Beautiful bird encounters while traveling in South Carolina

My favorite thing to do while traveling in South Carolina is to take pictures of wildlife, especially birds.

Spotting a bald eagle last December while kayaking in the marsh at Cherry Grove Beach is by far the most cherished bird watching moment.

Amazing bald eagle sighting while kayaking in the marsh

The majestic bald eagle returns to South Carolina coast.

Witnessing a great white egret couple, delicately preparing their nest for the upcoming chicks, is a close second favorite encounter.

White Egret males and female building a nest

And here is the rest…get out there and enjoy nature at its best!

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Dorchester State Park, old English settlement near Charleston

“I passed Dorchester, where there are the remains of what appears to have once been a considerable town: there are the ruins of an elegant church, and the vestiges of several well-built houses.” – A 1788 account by a passing traveler

Fort Dorchester built in 1775

The Dorchester Garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion during Revolutionary War


Few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Dorchester State Historic Park, a short drive from Summerville, the magnificent plantations and North Charleston.

Similarly to nearby Charles Towne Landing, visitors are rewarded with one of America’s most complete archaeological records of colonial life.

The park is open daily 9AM to 6PM and admission is $2 for adults, free for kids 15 and younger. Most Saturdays, from June through September you can attend educational programs and observe archaeologist at work (free with park admission, 10AM to 2PM)

Historic highlights and interesting artifacts (data and quotes provided by the park exhibits and brochure guide)

On October 20, 1695, Joseph Lord, Increase Summer and William Pratt were dismissed from their church from Dorchester, Massachusetts for “Ye gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina.” After securing 4050 of land here along the Ashley River, they sailed home to their congregation in New England.

Coming to South Carolina for an acceptable settlement

Lord, Summer and Pratt gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina


They returned in 1697 with other church members who hoped “to go to South Carolina to Settel the Gospel ther”.

When the new Dorchester was laid out, the village contained 116 quarter acre lots, a town square and commons. The St. George Anglican church was built in 1720, a fair was established in 1723 and the Free School opened in 1761.

By 1781, Dorchester became a booming trade center and boasted about 40 houses by 1781. The town gradually declined after the American Revolution and was abandoned in 1788. The threat of malaria and the shortage of land cause the Congregationalist colony to leave Dorchester and start a new settlement in Midway, Georgia.

In 1969, the land was donated to the South Carolina State Park Service. The village of Dorchester is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Dorchester Free School – The school was established in 1758 and consisted of

How it was like to go to school in the 18th century

The Dorchester Free School where girls were allowed to attend.

“two Brick Houses of the Dimensions of 23 feet in weadth & 36 feet in length, & one story high, with a dutch roof, shall be built for the use of the sd. School, one of them to serve as a School House, & other for a dwelling house for the Master, & his Family…”

Several girls attended the free school, an amazing feat for the time given most girls were raised to become just mothers and housewives.

During Revolutionary War the schoolmaster was removed from this post for remaining loyal to England and the school was closed.

The British troops burned it down and it did not reopen for almost 25 years. In 1818 the school moved to Summerville.

The St. George’s Anglican Church and Bell Tower – Angry with the Anglican Church, the Puritan Pilgrims left England in 1620.

Anglican Church Tower

St. George’s Anglican Church was built here in 1720. The bell tower was added in 1751.

Their descendants, known as Congregationalists, founded Dorchester in 1697, only to endure South Carolina’s 1706 declaration of Anglicanism as the colony’s official church.

With the Congregationalists worshiping only 2 miles away, St. George’s Anglican Church was built in 1720 in the center of Dorchester. Village founders and the other village “dissenters” were even taxed to support St. George’s.

The church was enlarged in the 1730s to meet its growing and prosperous parish. The bell tower was added in 1751.

St. George’s Anglican Church may have been a more convenient location for local worship, however the Congregationalist Church remained the religious center for most of Dorchester’s Puritan settlers.

The Native Coosa Tribe – Long before the English settlers, a small Native American tribe, the Coosa, lived here. The relationship with the English has always been uneasy. In 1671, the Charles Towne settlers accused them of stealing corn and livestock

17th century Indian village in South Carolina

The Coosa were one of the original inhabitants in the Lowcountry

and in 1674 they were even accused of murder.

