To mention the American South is to conjure visions of Spanish moss, stately oak trees, and elegant mansions evoking Tara, an era Gone with the Wind.

However, since the Civil War relatively few original plantations have remained in use as private homes, and they have rarely come onto the real estate market. But with tough economic times, the market for these high-end historic properties has become crowded, and finding buyers for the elite, antebellum plantations that once grew the indigo, rice and cotton that made South Carolina rich can prove quite the challenge for realtors.

According to a recent Reuters report published in the New York Times, at least eight plantations currently are for sale in South Carolina, with asking prices ranging from $3 million to $20 million for plantations of 350 acres to 7,000 acres. Expenses of an additional $500,000 per year for maintenance are not uncommon.

The properties currently for sale include Seabrook, a former sea island cotton plantation on Edisto Island with a house built in 1810 that once hosted General Lafayette. He attended a family christening and gave his name to the child, Carolina Lafayette Seabrook, whose portrait still hangs in the home.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, is said in family oral history to have lived on Friendfield Plantation near the city of Georgetown. The property, on sale for $20 million, still has standing slave houses.

Medway, an 18th-century rice plantation for sale in Berkeley County, has been in the same family since 1928, said Bob Hortman, who has managed it for decades.

Surrounded by 6,700 acres of timberland, Medway’s pink stuccoed brick house was first built by a Dutchman in 1686, gutted by fire and rebuilt in 1704. Conservation easements prevent it from being developed.

Owner Bokara Legendre, 70, inherited the property from her mother, the late Gertrude Legendre, a noted socialite, African big game hunter and World War Two spy. But Bokara Legendre has houses in New York and California and isn’t able to get down to the plantation as often as she would like, Hortman said.


Buyers from outside the region have long helped keep plantations afloat, say those familiar with the properties.

Southern plantations that survived the Civil War were almost impossible to maintain without slave labor, and most became derelict to the point of default, Geer said.

“Lord, please send me a rich Yankee,” plantation owner Samuel Stoney, whose family owned Medway in the 19th century, once wrote in his diary, Hortman said.

An infusion of “Yankee money” after the Civil War saved and preserved many historic southern plantation houses and land, said real estate broker Chip Hall, who markets large rural properties throughout the South.

Modern buyers mostly come from the eastern United States, Geer said.

Plantation buyers include absentee owners interested in timber investment, hunters, and families who just want a retreat, said Max “Macky” Hill III, whose family has owned Middleburg Plantation, built in 1697, for more than 30 years.

“Some are looking for the rarity of a surviving period house as if it were a gigantic piece of antique furniture,” Hill said.

“The people who want them truly value land for its own sake. The majority of the rest of the population can’t imagine why you would want to own land, much less take care of it.”

Other properties now on the market include Davant Plantation, a hunting property with a circa-1770 house and barns that were featured in the movie “Something to Talk About” with Julia Roberts, and Combahee Plantation, which was built by the family of Thomas Heyward, who signed the Declaration of Independence.

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