What better way to celebrate America’s birthday than with our Virginia Presidential Tour? Virginia can claim the most presidents of any state - 8 of our former commanders-in-chief were native Virginians. We visited the homes of five during our Virginia Presidential Tour, in partnership with Wofford College’s Lifelong Learning Institute. Read on to discover who they were!
Departing just a few days after the Fourth of July, this trip was the perfect way to immerse ourselves in early American history. Our small group departed the Greenville / Spartanburg area and made our way north, passing through downtown Greensboro for a leisurely lunch, before stopping for the night at the lovely Berry Hill Estate near South Boston, Virginia.
Built by James and Eliza Bruce in the early 1820s, the estate was built in the Greek Revival style and modeled after the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. The couple shared a love for Greek art and architecture, which they believed echoed the republican values of young America. We enjoyed touring and exploring the house and grounds, which today serve as a hotel and conference center. One unique feature of Berry Hill is its remarkably intact stone slave cabins, which serve as a witness of the enslaved people who lived and worked on the plantation.
We then continued our touring at Red Hill, home of Patrick Henry, near Brookneal, VA. We enjoyed learning more about his life, both personal and public, and his legacy. After a relaxing lunch in Farmville and a drive through the idyllic Hampden-Sydney campus, we arrived in our home for the next two nights: the iconic Williamsburg Lodge in Williamsburg.
For our third day, we explored the James River plantations of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, our 9th and 10th presidents, respectively. At Berkeley Plantation, we walked through the main hall, where Washington himself danced, and learned about Thomas Jefferson’s role in reshaping the house’s architecture. We then paid a visit to Sherwood Forest, just down the road - the plantation home of William Henry Harrison’s cousin, neighbor, and Vice President, John Tyler. Tyler gave his estate this name in response to Henry Clay’s public jab at him as a political “outlaw” at the end of his presidency. Tyler's Sherwood Forest is the longest frame house in the United States, stretching the length of a football field. The president’s grandson and his family still reside in the house today (yes, we got the full family history on location).
Later that afternoon, we stepped back in time in the streets of colonial Williamsburg - as restored by John D. Rockefeller in the 1920s.
Thursday brought us into the Charlottesville area, where we visited Highland, James Monroe’s estate. His home neighbored that of his close friend and fellow Francophile, Thomas Jefferson. We enjoyed an enormous Southern spread of a lunch at the Mitchie Tavern, before spending the afternoon exploring Jefferson's iconic Monticello.
On the last day of our tour, we paid a visit to our fourth president: James Madison. His estate, Montpelier, is located in Orange County, Virginia. We enjoyed learning more about Madison’s presidency and life with Dolley, before visiting the Barboursville Winery. While not home to a former president, the winery is on the site of the ruins of the estate home of Governor James Barbour, which was designed in 1814 by - who else? - Thomas Jefferson.
Thanks to all who traveled with us on this special adventure uncovering the lives and legacies of Virginia's presidents!
Our Lowcountry adventure began with lunch in tiny Santee (a "one stoplight town" kind of place), and led us down meandering roads until we reached the Biggins Church ruins of Moncks Corner. Thought the ruins are hauntingly lovely at any time of year, this site becomes a natural garden in the spring. Surrounded by old oaks festooned in Spanish moss, azaleas in every shade of pink, and draped in wisteria, it's a photographer's dream. The church structure dates to 1761, and suffered three fires before reaching its present state of happy abandon.
Just down the road is Mepkin Abbey, with a rich history of its own. Once the plantation home of Henry Laurens, the estate was gifted to a group of Trappist monks in 1949 by Clare Boothe Luce and her husband, Henry Luce. Today, you can visit the abbey and lovely botanical gardens with beautiful views of the Cooper River. For history lovers (and avid Hamilton fans!) you can visit the graves of Henry Laurens and his son John.
Our next stop was a special visit to Pompion Hill Chapel - a 1763 chapel of ease that is now privately owned and has been beautifully preserved. Situated beside the Cooper River, the churchyard's gravestones are weathered but still legible after centuries of close contact with the water, and provide a fascinating glimpse into early South Carolina life.
After our drive along the Cooper River, we crossed the Ravenel Bridge and arrived in Charleston. After a wine and cheese reception at our pink plastered hotel, the Meeting Street Inn, our group enjoyed a delicious dinner together at Anson's Restaurant. We're still thinking about that pecan pie...
Monday dawned pearly gray, with the promised rain holding off to a short shower. We began our day with a driving tour around downtown Charleston, which looped us around the Battery and up through the Citadel grounds...where we found ourselves briefly trapped on campus during a class change, as cadets kept up an endless file in front of our van. After we made our escape, our attention turned to learning more about Charleston's previous inhabitants. We met Virginia Ellison, Director of Archives and Research, and her colleagues for a special tour of the South Carolina Historical Society's archives. They treated us to a look at special items from their collection, including a lithograph of the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession, and a Union soldier’s Civil War letters. Following this thread of Civil War era history, we drove to James Island to see the community formerly - and rebelliously - named Secessionville, and uncovered the site where the first shots were fired on Fort Moultrie (now Sumter).
After a leisurely lunch, it was time to begin our touring of the Meeting Street homes with the Festival of Houses & Gardens. A few favorites were Two Meeting Street Inn, now a lovely bed and breakfast, and the Dependency of Brandford-Horry House - formerly a carriage house, now a stunning private home with an Italianate interior.
Tuesday morning saw us off to explore Johns Island and Wadmalaw Island. At the Charleston Tea Plantation, we enjoyed a trolley tour of the grounds, and even waved to the founder, Bill Hall, who was at work out in the fields. We sampled just about every type of tea imaginable, then visited the lovely, well-hidden village of Rockville and the iconic Angel Oak. After a tasty lunch at the Stono Market and Tomato Shed Cafe (the locals recommend the chocolate zucchini bread), it was time to head home. We’ll be back, Charleston.
This Southeastern Trip of Discovery took us through the scenic backroads of South Carolina's Old 96 District, with a stop in Edgefield, South Carolina, before crossing the Savannah River into the Georgia Piedmont. We then visited the beautifully decorated private homes and historic buildings of Washington, Georgia, as part of the town's annual Christmas Tour. Holiday fun at its finest!
The Thomson, Georgia home of Thomas Watson - prominent Southern Populist politician and lawyer.
Our group enjoyed a private tour of the impressive Edgefield County Archives, which contains some of South Carolina's rarest historical documents and best preserved records.
The stately Chantilly at Brookhill, a former cotton plantation and dairy farm.
Keeping warm with some hot cider.
Does anyone else love vintage Christmas decorations like we do?
Posted on December 15th in Small Group