top of page

Drayton Hall Stories: A Place and its People

Submitted by: Kristine Morris, McDaniel Consulting, LLC

Supporting the mission of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH) to preserve and promote the documentary and cultural heritage of the state through education and public access, Drayton Hall Stories is grounded in the belief that preservation organizations must interweave the story of both the place and its people. That is why it features more than 50 interviews with people from across the state of diverse races, genders, ages, sexual orientation, and professions, all centered on one place, Drayton Hall, which has been preserved for future generations.

As its stories reveal, Drayton Hall would not have been preserved had it not been for the actions of state offices in Columbia, namely the SCDAH and the SC Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. Former First Lady of South Carolina, Jenny Sanford McKay, explains why education at historic sites is vital, a view reinforced by Michelle McCollum, president and CEO of the SC National Heritage Corridor. Also explaining their work are many South Carolina professionals, including architects Jim Thomas and Glenn Keyes, landscape architect Sheila Wertimer, preservation engineer Craig Bennett, and preservation contractor Richard (Moby) Marks.

The first book of its kind in the nation, Drayton Hall Stories: A Place and Its People stands as a new model for the documentation, interpretation, and preservation of a historic site and for community engagement and education. In Columbia, it has been featured in programs and radio broadcasts, such as the 2022 SC Preservation Conference, Still Hopes, and Walter Edgar’s Journal on SC public radio. Similar support has been achieved locally, regionally, and nationally with positive coverage and reviews in print and online from The Post & Courier, The Charleston Mercury, the American Association for State and Local History’s History News, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s online Saving Places, and with appearances on local/state radio and television broadcasts and on national podcasts.

As director of Drayton Hall for over 25 years, the author conducted scores of oral interviews, which he edited for this book, with photographs of all the interviewees, as well as another 32 pages of historic and contemporary photographs. One of the most fascinating images is of a seldom shared 1765 watercolor of the estate that shows both its colonnade and flanker buildings, a view which long ago disappeared from the landscape, but returns here to help educate readers on why interviewees describe the site’s original design as they do and on why the site holds its premier place in history.

Readers hear from and see 50+ interviewees— Drayton Hall descendants (both White and Black), board members, staff, donors, architects, historians, preservationists, interpreters, and even tourism leaders in the state. Among those featured is Eric Emerson, director of the SCDAH. Stories include accounts of Emerson’s predecessor, Charles Lee, and Charleston preservationists Frances Edmunds, who together took a leading role in Drayton Hall’s preservation, resulting in the state’s ownership today of more than 500 acres of Drayton Hall’s uplands and marsh.

Those interviews also shed light on difficult, historical topics like racism, as told by historians, descendants, board members, and staff. The interviews also tell both the professional and personal sides of preservation programs, which have won awards from SC Archives and History.

To help the reader use a historic place to build understanding and empathy, the author concludes with a strategic how-to guide and with links to the author’s website. As a result of all of these attributes, Drayton Hall Stories: A Place and Its People stands as a credit to historic preservation. A Preservation Service Award from SCDAH could direct much-needed attention to its messages and to the new directions that historic preservation is undertaking, directions which could resonate all the more with a diverse range of people.

Impact on the Community and/or the State:

  • Thanks to Evening Post Books’ publishing 2,000 copies in 2022, audiences have been reached, half the books having been purchased by museum shops, bookstores, and online, and by libraries, schools, and universities. Augmenting marketing is strong media support from local and national print and online publications as well as radio, television, and podcasts.

 

Obstacles Overcome:

  • The complicated logistics in reaching out to 50+ individuals, explaining the process, customizing questions to each interviewee’s unique relationship with the site, scheduling their sessions, generating verbatim transcripts for their approval, beginning the editing process, which could involve editing a 12,000-word transcript down to 2,500 to 3,000 words as each interviewee, regardless of stature, was given the same amount of space; circling back for another round of approvals while addressing any questions or concerns in the process. Obtaining individuals’ head shots was surprisingly difficult, with many not arriving until long after the first draft of the manuscript was completed.

  • Historic and contemporary images had to be acquired from different sources, including Drayton Hall Preservation Trust (DHPT), permission had to be obtained to publish, and then photo credits and captions were drafted for approval. The book cover and page layouts evolved during the production process, with much attention given to the selection of the images and their ability to expand upon the interviews to tell a more complete story.

  • Determining how best to organize the book, e.g. into cohesive chapters or sections and in what order, and then developing page layouts, maps, family trees, etc., that would provide added clarification.

  • Taking the basic blueprint of the approach and developing useful resources so that individuals could put these ideas into action in their own communities.

 

Degree to which the Activity or Effort Serves as an Example of Outstanding Commitment to Historic Preservation and Innovative Preservation Practices:

  • The first book of its kind in the nation, it stands as a new model for the documentation, interpretation, and preservation of a historic site and for community engagement and education for preservation organizations and programs nationwide.

  • By accenting recent history, Drayton Hall Stories explores periods when critical decisions and actions in mission, stewardship, and interpretation were taken, and invites interviewees to describe those events in their own words for future generations.

  • Centered by the place Drayton Hall, these interviews reveal insights into 20th-century life before Drayton Hall’s becoming a site, into its acquisition campaign of the 1970s, and into its preservation, education, and environmental conservation programs as a national icon. They shed light on difficult, historical topics like racism, on family and community life, and on hopes for the future. In each, the author was careful to retain the interviewees’ words, enabling the reader to hear directly from them.

  • The best of history organizations and museums help visitors better understand across generations and make people think. The book’s cover photograph illustrates that goal. The place, Drayton Hall, reflects the wealth of slavery-based plantations. In the foreground are two people, Charlie Drayton, the last owner of Drayton Hall, and Catherine Braxton, the descendant of the enslaved. His great grandfather “owned” her great grandparents. In this candid photograph, they honestly greet each other with heartfelt gladness, connected by the historic place. If Drayton Hall, a historic site, can create moments like this, why can’t others?

 

Projects Must Involve Historic Buildings, structures, or sites, including archaeological sites, cemeteries and landscapes.

  • This is confirmed by the 50+ interviewees, the 32+ pages of photographs, and by maps and drawings throughout the text, all featuring historic buildings, archaeological sites, cemeteries, and landscapes.

bottom of page