Ticket to Write: Rose Hill Plantation chronicles nation’s division
In central South Carolina, in the middle of verdant, peaceful Sumter National Forest, is a reminder of the deadly division and strife that tore the United States apart during the Civil War.
Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site, less than an hour’s drive south of Spartanburg, was once the home of South Carolina Gov. William Henry Gist.
Gist, a successful cotton planter, was elected to a two-year term as governor in 1858 as secessionist sentiments were reaching their peak.
At the center of the historic site is Gist’s home, one of the finest remaining examples of antebellum plantation-house architecture.
Flanked by massive, centuries-old magnolia trees, Gist Mansion was built about 1830 and includes iconic features such as massive fanlights (the semicircular windows above doors), a beautiful spiral staircase and a grand porch that was added in about 1860 during Gist’s gubernatorial term. During that addition, the exterior of the house was modified from its original Georgian style into the then-popular Greek revival-style, which visitors will see today.
In addition to being an important architectural site, the park also interprets the life and legacy of Gist and the South Carolina secessionists who sparked the Civil War when the state became the first to secede from the Union on Dec. 20, 1860.
Known as the “Secession Governor,” Gist proclaimed that the institution of slavery could only be preserved if the state withdrew from the Union. The election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860 left South Carolina no choice, Gist said, except to sever ties with the federal government.
At the time of the Civil War, Rose Hill housed almost 200 slaves.
Visitors will also learn about those enslaved laborers who made the plantation possible, and the tenant farmers (the same people, in some cases) who worked the land after slavery was abolished.
Gist lived in the mansion until he died in 1874. Without slave labor to prop it up, the plantation system soon became economically unviable. The property, which once encompassed nearly 8,000 acres, was sold off piecemeal by the family and the house fell into disrepair.
The ramshackle property was bought in the 1940s by Clyde T. Franks. Franks never lived in the Gist Mansion, but worked with local historians and others to make repairs, and sold the property to the state in 1960 for use as a historic site.
Visitors to the site, which now covers 44 acres, will also see original and re-created period outbuildings, a formal garden and a rose garden, a reproduction of the beautiful plantings that gave the plantation its name.
For more information about the Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site, call 864-427-5966 or visit southcarolinaparks.com.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveStephens.