Visiting the Pinckney House – What House?

Pinckney house-liveoak

Some people discover National Park sites that even the natives don’t know about. When I told people in Charleston that we were doing the national parks around the city, I got a blank look. “Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie,” I said and they recognized those. But Pinckney?

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site is about 12 miles northeast of Charleston. The 28 acre site are the remains of a once Snee Farm, Charles Pinckney’s summer home. Pinckney (1757-1824), a fourth generation Pinckney, was a South Carolina delegate at the Constitutional Convention.

During the British occupation of Charleston, Pinckney was taken prisoner. After the war, he rose up the political ranks to become governor of South Carolina and ambassador to Spain. An 18-minute film explains Pinckney’s life and contribution to the writing of the Constitution. He inherited the 715-acre farm where 40 slaves worked on growing indigo, rice, and later cotton.

Pinckney houseHowever, in 1817, he had to sell the farm to pay off his debts. But he was hardly homeless since he owned a townhouse in the city. The house on the plantation was later torn down.

The building that we visit now was built around 1828 by one of the new owners. But archeologists worked for years to find where the original house stood. In the process, they found pieces of pottery from China and even a homemade toothbrush. Further back, on a short trail, the outlines of slave quarters are squared off in brick. 

Today we toured the ground floor of the house. Its walls are covered with information on Pinckney, slavery and life in South Carolina during the early days of the United States. Dave, in a green polo shirt which makes up his uniform, staffs the cash register and answers questions. When he doesn’t know something, he asks the ranger in the back room.

We also walked the half-mile trail through red cedar, live oaks and palmetto, a real lowcountry scene. The photograph above is of Lenny being dwarfed by a live oak. The walk ends at a platform within sight of private homes in a residential neighborhood.

So how did Pinckney’s estate become a national park unit? Most of the original land was sold for development. In 1987, Friends of Historic Snee Farm bought what was left of the landholdings and the next year, it was turned over to the National Park Service. It opened to the public in 1995.

Now about 45,000 people visited the Pinckney site in 2011. The ranger estimated that you should take about an hour to go through the historic site. We spent almost two hours there.

Lenny said, “it was one of the most interesting National Park unit.” 

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