Touring Charleston

My dad and stepmom visited the Lowcountry this past weekend–the end cap of a two-week tour of some eastern states and a train ride through the South.

People still travel by train.

It was a lucky weekend to be in Charleston, John was actually off work and the weather was beautiful. Not a drop of rain. Almost no humidity. And Sunday even felt a little cold compared to the soaring temperatures we’re used to. (None of this lasted).

We didn’t have much on the agenda but relaxing and eating and letting the baby play with two of her many grandparents.

I woke up early Saturday for a workout before we all headed to a late brunch. When John and I fail to make reservations we go to Crave in Mount Pleasant. Our planning for the weekend was subpar, but luckily Crave is always empty and has the best Mac ‘n cheese in Charleston. Made official during the annual Charleston Mac Off.

Every inside table at Crave was open and the food was hearty and filling. Our post-brunch lethargy could only be fixed with a walk downtown through the farmers market. (My dad was particularly interested in walking, likely a result of the length of time it takes to travel by train and the lack of exercise when you’re trapped on one).

If you’re ever in Charleston on a weekend during the summer, go to the farmers market. Set in a little park in the center of the city, the market features local produce, summer fruit, freshly caught sea food, crafts and kitschy trinkets, food trucks and weekly live breakdance performances on a packed corner on King Street.

I swear, this used to be just a little crew, setting up a floor on the dirty Charleston sidewalk on the weekends for a little extra cash. Since we’ve been here, the troupe has doubled and the whole performance has a rehearsed, more professional, crowd-drawing, money-making quality. My parents were instant fans, and John and I hung back like jaded locals while they danced to the music with the baby and tipped them every bill in their wallet. (Alright, I got a little excited when a guy did a forward flip over ten people).

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I suggested we take a walk down the lesser busy side of the main shopping area downtown, and it turned into a two hour stroll (death march, according to John) through the historic neighborhoods of towering, pastel mansions, down to the coast, Rainbow Row and the old Battery.

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John and I had ambitious plans to go out on the town and maybe even see a movie, but, all of us tired from the long walk, pounds of Mac ‘n cheese, and entertaining a toddler, decided to instead end the day with takeout Vietnamese and, naturally, a screening of Michael Jackson’s This Is It.

My dad texted me early Sunday to say they wanted to check out a plantation. Plantation tours are a huge draw to the South, and Charleston has several famous sites. Boone Hall, where Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively got married, Middleton Place, which has a highly rated restaurant, and Cypress Gardens, where the Notebook was filmed. (I’m sure these plantations are better known, to some, for historic reasons, but, really, what’s a better draw in 2016, the Civil War or Ryan Gosling?).

My parents named none of these. They wanted to visit the McLeod (Mc-cloud) Plantation on James Island.

I had never heard of McLeod, but was relieved to see that is was the closest option to our house. We headed down late morning, stopping for snacks at Earth Fare and arriving around noon.

The tours at McLeod weren’t running because of a wedding, but the staff assured us it was for our benefit and sent us out onto the property. I was struck by how new everything felt. The office/souvenir shop was recently built and the signs and downloadable phone app audio guide seemed a lot more current than the pamphlets at the other locations.

It turns out that McLeod has only been open to the public for a few years. But, in that time, what’s left of this once massive plantation has caused local controversy for its representation of plantation history.

While most historic plantations focus on the owners, the plantation house, and the grounds, Mcleod’s story is based on the people that worked the ground, built the property and maintained the wealth for the plantation house. Its slavery focus is interwoven into every building, story and piece of land, with a narrative of Gullah culture and the personalities of those who were enslaved for over a century.

Most telling, was the actual tour of the ‘Big House,’ which was largely unfurnished and empty of any glimpse of plantation life besides large poster boards with stories of the early owners. As I chased the baby, the rest of our group had a long conversation with a historian. She told of actually meeting the last descendant during her research, how he was willing to talk about his life growing up in the property and how the way the story of McLeod Plantation was being told was in drastic opposition to the man’s beliefs. He was very southern and very old fashioned, and his sentiment for old plantation life is still reflected in protests outside the gates of McLeod on Confederate holidays.

Mcleod was founded in 1851, and was occupied by the last descendant (who lived to be 104) until 1990. More fascinating, the old slave quarters were also occupied by the families of former slaves until the 1980’s. It went through various stages, owned by white plantation owners, partitioned to slaves after the war and sold off piece by piece by the last owner to the few acres of land that’s been preserved today.

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The property extends down to Wappoo Creek, a main shipping channel for cotton from James Island. We walked down the grass to the banks of the ‘creek’ (this should probably be a river), where locals now idle in and out James island on small fishing boats and giant yachts.

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We also found this ancient artifact.

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Having checked off three major things to do in while visiting Charleston, walk downtown, visit a plantation, eat the best Mac ‘n cheese, we were ready for another quiet night in. So I forced my dad and stepmom to cook a huge pot of vegetable soup, cornbread and apple crisp so I would have leftovers for the week. It’s nice to have help every once in a while. And I’m not ashamed to take full advantage of it. The soup was delicious, and turned out to be especially useful, since I’ve been sick since Sunday night and it’s all I could stomach.

Thanks to my dad and stepmom for visiting! We had a great time, especially the baby, who, between the breakdancing and This Is It, is now a full on dancing queen.

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