botanist, explorer, and friend of Charles Drayton during the scientific enlightenment.” Pluchet remarked that he was appreciative of the preservation philosophy of Drayton Hall that allowed him to see what his ancestor would have seen, including the ancient live oaks and the unspoiled view of the Ashley River.

In 1786 Michaux established his French botanical garden across the river from Drayton Hall. Charles Drayton, the second-generation owner of Drayton Hall, wrote of his friendship with Michaux. For the kindness of loaning a horse to Michaux, Charles was given “9 Genea of rare plants & Shrubs” from Michaux’s garden. Charles visited Michaux’s “French botanic garden” multiple times and received plants and shrubs which he noted in lists. Michaux left Charleston in 1796, but his legacy remained. He introduced many species to America from various parts of the world, including the camellia, tea olive, and crepe myrtle. Pluchet is publishing a book this summer on Michaux’s travels to Persia.


A Tribute to Miss Sally

At the close of Women’s History Month, we would like to pay tribute to Sally Reahard, an important benefactress of Drayton Hall. Miss Sally, as she preferred to be called, passed away a decade ago, but her love and support for Drayton Hall can still be seen on the site today. The following tribute is written by Drayton Hall Executive Director George W. McDaniel, who knew and admired Miss Sally and worked with her closely.

By George W. McDaniel, Executive Director

How to characterize Miss Sally? She was her own person, to be sure. She was an original, sui generis. I think most would agree that she was astute and lively. She cut to the chase, and always presented herself well. She didn’t suffer fools or idle chit-chat. She loved to talk, but it was about things of substance, whether history, preservation, conservation, or about forks in the road and which one to take.

A young Miss Sally conveying her love for the outdoors and her joie de vivre spirit.

A young Miss Sally conveying her love for the outdoors and her joie de vivre attitude.

Miss Sally grew up in Indianapolis and went to Sweet Briar College in Virginia. In the small world that this is, she was two years behind my mother, who’d grown up in Atlanta. She remembered Mother well and sent me pictures from the Sweet Briar annual of Mother and also of herself and of my mother’s friends who’d gone to Sweet Briar. Some were classmates of Miss Sally, one, in fact, being my next door neighbor growing up in Atlanta and two others, my “aunts” by affection, one in Atlanta, the other in Augusta, Ga.

The pictures capture Miss Sally’s personality. I wish you could have known her. When I visited her, I encouraged her to visit Charleston since she had so many friends here and had done so much for the city and its museums, historic sites, and conservation organizations, but she refused. She had a number of friends here from her visits in the 1930s and had made new ones, thanks to the fact that she was a wonderful and frequent letter writer and telephone caller. She corresponded with many Charlestonians, subscribed to The Post and Courier, and even wallpapered one of her rooms with scenes from Charleston. She talked to different people and got different points of view on topics related to Drayton Hall. As a result, you had better be well grounded when you talked to her. She really liked Chris and Booie Chappell, who live here on the property, and they were constant correspondents. She also thought highly of Bob Barker and George Neil, the assistant director when I arrived, and my predecessor Letisha Galbraith. She loved our preservation mission, especially in regard to the main house, as well as our efforts to conserve the Ashley River.

Miss Sally

Her devoted and skillful attorney, Gene Wilkins, gave her excellent advice, and together they crafted a strategy for philanthropy. They thought things through, and just as she sought to invest her financial assets wisely to reap a good return, so too she sought to invest her philanthropy wisely. Gene was her right hand man, her candid and thoughtful sounding board, who was not afraid to speak his mind, which she appreciated. During her lifetime, she gave away millions of dollars to non-profits, small and large, especially in Indiana, Michigan, and South Carolina, to organizations whose work she believed in. Upon her death, she left an estate totaling c. $180 million, and she gave it all away.

As you walk around Drayton Hall, you can see things today that are a product, as a whole or in part, of her and Gene’s strategy of philanthropy—things one might take for granted. They include, but are not limited to the following:

• Drayton Hall itself (she gave the leadership private gift)
• water from North Charleston supplying our fire hydrants, the site having had no fire hydrants in the event of fire
• the replacement terne metal roof on the main house, which saved Drayton Hall during Hurricane Hugo
• stabilization of the historical paint and plaster in the main house
• the current administration building
• the Miss Sally Cottage, where the Chappells live
• the preservation department building, tractor/equipment shed, and related site work
• two sets of rip rap on the Ashley River: one at the end of the allée and the other being longer in length and upstream
• the land across the river
• the re-engineered road and parking lot with its sand/shell/gravel mixture (not just sand and gravel, as earlier, which had consistently wash boarded and rutted deeply)
• annual donations each year of c. $50-60K for general operating support
• an endowment bequest of $16M

Miss Sally and George McDaniel

As you can see, all of these things were essential. No frou-frou. When I gave a eulogy at her funeral, I talked about these essential things, and in the interests of time, chose to accent the rip rap, the pile of rocks, seemingly non-descript, but absolutely essential to the preservation of the mid-18th century garden house, one of the oldest sites of a garden house in the South, if not the nation. Each year we’d been losing about 1 foot of the soft riverbank due to erosion caused by wakes from speed boats. We’d won support from the US Corps of Engineers for the installation of rip rap, but had to have a 25% match for the total cost of $280,000. George Neil, assistant director at the time, and I presented the case, and Miss Sally stepped up and provided $70,000 for the match. What a difference she made! To get a sense of just how close the threat was to the garden house, walk out to the live oak behind it. You would have been standing above the river, for the root ball was barely supported by the earth beneath it, so deeply undercut had the riverbank become. Thanks to Miss Sally, that site, so important to garden design, social history, and horticulture, has now been preserved and exemplifies what she has done for us today and for future generations.

That’s the kind of person she was—she wanted action that made a difference to the good. So next time you get a chance, please take a walk to the garden house and out to the live oak, look down and around at the entirety of this remarkable site, and say a word of thanks to Miss Sally.

Conservation on the Ashley: Rosebrock Park

SC wild 1

Click image above to read full article.

The cultural landscape of the Draytons wasn’t just the site itself, but consisted of the plantations up and down the Ashley River and Ashley River Road. Today, as a visitor to Drayton Hall, your experience of this historic site begins with what you see along the way. Imagine if you were met with the sights and sounds of suburban sprawl overtaking this historic plantation district?  In what way would your personal encounter with Lowcountry heritage be altered? That is why, as commercial development expands ever closer, we remain committed to community engagement in order to preserve our environs, the Ashley River Region.

Rosebrock Park stands as an illustration of Drayton Hall’s work in fulfilling our mission of preserving and interpreting “Drayton Hall and its environs,” work that supporters of Drayton Hall make possible. We hope you will enjoy this current article about Rosebrock Park in South Carolina Wildlife (a publication of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources). Author Rosanne McDowell recounts the persistence of local citizens that eventually led to the park’s establishment, and she brings light to the particular assets of the park, from its location on the Ashley River to the old hardwoods of the Live Oak trail. If Drayton Hall had not stepped forward on behalf of Rosebrock Park and collaborated with the Department of Natural Resources and other allies, its wetlands and forests would now be paved over and consist of subdivisions or commercial developments. Thanks to your support, we were able to turn its fate. Read the full story: SC Wildlife Nov-Dec 2013