Located 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:
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.
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.)
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.)
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.