Middleton Place was acquired by Henry Middleton in 1741. Henry was the President of the First Continental Congress and the home saw 4 generations of Middleton family members. There was also Arthur whose name appears on the Deceleration of Independence. There was another Henry who was the Governor of SC as well as a mister to Russia. Then there was William who signed the Ordinance of Secession.
When Henry and his wife, Mary, moved here he was one of the wealthiest men in America. And like many men of his stature he wanted his home to reflect such He also wanted a home that would revile the finest estates in Europe. The low-counrty lands that sat on the banks of the Ashley River would provide the ideal place for his home and provide a way to continue to make a living and add to his wealth. This Jacobean style mansion is only half of the grand mansion that you see today.
In 1865 the plantation was deliberately burned by Yankees and the family was forced to flee. Then the home further took a hit during the Great Earthquake of 1886. Today only the southern portion of the home remains. Many of the family’s belongs have remained and can be enjoyed today by visitors to the home. They include portraits by Benjamin West and Thomas Sully, Charleston rice beds, fine silver and rare first editions by Catesby and Audubon.
The stable yards are a favorite with all family members, but wee ones in particular will love this area. They can pet fuzzy sheep, goats, and horses. There are also displays of the farm equipment that would have been used at the time the Middleton family lived here. There are docents through the stables who can answer your questions and explain how the equipment is used. There are also during some events actual demonstrations of how this equipment would have been used by the workers at the time.
One structure that guests will want to visit is Eliza’s House. This small white cabin is right before you come to the barnyard and near the parking lot. The structure, built in 1870 formerly sat where the plantations restaurant is now. The home was occupied by former slaves of the Middleton’s who returned to work after the war as labor. The home was named in honor Eliza Leach, who was the last person to live in the home. Ironically she only died in 1986 at age 94 and had worked for the Middleton family for 40 years and then worked for the foundation distributing brochures and tickets.
Henry also had a passion for gardens and wanted his gardens to reflect what could be seen in English country gardens. One of the most notable and photographed portions of the garden are known as the Butterfly gardens. As you walk up the steps in the back of the house they form two large ponds when viewed from above look like the opened wings of a butterfly. Men once played at bowls here while the women would stroll the gardens in their finest. Today visitors can roam the 60 acres of this lush garden and marvel at Camilla bushes which are still open in the colder months, boxwoods, benches to catch your breath or sit and reflect, statues, and in the spring the azalea bushes bring color to the gardens. There is a long reflecting pool which now is home to many ducks, swans, and turtles. There is a maze of interconnecting paths that bring surprises to guests at every corner. There are many places to catch glimpses of the Ashley River or just sit down and ponder a few minutes under the expansive tress that have been here as long as the house has been here. The gardens remain the oldest landscaped gardens in America. They also made it in the recently released book 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die (Rae Spencer-Jones. Barros Publishing 2007), which puts them in the same company as Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, Villa d’Este in Lazio Italy, Versailles in France and Monet’s Gardens at Giverny.
In the 1920’s, one of the descendants of the Middleton’s, John Pringle Smith, inherited the property and sat about to restore the home to the former glory. Sometime in the 1930’s he opened the gardens up to the public and by 1975 the home was open for tours and there was the newly formed Middleton Place Foundation which oversees the running of the home. In 1941 the Garden Club of America honored the gardens with its Buckley Medal for "200 years of enduring beauty". In 1991 the International Committee on Monuments & Sites (ICOMOS) named it is only one of 6 US gardens of International Importance. The home is designated as a National Historical Landmark. The house was also highlighted in the 2000 movie The Patriot starring Mel Gibson. It was used for the exterior of Lord Cornwallis’ mansion.
Today guests can spend hours here touring the massive grounds and gardens. There are perfectly manicured flower gardens, statues, ponds, ruins, a slave cemetery, and the tomb of Arthur Middleton. And if that isn’t enough you can even eat here and spend the night.
The Inn at Middleton offers guest 53 rustic and inviting rooms over looking the Ashley River and are on the grounds of the plantation. For the outdoor fan try one of the horse trail rides at the Equestrian Center. They also offer biking, hiking, and kayaking. There is a restaurant on the premises that offers both lunch and dinner. The dining room overlooks the incredible Old Mill Pond. They also hold larger buffets at certain times of the year such as Thanksgiving. Unfortunately if someone ever comes up with 1001 Buffets to Try before You Die, they won’t make it in that book. This is also a spectacular place to hold your wedding, meeting, or another special occasion you have.
The house does have a gift shop, museum shop, and there is a garden shop and nursery in case you want to bring some of their gardens to your garden. They do have restrooms on the premises and vending machines to get Cokes or water. The grounds are handicapped accessible but the house its self has limited accessibility.
$25 (a) $5 (c) Under 6 free.
Guided house tour $10
45 minute carriage ride $15
All day package including carriage ride and house tour $45 (a) $30 (c)
The home opens at 9 am daily and closing hours are seasonal.
They do have a number of events through the year including specials at Eater, Christmas, and Thanksgiving, they have a huge garden festival in October, and they do have special events in connection with the Spoleto Festival in June. Do allow several hours here. Photos are not allowed inside the house but are allowed (and encouraged) outdoors.
South Carolina’s Plantations & Historic Homes by Paul Franklin and Nancy Mikula. 2006. Voyageur Press.
Marvelous Old Mansions and other Southern Treasures Sylvia Higginbotham. 2001. John F. Blair Publishing.
Bob Vila’s Guide To Historic Homes of the South . 1993. Lintel Press.
The Garden Lover’s Guide to the South . Paul Bennett. 2000. Princeton Press.
1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die . Rae Spencer-Jones.2007 Barros Publishing.
There is surely something for every member of your party at this grand and glorious mansion. So take the time to come and find out for your self what 250 years has preserved.
4300 Ahley River Rd.
Very highly recommended