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Shrimp 'n Grits

HCF running out of excuses and time for McLeod Plantation

Lee Walton

Sunday’s Palter and Chatter lead editorial, “Move quickly on McLeod”, accentuated the increasing urgency to place this last intact, nationally prominent Sea Island plantation in the credible, dedicated public care of Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC). Now that the Town of James Island’s threat to acquire McLeod has been dropped by its newly elected mayor and council, HCF needs to quit stalling and act before the remaining structures either fall down from neglect or mysteriously burn to the ground some dark, windy night.

Hopefully, HCF will stop further political mischief demonstrated by its recent abortive attempts to first sell the Plantation to the American School of the Building Arts (ASOBA), then The College of Charleston. Both of these time and resource consuming debacles damaged the credibility of HCF, its director and board while reaping the ire of many of its supporters. In retrospect, given the benefit of current recession driven hindsight, either of these alternatives would have had disastrous consequences for McLeod. ASOBA is now all but an unpleasant, wasteful memory, and the College is currently in the publicly awkward position of having to defend its own recent financial actions to the State Legislature.

For well over a decade the Historic Charleston Foundation has studied, planned, offered, sold and repurchased this fragile, steadily deteriorating cultural time capsule while spending only a pittance for upkeep and stabilization. A brief walk among the majestic Live Oaks and outbuildings surrounding the main house is heartbreaking. Demolition by neglect is evident everywhere one looks. The Gin House is threatened by imminent collapse for want of structural stabilization. Many of the remaining Slave Cabins, the Kitchen House, the Barn and the Privy are, for all intent and purpose, open to the elements and attack from wildlife seeking access through the many cracks and openings visible everywhere. Huge circular nesting holes have been chiseled into the tops of every portico column of the Plantation House. Roofs leak, siding boards slip and foundations crumble. It’s really a pitiful spectacle and reeks of intentional neglect.

Several months ago and with considerable public support, the PRC responded to HCF’s request for proposals and submitted a well prepared, detailed management plan for the preservation of McLeod Plantation as a publicly accessible passive historical venue. With all obstacles now removed, HCF will create a very awkward position for itself if it shuns PRC’s offer and attempts to seek other options.

Rumors abound that the historic Ashley River Road plantations and historic venues on the Peninsula see McLeod as a competitive financial threat to their continued viability. Insiders whisper that several HCF staff members and supporters want to find a very wealthy individual to purchase McLeod and restore it as a private single-family residence. Still others plugged into the political intrigue of the City Administration say nothing will happen until Mayor J. Pericles Riley tells the current HCF director how far to jump and in what direction. Time will tell, but time is running out for McLeod.

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