From Historic Caretaker’s House to Interpretive Exhibit: Illustrating the Lives of African Americans at Drayton Hall

by Cameron Moon, Preservation Coordinator, the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust

As work begins on the new visitor center, preparations to repurpose the historic caretaker’s house into an interpretive exhibit are underway. While the postbellum period and the 20th century are not periods of primary significance at Drayton Hall, these years were pivotal for the preservation of the property. Phosphate mining became the major industry in Charleston after the Civil War, relying on the labor of freedmen who remained in the area after Emancipation.

Drayton Hall was first leased to a mining company in 1866, and tenant housing was subsequently built on the property to house the miners and their families. These families formed a community during Reconstruction, and many of them remained on the property through the first half of the 20th century, caring for the landscape and the main house while the Drayton family was gone. As we revisit our interpretation of the site with the construction of new facilities, our primary goal is to interpret a complete story of Drayton Hall, striving to illustrate the lives of the enslaved people, women, and African Americans.

Unlike the colonial and antebellum periods where documentation of the enslaved workforce is scarce, evidence of the postbellum African American community is available through census records, oral histories, photographs, leases, maps, and architectural remains. We plan to use the caretaker’s house to interpret the postbellum period and the 20th century at Drayton Hall, allowing us to exhibit this documentary evidence for the first time to interpret the lives of the people who lived at Drayton Hall from the 1860s until the 1940s.

Old Nancy Notes in front of pole fence

Old Nancy Notes, Drayton Family Servant, undated. Courtesy of the South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC.

One of the residents of Drayton Hall during this period was Nancy Notes (referred to as “Nanny” by Richmond Bowens). According to Bowens, she worked as a nurse for the Drayton children, Charles Henry II, Charlotta, and Bessie, in the early 20th century. It is possible that Nancy Notes was enslaved by the Draytons. The name “Nanny” appears on an inventory of slaves from c.1857. The name of Nancy Notes’ husband on the 1880 U.S. Census, Quash, is also listed on this inventory. While further research may verify if Nancy Notes and “Nanny” are the same person, her position as a nurse for the Drayton children suggests she had an existing relationship with the Drayton family prior to living on the property after Emancipation.

Diana Roberts, Drayton Hall servant

Diana Roberts, Drayton Family Servant, undated. Courtesy of the South Carolina Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC.

Another woman we believe lived at Drayton Hall during this time was Diana Roberts. According to Richmond Bowens, she lived in one of the few identifiable houses along MacBeth Road today, referred to as the Roberts/McKeever House. It was a two-room framed house with an end chimney, brick piers and shingle roof. Diana does not show up on any census records from 1870-1940. However, a photograph labeled “Diana Roberts, Drayton Family Servants” exists in a collection of Drayton Hall photographs housed at the South Caroliniana Library. In the photograph, she stands at a wooden gate in front of a framed house, which matches the description Bowens gave of houses along MacBeth Road. The house behind her also matches the architectural remains of the Roberts/McKeever House on MacBeth Road today. The end chimney survives, as do the brick piers and other wooden framing elements. Further investigation will help us learn more about Nancy Notes, Diana Roberts, and the African American community that lived at Drayton Hall after the Civil War through the first half of the twentieth century.

We are excited to share this ongoing research with visitors, as this period of time was pivotal for the preservation of Drayton Hall, and it is a story that has often been left untold, until now.

Camerodrayton_hs_06n Moon is a graduate of the College of Charleston with a degree in Historic Preservation and Community Planning and a minor in Anthropology. Her honors thesis chronicled the adaptive reuse of the Cigar Factory on East Bay Street and its relationship with the surrounding neighborhood. Before joining the DHPT staff in September 2014, she worked for Edgewood Builders, where she learned construction, preservation and restoration techniques at Medway Plantation and houses in the historic district. Cameron is currently working on ongoing Drayton Hall conservation projects as well as converting the museum shop, housed in the former caretaker’s house, into an interpretive museum space.

 

Building Bridges Symposium Highlights Latest Research and Discoveries from Drayton Hall

header1Join us on January 29 and 30 for Breaking Ground and Building Bridges, a symposium that brings together leading scholars from Charleston’s preservation and history organizations to present new research on the material culture of the Carolina Lowcountry. Over the course of two days, speakers will discuss exciting initiatives and cutting–edge research projects related to archaeology, the decorative arts, social history, and post-Reconstruction Charleston. Critically-acclaimed artist Jonathan Green will give the Keynote Address at the Building Bridges Symposium.

