Historic Brookgreen Gardens, a tour of the Lowcountry Center

The story of the land…

The Lowcountry Center at Brookgreen Gardens features drawings, maps, artifacts, pictures and stories from 1580s to present. Brookgreen Gardens is open daily and admission is $12 adults, $10 seniors, $6 children 4-12 and free for those 3 and under.

“Draw to life one of each kind of thing that is strange to us in England. . . . all strange birds, beasts, fishes, plants, herbs, trees, and fruits. . . . also the figures and shapes of men and women in their apparel, as also their manner of weapons in every place as you shall find them differing.” – Royal British instructions to John White on a 1582 exploratory voyage

16th century Native Americans lifestyle on the Carolina Coast

1590 drawings of Native Americans living in North Carolina by John White


John White’s drawings, later made famous by Theodore de Bry engraving adaptations, became the most important source of information to Europeans rulers, explorers, settlers and regular folks about the Native Americans lifestyle, social makeup and beliefs.

They showed (through the eye of the “white man”) the flora and fauna that inhabited the area, the village structure, house construction techniques, hunting, harvesting and cooking tools.

They showed the social hierarchy, the roles played by men and women, young and old; how they dressed, how they celebrated and how they dealt with death and the after life.

Learn more about John White’s drawings here.

Rice cultivation was a very complex, time consuming and labor intensive process. Fields needed to be flooded and the water lever to remain stationary. Sometimes the rice needed to be kept completely dry.

Rice flood gates system deployed at Brookgreen Plantation

The rice field trunk was invented by Egyptians more than 6,000 years ago

So ditches were dug, banks were built around the rice fields and small flood gates called “trunks” were installed. People working and maintain the gates were called “trunk menders.”

Did you know? The Egyptians invented the rice field trunk more than 6,000 years ago!

It consisted of two floodgates built to regulate the flow of water. One gate was on the river side and ran through an earthen dike, the other was on the rice field side. The openings were hollowed out from tree trunks, usually cypress (hence the name).

This model was built by Capt. Frank M. Bechkam, who also constructed the two benches in the room with timber left over from the rebuilding of a rice gate on Cane Island in North Santee.

The Lowcountry Center showcases several farming tools used in the past centuries in the rice and turpentine productions. Examples include foot adze, draw knife, broad axe, hoe, rice threshing basket, grinding stone, sap collecting bowl etc.

Rice plantation and sap collecting equipment

18th and 19th centuries farming tools used at Brookgreen Plantation

There is gold in them thar’ trees!

Demand for naval stores products in the United States began in early 1700s to supply the growing shipping industry of the colonies. Turpentine, rosin, tar and pitch were used in various applications in the ship building process.

The turpentine making process in late 19th century

1890s photograph of turpentine workers and distilleries


Tar and pitch were used for water proofing and sealing rope ends; turpentine as a preservative and solvent, and rosin for grease, water proofing and foundry work.

All naval stores were made derivatives extracted from pine trees, especially the Longleaf and Slash varieties abundant along the Carolina coast.

By the early 1800s, the “Tar Heelers” of North Carolina had expanded into the forests of Horry County. By 1850, 12 stills existed on the banks of Waccamaw River. Turpentine workers striped the bark from pine trees and collected the sticky rosin in barrels which were hauled by mule cart to turpentine distilleries for processing.

After Civil War and Reconstruction most of the Lowcountry rice plantations shattered. Ironically this ensured the preservation of extensive natural areas for future generations.

Early 20th duck hunting expedition in the Lowcountry

Waterfowl hunting bonanza on the former rice plantations in the 1920s


At the end of 19th century, real estate promoters described the local climate as beneficial for tuberculosis sufferers.

They advertised the plantations as a dreamland for recreational hunting and fishing. Rich people from the North flocked in the bought most of the plantations.

Anna and Archer Huntington vowed to provide safe havens for waterfowl birds at their properties in Virginia and South Carolina. Other owners encouraged visiting ducks and geese, but ended up harvested them for sport.

Now through August 12, you can enjoy an evening cruise down the creeks of the former rice plantation. Tickets are $7 in addition to general garden admission.

Fun things to do with kids inside Brookgreen Gardens

Play with clay, draw and pet live native animals at The Children Discovery Room

• See some wading magnificent birds at the Cypress Swamp Aviary

• Admire wild animals and rare farm breeds at the Lowcountry Zoo

• Check out the rice fields and the slave overseer’s house and kitchen ruins on the Lowcountry Trail. Beware, there several ghosts haunting the plantation and the nearby beaches.

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