Daily Archives: December 11, 2015

Middleton Place

DSCF8411Located up the Ashley River from Charleston, Middleton Place is an 18th century plantation that is known for having the first designed, landscaped gardens in America.  Successive generations of Middletons lived here and modified the landscape (when they weren’t busy running the Continental Congress or signing the Declaration of Independence), but also lived resided in their Charleston townhouse.  (Both Middleton Place and the Edmonston-Alston townhouse are owned by the same foundation, but despite the best efforts of the genealogy-obsessed docent, we couldn’t quite figure out the family relationships.)  Our colleague Roxi Thoren has been doing research on its history for a while, so I won’t embarrass myself by trying to sound too knowledgeable about its history or meaning.

The original intent in the early 1700s was to have a country residence, which was transformed into a plantation later in the century.  The main house was located on a long axis that stretched from the house to the main road on one side:DSCF8314

and to the river on the other:DSCF8319

There are a series of parterres stepping down to the river landing, with constructed lakes flanking the axis.DSCF8328

Upriver from the house are formal gardens – a gridded landscape of allees and outdoor rooms DSCF8279  DSCF8307

one of which contains the Middleton family grave, DSCF8301

and culminating in a long reflecting pool.  All of this would have been for the strolling pleasure of the Middletons and their guests, with many quiet places t sit and talk, similar to country houses on the continent.  DSCF8272

Beyond this end of the plantation, a more natural swamp and lake area remains.  DSCF8454

What I found most remarkable was the river’s edge, where the juxtaposition of the natural marsh landscape DSCF8450

with the formal built landscape is handled beautifully, allowing you to move along the edge and experience both:DSCF8448

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The main section of the house was destroyed by Union troops in the Civil War, and after this the Middletons, in straightened circumstances, modified the remaining side pavilion to be the main house (so it is not situated across the main axis.)  DSCF8381

The remains of the house were knock down by an earthquake, and were either used to build a new stable and farmyard, or were left in a pile:DSCF8315

Near the house are some remaining older buildings – the original spring house, which later had a chapel added above: DSCF8335

and a freedman’s double house from around 1870.  (The original slave quarters no longer exist, and from what we’ve learned at other plantations, these freedman’s houses would be notably larger and better than what the enslaved people lived in.)  DSCF8385

The other side of the axis from the formal gardens is a landscape more in the romantic tradition, with picturesque vistas and winding paths.  DSCF8407

It’s a beautiful place, where the intelligence, complexity and importance of the planning is probably not explcitly apparent to the many visitors who come to see the plantings in the gardens.  Greta enjoyed the relative lack of architecture (hooray for the Union, she cried), and even the time she had to spend appreciating the landscape was enhanced by a reasonable amount of interesting livestock. DSCF8267