By Carol Antman for Island Eye News
My book club, The Venuses of Willendorf, has been together for 20 years. We’ve read hundreds of books, classics to best sellers. So no judgments please when I tell you that our recent book, Keeper of the House, is about a famous Georgetown brothel The Sunset Lodge. Open from 1930 to 1969, it was described by Post and Courier as “perhaps the most widely known site in South Carolina, with the exception of Fort Sumter.” Sailors would return to the port in Charleston and immediately head up the highway to Sunset Lodge by the busload. After it closed, the property was purchased by a local couple who made it their home. “For years and years, we’d have ten cars a day… asking for Sunset,” they reported.
A lot of visitors are also dropping by another house just up the road. The Beatties are only the fifth family to own and live at Hopsewee Plantation since it was built between 1733 and 1740. Protected from developers and now a National Historic Landmark, the 70 acres sit grandly on the banks of the North Santee River. Centuries-old oaks drip with Spanish moss. Flourishing camellias and forsythia abound.
The plantation house has been preserved throughout its life and is not a restoration although modernizing elements such as plumbing and a practical kitchen have been added. Eighteenth century architectural elements include hand-carved lighted candle molding and thick random width heart pine floors. The house’s durability is attributable to its brick and scored tabby foundation and black cypress construction. As the daily tours begin, modern conveniences are carefully tucked behind antique furniture since the home is still occupied.
It was originally built as a country get-away by Thomas Lynch Sr. who owned seven plantations in the area. In the mid 1800’s, Georgetown plantations produced over 36 million pounds of rice a year, second only to India. Hopsewee and its 178 slaves were renowned for Carolina Gold rice. Our tour guide Jean Efird explained, “It was slave knowledge and slave expertise that got this to be as successful as it was. They knew how to make marshes into rice fields and build trunks to flood the fields.”
Descendants of these slave families lived in some of the cabins until the 1940’s, two cabins of which remain today and are on the Gullah Geechee Corridor.
Thomas Lynch Sr. was prominent in the politics of our developing nation and was appointed with Benjamin Franklin to advise General Washington in 1775. Unfortunately, a year later he suffered a paralyzing hemorrhage.
Unable to come to Philadelphia, his son Thomas Lynch Jr. was selected to serve the Continental Congress creating the only father/son pair to ever do so.
The younger Lynch was only 26 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence. A replica of the document hangs in the house with a space left for the missing signature of Thomas Lynch Sr. We also heard romantic stories of less famous inhabitants.
Clearly visible in the original window glass is the inscription “MRL 1906”. Charlotte Lucas was showing off her new engagement ring from George Lafaye by etching initials and the date into the window. Apparently that was a tradition, especially if you’d received the plantation as a wedding gift as she had.
The story of today’s owners began in 2000 when Frank Beattie heard that the previous owners of Hopsewee were selling it to developers and stopped by. He was told that the owners were reluctant to see the property developed and hoped to find a buyer who would care for the Plantation and its legacy. Raejean Beattie finishes the story: “He came home one day and said ‘We’re buying Hopsewee Plantation.’ I said ‘you’ve obviously gotten far away.
Roadtrips Charleston! is a feature of Lucky Dog Publishing. Each month the column presents adventurous, interesting destinations within a few hours drive of Charleston. Carol Antman’s passion for outdoor and artistic experiences has led her to exotic and nearby destinations far and wide. For suggestions, comments and to view more images please see www.peaksandpotholes.blogspot.com