One Foot in Eden
Renowned photographer Caroline Knopf shares her magical and mysterious photography essay on one of Charleston, South Carolina’s top destinations: Drayton Hall.
At Drayton Hall, The energy of the past vibrates underfoot as we wander through open fields, under groves of live oaks and over worn hardwood floors. Voices from another time whisper in the breeze and the Southern ethos reverberates in our shared tradition. The South is timeless—a continuous line from past to present, ready to be explored.
Written by: Lauren Flemming • Photos: Caroline Knopf
Make-up Artist: Rosa Martinez • Photo Assistant: Blake Shorter
Retouching: Camera Works • Photo Assistant: Ursula Wiedmann Models
Intern: Lilly Nielsen
Founded in 1738, Drayton Hall is the nation’s earliest example of fully executed Palladian (Italian Renaissance) architecture and the oldest preserved plantation house in America still open to the public. Having survived both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the main building is a central part of the 630-acre estate that once was the base of an indigo and rice plantation—along with 13 slave cabins, home to an estimated 78 enslaved people. Handed down through generations of Draytons, the property was acquired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1974. Because Drayton Hall has never been restored, visitors have the rare opportunity to study materials and designs from every period in the house’s history—all the way back to the time of its construction. The property—from the ornate walls of the main house to the shade of the live oak trees—bears witness to the complexities of American history.
When John Drayton took up residence at Drayton Hall in the early 1750s, the estate was referenced in the South Carolina Gazette as nothing less than a “Palace and Gardens.” The expansive, picturesque landscape was carefully conceived by Drayton and is a reflection of his 18th-century gentleman status, harkening back to English aristocratic tradition. Some of the most majestic live oaks on the grounds date back to the 1800s, around the time Drayton’s son, Charles, ran the property. While the plantation structure is indicative of the South’s reverence for English tradition, much of Drayton Hall’s horticultural features were cultivated and maintained by enslaved people—whose history is interwoven as deep as the roots of the live oaks themselves.
Drayton Hall has been reclaimed for any and all. Visitors can tour the house and grounds, follow guided tours as well as experience the main house by candlelight in an exclusive, after-hours twilight tour. The grounds are pet friendly and open to educational events and group tours. Drayton Hall makes for an exceptional event venue, and allows for corporate meetings, events and retreats. Arrangements can be made for photoshoots and other special requests. To access Drayton Hall virtually, historical webinars are held every Thursday evening.
All of the attire, decor and furnishings in this photo essay are locally sourced from Charleston boutiques. The Sterling Silver pieces are courtesy of Terrace Oaks Antiques, and all tell a story of their own. Practicing preservation—whether through restoration, stabilization, antiquing, thrifting or otherwise—is essential to understanding the past, finding meaning in the present and informing the future. Visit terraceoaksantiques.com, alexandrafrenchantiques.com.
Not only do the places we go and the things we use carry a continuous line to the past, but the clothes we wear provide another example of how we incorporate heritage into our daily lives. The two women below wear a French designer and a “seed to stitch” concept American dress. They represent the French influence on Charleston’s history, as well as its role in the institution of slavery and agricultural heritage. The “seed to stitch” Madame Magar dress is hand-stitched from materials and dyes grown on an old indigo plantation, similar to the likes of Drayton Hall. The model on the right-hand page is wearing Marc Le Bihan, whose designs are meant to preserve timeless silhouettes and express adamant opposition to fleeting trends. Both Havens and Worthwhile boutiques (located in Charleston) are purveyors of independent designers. Visit havens-chs.com and shopworthwhile.com.