The settlers waged war against the Coosa. After defeating the Indians, they required a monthly payment of deerskin per colony.

In 1675, one of the Lord Proprietors was granted the land where the Coosa village once stood. Although the grant gave him legal title he officially purchased the land from the surviving Coosa for “a valuable parcel of cloth, hatchet, beads and other goods and manufactures now received…” He called his home there the “Cussoo House”

By 1696, the Coosa ceased to have a significance presence in this area. Some had settled in the nearby St. Paul’s Parish, some migrated west, others died or intermarried with the English.

Fort Dorchester – During the French and Indian War rumors of an impeding naval attack by the French forced swift action by leaders in Charles Towne.

Dorchester earthen and osyster shells colonial defense

The powder magazine was fortified in 1775


A brick powder magazine enclosed by a tabby wall 8 feet high was built here in 1757.

During the Revolution, Dorchester was a strategic point.

In 1775, the magazine was fortified and the garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion. British troops occupied the town in April 1780 and again in 1781. At one point there were over 600 British soldiers in Dorchester.

They were driven out by cavalry and infantry under Col. Wade Hampton and Gen. Nathaniel Greene on December 1, 1781.

The meeting House was located 2 miles west of the village. The first structure was built of wood and replaced in the mid 1700 with a brick building. The interior is described as:

“A single door admitted to a single aisle, leading to a lofty pulpit, with a sounding board above it.

Congregationalist colony ruins Dorchester Park

What is left of the Dorchester burial ground

In front of the pulpit was an elevated seat for the ruling elder; a little lower and just behind the communion table was a seat for the deacons.

On either side of the island were several plain benches, capable of seating four or five persons each.

Along the sides of the house were two or three long seats, and at the site of the pulpit were several shorter ones. Back by the door two seats were fitted up for the guardsmen, with their old matchlocks.”

During the Revolutionary War, the British occupied the building and reportedly burned it when they evacuated the area. In 1794 the structure was repaired, and eventually its congregation entered into an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church.

As the Dorchester settlement declined and the town of Summerville grew, a new church was constructed nearer the town. Over time the old meeting house fell in disrepair and in 1886 it was severely damaged by the Great Earthquake. Today, only crumbling walls and the burial grounds remain.

The Artifacts – At the center you can see numerous artifacts such as hand painted pearl ware, Staffordshire candle holder, lead-glazed earthenware, white salt-glazed stoneware and the Colono ware. The Colono ware is similar to pottery from Nigeria and Ghana. It started to be produced in Carolina around 1680, peaked in the early 1700s and then disappeared by 1800. Typical vessels were flat bottomed, burnished, grit-tempered and often had an “X” incised on their bases.

Step back in the colonial period at Dorchester State Historic Park!

Dorchester State Park outdoor attractions

Best place to have a picnic along Ashley River

Middleton Place self guided walking tour photos and travel tips

This year we started our Charleston spring vacation at Middleton Place. It was the fair thing to do, since last year we visited Magnolia Plantation.

Funny birds at the Stableyards

Respect the dandy Stableyards keeper!


Middleton Place is more expensive ($25 adults / $5 children 7-15 general admission vs. $15 adults / $10 children 6-12 at Magnolia).

They both have beautiful landscaped gardens, history and nature walks, and guided tours dedicated to the African slaves.

Middleton stands out with its Stableyards, while Magnolia has more activities for kids.

This is an overview of what to expect and things to enjoy on the Middleton Place self-guided walking tour. Just in case, here is a slide show from my visit.

Things to know before you go
• Use the excellent self-guided tour brochure and map you get with your admission ticket (most historic data in this post comes from the brochure)!
• Wear very comfortable shoes. You will be walking or standing on your feet for hours. Have sunscreen, bug spray and plenty of water.
• The place is swarming with flying insects. My daughter got stung by a hornet near the buffalo pond at the Stableyards. Best to wear lightweight long sleeves shirts, pants and a sun hat.
• For food you can bring your own picnic, or purchase sandwiches, salads, ice-cream and drinks at the Garden Market. The Middleton Restaurant serves lunch daily 11AM – 3PM and dinner Tuesday to Sunday. For dinner reservations call (843) 556 – 6020 ext. 118.
• Take advantage of the free tours: African American Focus at 11AM and 1PM, and the Garden Overview at the top of each hour from 10AM to 3PM
• The guided House Museum tour is extra $10, runs from 9:30AM to 5PM and lasts about 25 minutes.

