Originally created 11/25/03

Historic plantation rarely seen by public



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- It's been a decade since McLeod Plantation on James Island was acquired by the Historic Charleston Foundation, but in the intervening years, the grounds have rarely been seen by the public.

The plantation, dating to 1678 and whose 19th Century plantation house was used as a hospital during the Civil War, is empty except for a caretaker who lives in the house.

The property includes a row of old slave houses. The bell that once called the slaves to work still hangs in a tree.

The Historic Charleston Foundation acquired a third of the property when William Ellis McLeod died in 1990 and bought the rest three years later. Since then, a local garden club has opened the house several times for tours.

Several dozen people gathered Sunday to honor McLeod and real estate agent Fred Wichmann, who organized the event, said he and his wife Joyce want to the plantation opened for regular tours.

But the foundation doesn't have money to work on the house and develop a museum to attract visitors, said Kitty Robinson, the foundation's executive director.

The foundation has discussed having Charleston County buy the property. But that plan was abandoned when the courts ruled a recent half-cent sales tax increase was invalid.

The foundation also has talked about selling to the county Park and Recreation Commission and a local group called the Sea Island Historical Society.

"It's a treasure," said Robinson, who said the foundation has money to maintain the house until a buyer is found. "As long as we own it, we are going to take care of it."

The plantation was established in 1678 and the present buildings date to 1858. About that time, 74 slaves lived on the property, cultivating about 1,200 acres of cotton.

The plantation house was used as a hospital for both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War, which is probably why the structure was not burned during the war.

The last cotton crop was planted in 1918, when the boll weevil forced the owners to switch to other crops.

Over the years, McLeod sold off parts of the plantation where he lived until he died in 1990 at age 104. His will stipulated the remaining land never be subdivided and be preserved for the public.

McLeod was honored Sunday as a philanthropist who helped build St. James Episcopal Church, donated land for Martin Luther Lutheran Church and established scholarships at the College of Charleston.