4 days ago
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Pawley's Island 2011: A morning at Hobcaw Barony
Besides being a fun thing to say (when else do you get to use the word barony?), Hobcaw Barony is a fascinating place to spend a morning on the Carolina coast. We had been there in 2009, but were happy to go again a couple of weeks ago. It is owned and run by the Belle W. Baruch Foundation as an environmental reserve for the universities of South Carolina, and both Clemson and University of South Carolina have research stations on the property. It is a huge, mostly undeveloped tract of over 17,000 acres, and includes forests, salt marsh, abandoned rice fields, remains of several slave villages, and many historical sites. They take 12 visitors daily, by reservation, on a three-hour tour of some of the highlights of the reserve.
The Foundation is reestablishing longleaf pine forests in parts of the property. We learned to distinguish between the fast-growing loblolly pines and the more desireable longleaf pines.
Although the natural beauty and environmental lessons were fascinating, I especially enjoyed learning about the history of the Barony and its owners. Bernard Baruch bought the property in 1905 as a winter hunting retreat, and his hospitality was legendary. The original Hobcaw house burned, but a new brick house was built in 1930 overlooking Winyah Bay.
Arriving by boat to that rickety dock in the photo below were such visitors as Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Omar Bradley and Irving Berlin.
We got an informal tour of the ground floor of the house, which is slowly being restored. It was quite modest as grand old houses go, not much bigger than many suburban homes. You know what was the best part of going through the house? Getting to use Winston Churchill's bathroom. (Photos not allowed inside, unfortunately. It was green tile, and I suspect the toilet had been replaced.)
Our tour guide was Lee Brockington, senior interpreter and a well-known historian of the area. She was not only informative, but a lot of fun as well. She drove the van, answered our questions, told us stories of the Baruch family and their guests, and basically made me want to work there so I could learn more. Lee went into detail about the month-long visit of President Franklin Roosevelt to Hobcaw in April of 1944. The purpose was to restore his health and prepare him to face some of the hardest months of the war. While he was at Hobcaw House, the plans for D-Day were coming together and he was able to recover enough to return to the White House to oversee the Normandy invasion. Historians speculate about what the outcome might have been if Roosevelt had not had his month-long rest at Hobcaw. A bit of Lee's information is here, as well as an article on the redecoration of one of the guest bedrooms.
Belle was the Baruchs' eldest child, and bought the property from her father in the 1950's. She loved the land and built her own home, Bellefield, in 1936. It is not restored, but the Foundation is "keeping the roof on" to keep it from deteriorating. We got a glimpse from the van.
Belle was a renowned horsewoman, and the tour makes a stop at her stables.
Belle had quite an interesting life. She even served with U.S. Navy intelligence during World War II, surveying the coast for German U-boats. The tour was really fascinating, and included a short drive through Friendfield, which was a 19th-century slave village. The village was in use by employees of the family until 1952, and some of the buildings have been restored.
Belle Baruch set up a trust before she died to preserve the Barony's lands for education and research. I was sad when the tour ended, because there is obviously so much more that I didn't get to see. I'm planning to read more about the family and the area.
After the tour, we were really hungry, so off we went in search of lunch. To get a true taste of local fare, we went to the Ball & Cue in Georgetown. Of course we had the Meat-and-three special, with unsweet tea. The fried chicken was delicious and our waitress was charming. I found a blue-and-white bread-and-butter plate at the consignment shop at the back for a souvenir. Lunch for four and my souvenir plate totaled under $35. I love to eat in the South.