This year, Drayton Hall will be represented in the program by Cameron Moon, Preservation Coordinator, who will present “The Caretaker’s House: Vernacular Architecture and the Postbellum African American Community at Drayton Hall” on Friday at 2:15 pm. Ms. Moon will speak about how her research of the caretaker’s house has led to a better understanding of the African American community living at Drayton Hall from the late 19th to mid-20th century and has helped to develop a more accurate portrayal of the tenant houses and landscape during phosphate mining.

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c. 1915, one of the earlier photographs of the caretaker’s house shows it in its original location next to the main house. This is a rare view, as it is of the back of the house and shows its original footprint before an addition on the back was built in 1923.

The Symposium is a collaboration between Historic Charleston Foundation, Drayton Hall Preservation Trust, The Charleston Museum and Preservation Society of Charleston to facilitate dialogue among many of the Lowcountry Institutions. All proceeds will benefit the sponsoring institutions. Symposium tickets are $125/person for the general public and free for students.

See full schedule and purchase tickets

 

Camerodrayton_hs_06n Moon is a graduate of the College of Charleston with a degree in Historic Preservation and Community Planning and a minor in Anthropology. Her honors thesis chronicled the adaptive reuse of the Cigar Factory on East Bay Street and its relationship with the surrounding neighborhood. Before joining the DHPT staff in September 2014, she worked for Edgewood Builders, where she learned construction, preservation, and restoration techniques at Medway Plantation and houses in the historic district. Cameron is currently working on ongoing Drayton Hall conservation projects as well as converting the museum shop, housed in the former caretaker’s house, into an interpretive museum space.

Update: Basement Window Project

By Cameron Moon, Preservation Coordinator

Drayton Hall Windows Before

Drayton Hall windows after

Before and after: the basement window sashes have all been installed and bring much needed light to the space.

This photograph was taken after a batten shutter was removed by our preservation staff from the basement in February 2013.

This photograph was taken after a batten shutter was removed by our preservation staff from the basement in February 2013.

After a slight delay, the newly milled window sashes have been installed in the basement. This week, Richard Marks Restorations, Inc. gave them a final coat of paint and left us with a significantly brighter basement. The main reason for installing these newly milled and glazed sash windows is to cast more natural light into the basement, allowing for more interpretation and education to take place there.  The impetus for this project began in February 2013 when Patricia Smith, Curator of Historic Architectural Resources, and Joseph Mester, former Preservation Technician, conducted a rehabilitation of a window in the northwest room of the basement. The window had been covered by a batten shutter, which was removed. After observing how much natural light the rehabilitated window allowed into the northwest room, the preservation team considered removing all of the batten shutters and installing sash windows to achieve the same effect throughout the basement. This was explained in a previous blog post published in May 2014.

Like the window rehabilitated in February 2013, all of the window frames in the basement are constructed to accommodate a stationary upper sash and a vertical sliding lower sash. In keeping with the philosophy that Drayton Hall be preserved as it was received from the Drayton family in 1974, no significant changes have been made to those frames to reinstall window sashes and remove the batten shutters.  If necessary, the shutters could be returned easily to the apertures without disrupting any historic fabric.

An example of a worn window stop in the basement of Drayton Hall.

An example of a worn window stop in the basement of Drayton Hall.

Once the preservation team decided to install sash windows throughout the basement, they turned to the Architectural Fragment Collection, which includes numerous window sashes they hoped to reuse in the existing window frames.  Unfortunately, the sashes were not the correct size, so they contracted millworkers of Richard Marks Restorations to craft 36 light sashes to resemble the windows installed in the 1870s with ½” muntins.  The new sashes are constructed in 19th century form to maintain continuity with the rest of the windows of the house.

While the new sashes are built in the 19th century fashion, they are clearly modern, not to be confused with the historic fabric of the frames and window stops. Some of the stops are well worn, while others are in good condition. Richard Marks Restorations left those historic stops in place, regardless of condition.  The new stops on the interior frames clearly differ from the historic stops on the bottom.

New and Historic Stops

This image shows the new stop with historic stops above and below.

The new window sashes make a dramatic difference in the visibility in the basement.  With the increase of natural light we can remove out of place electric lamps, previously needed to provide more light. More interpretive programs can take place in the basement, as all of the rooms are bright enough for visitors to see what surrounds them. Additionally, the new sashes better prevent rain from entering the basement and damaging the interior floors and plaster. We are very pleased with the work Richard Marks Restorations has completed for us, and look forward to the possibilities our newly lit basement will bring.

New Window Sashes in the Basement of Drayton Hall

The new window sashes make a dramatic difference in the basement by adding much needed light to the space.