The gentlemen guest wing rebuilt 1970s

Beware this is not the 18th century house! The original was destroyed by Civil War and the 1886 Earthquake

Note this is not the original 18th century plantation house, but the restored gentlemen guest wing.

The only thing left from that period is the south flank. Everything else was destroyed either by fire in the Civil War or the Great 1886 Earthquake.

Inside there are original Benjamin West family portraits, Charleston-made rice beds and fine English silver. Further, through August 30, the museum features the “Carolina Gold from Rice to Riches” exhibit.

Tour highlights, historic trivia and fun things to do

Best place to have a picnic and let the kids run free is at the terraces.

The Versailles of Charleston

Butterfly Lakes, Terrace Gardens and Rice Mill

The gardens were designed by Andre´ le Notre, the landscape architect of Versailles. The formal lawn provided a reception area at the house east entrance. Many visitors came by boat.

Legend has it in 1786 the French botanist Andre´ Michaux gave the Middletons the first four camellias to be planted in an American garden.

Now you can relax among “Queen of Flowers” camellias, azaleas, tea plants, magnolia trees and gaze upon the picture perfect Butterfly Lakes or the timeless Ashley River.

Most popular place for kids inside Middleton Place is the Stableyards.

Interpreter guide at work Middleton Place

Making rice barrels the old fashion way

Here you can watch live demonstrations by artisan craftsmen, play with colonial time farm equipment and carriages and see, pet and even milk (some days around 4PM) the animals!

Check out these pictures for a detailed Stableyards tour.

This was my first encounter with a male peacock in a full fledged feather dance. It was impressive! My daughter loved the kitty sleeping in the Weaving room. Everyone was eager to pet the majestic Suffolk horses, that are used today on all the carriage tours.

Best photography and wedding ceremony spot is by the Azalea Hillside

Middleton Spring House and Plantation Chapel

Most picturesque spot on Middleton grounds

and the Rice Mill Pond Bridge.
The hillside was planted in the 1920s with thousands of spring blooming azaleas. The pond formed after a creek that flowed into Ashley River was dammed.

Nowadays geese, swan, wood ducks and mallards swim at ease under the picturesque cypress bridge.

Across Rice Mill Pond is the Spring House and Plantation Chapel. At the lower level, spring waters provided cool storage for dairy products and other foods.

The upper floor, added in 1851, was used as a chapel for the slaves until the Civil War.

Learn about rice farming, the Carolina Gold crop! Rice cultivation flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries with the labor and skills of thousands of enslaved Africans. After the Civil War it declined. Today “Carolina Gold” is being grown in the demonstration rice field located next to the Rice Mill.

How rice was cultivated harvested and trade in 18th century

Kids learn the tedious process of farming rice inside Rice Mill


Water played a vital role in the economic life of the plantation. Ashley River was the primary highway to and from outside world for Middleton Place residents.

While water was essential in cultivating rice it also provided power for the mill.

Milling was the final step in rice processing. The underwater turbine turned a horizontal spiked wheel, from which a belt moved through the two holes in the west wall to power the mill.

Most romantic place is around the Reflection Pool (where the self-guided tour starts). Here you can admire the Secret and Sundial Gardens, the Wood Nymph, one of the few original statues that survived Civil War, and the gigantic Middleton Live Oak that once marked a pre-colonial Indian Trail.

Swan Lake Live in Charleston Middleton

All roads lead to the Reflection Pool

Here are more reviews from travelers on Middleton Inn and Restaurant, Middleton weddings, and the Museum House and Carriage tours.


Fun family attractions in the area

Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation, America’s newest and most unique garden and wildlife preserve ($7 admission, free for kids under 6)

Charles Towne Landing, the birthplace of South Carolina, rewards you with incredible history, a zoo and full size trading ship to play on! ($5 adults, $3 children 6-15)