Like a specter emerging out of the past, Drayton Hall still stands; it wasn’t destroyed by the Yankees during the Civil War or the devastating earthquake that occurred at about that time. Its grandeur remains only in the mansion itself - the gardens have slowly disappeared with time and the stables are no more, and only a few indications of their former existence are noticeable. The plantation is now owned and maintained by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
We met our guide, Helen, in the gift shop and followed her to the mansion. She was carrying a large silver-plated serving spoon. When we got to the left staircase in front of the west façade, she stopped and told us about the mansion. She said that it was built in 1742 at the behest of John Drayton, whose father had migrated from Barbados. Many of the early settlers in Charleston came from Barbados. His father brought a slave family named Bowen, and descendants of that family still live, and many are buried, on the plantation.
John Drayton wanted the finest house that could be built, and, from the ground up, it has all the attributes of classical architecture. Helen said that the design of the pilasters and their capitals around windows, doorways, and fireplaces tell the function of the entranceway and all the rooms inside; the less important rooms were graced with the Doric (least important) order. As we walked through, she explained what the room was used for and how important that use was to the family. The west entrance was less important than the formal east entrance that faced what were once the beautiful gardens that led the visitor from the Ashley River to the mansion. At one time, visitors came by way of the river because it was very difficult to follow the land path through the Low Country.
The National Trust has done much to maintain the mansion to keep it from decay due to its age and to allow visitors to walk through safely. Nothing has changed from the way it had been when the last member of the Drayton family lived there. It isn’t freshly painted or furnished, and that is disappointing to the less imaginative. Remnants of the formal gardens can be found along the river walk with a prepared map and guide, but the day was dreary and it began to rain, so we weren’t able to include that as part of our tour. Helen invited us all to join the National Trust for Historic Preservation and told us we would receive a beautiful spoon, like the one she was carrying, if we did.