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Charleston is for walkers

Courtesy Charleston Area CVB

The three plantations up the Ashley River have distinctive styles. Drayton Hall, a redbrick Georgian-Palladian house built in 1738, is a preservationist’s dream. It is the area’s only house to survive both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and architecture, design and craftsmanship are the primary features there. The house has minimal furniture and no electricity, heat or running water, and the original paint is on the walls.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is still owned by descendants of the Drayton family, who acquired the estate in 1676, and features America’s oldest gardens, including one of the largest collections of azaleas and camellias in the country.

Walking and boat tours are available of the gardens, where there is a good chance you might see an alligator or two. The Colonial-era house, moved to the site from Summerville, S.C., after the original plantation house was burned during the Civil War, has a museum with early-American antiques.

A few miles up the road on a bend in the Ashley River, Middleton Place features the country’s oldest landscaped gardens. Henry Middleton, president of the First Continental Congress, started the estate in 1741, and subsequent generations have included a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a governor of South Carolina.

The 60 acres of gardens are intricately designed and highlighted by the Butterfly Lakes at the foot of a landscaped terrace that leads to the Middleton Place House, which was burned at the end of the Civil War. Although only the house’s foundations are visible, a 1755 guest wing that was saved contains the Middleton Place House museum, which has a large collection of the family’s furniture, silverware, china and books.

Costumed craftspeople in Middleton Place’s Stableyards use authentic tools and domestic animals to demonstrate Colonial-era farming.

Another plantation option, across the Cooper River, is Boone Hall Plantation, the most interesting and poignant features of which are several restored brick slave cabins from the 1790s.

A long row of 18th-century oaks lead from the entrance to the main house, which is a re-creation built in the 1930s. The privately owned plantation is still an active farming operation, and visitors can pick their own strawberries, peaches, tomatoes and pumpkins.

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