Plantation Panache: Tour the Third-Oldest House in Charleston

 

An avenue of ancient live oaks, their branches clothed in resurrection ferns and Spanish moss, leads to the two-story brick house that is the heart of Mulberry Plantation. Built in 1714 by royal governor Colonel Thomas Broughton, the third oldest house in South Carolina is situated on a high bluff overlooking the former rice fields on the Cooper River. What makes the house unique are the square one-room pavilions known as flankers that stand at each of the four corners of the building. They all have bell-shaped roofs topped with weather vanes that are some of the earliest known ironworks done in the United States.Broughton named his plantation for the mulberry trees he planted in hopes of creating a silk industry, but when that enterprise failed, he turned to raising rice instead. Cuttings from the original tree were taken by the present owners and are now growing on the plantation.

After belonging to a series of owners, Mulberry was purchased in 1915 by Clarence Edward Chapman, who made extensive renovations while leaving the building, a blend of Georgian styles, unchanged. By the time the Historic Charleston Foundation acquired the 800-acre plantation in 1987 in order to save it from development, the place was in a considerable state of disrepair. The following year, New Yorkers Gail and Parker Gilbert bought Mulberry and set about restoring it to its former splendor. Gail and Mark Hampton, longtime friends of the Gilberts, kept the pieces of 18th-century Charleston furniture that had been left by the Chapmans and combined them with comfortable chairs and sofas upholstered in cheerful fabrics. As a result, what one sees today is a relaxed and cozy house. Because the four bedrooms and two baths in the main house were not enough for their children and grandchildren, let alone weekend house parties, the Gilberts turned to architect Jacquelin Robertson to design a guest house. It has a large double-height living room with two fieldstone fireplaces and three bedrooms and baths, two opening off an upper gallery. 

The Gilberts also restored the gardens that were originally created for the Chapmans by Charleston landscape architect Loutrel Briggs. The gardens at Mulberry are among the few of Briggs’s designs that remain today. In addition, Gail turned the laundry yard into a formal potager to provide fresh flowers and vegetables for the house. 

In 1991, the Gilberts added the 900-acre South Mulberry plantation to the property. With the help of local architect Glenn Keyes, they turned the derelict building that had served as a duck-hunting club into an attractive and comfortable house. The family also added an elegant greenhouse for year-round plant life.Still, the duck shooting at Mulberry is unequaled. At dawn, ducks—which have roosted overnight on the northern lakes—arrive in flights so large they are almost unbelievable. Mulberry’s dove and turkey shooting are also exceptional. 

When the Gilberts bought Mulberry, they immediately donated the historic preservation and conservation easements on the house and the surrounding 800 acres to the Historic Charleston Foundation. Three years later, when they acquired South Mulberry, they donated a conservation easement on its 900 acres to the Lord Berkeley Conservation Trust. These easements, only 30 miles from the city of Charleston, were among the first in the historic Cooper River corridor, and established an important precedent for conservation in the area.All together, Mulberry is a great property to entertain guests, enjoy the outdoors, and spend time with multiple generations of family. —Carola Lott