Drayton Hall is an 18th-century plantation located on the Ashley River about 15 miles northwest of Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston is the oldest and second-largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County, and the principal city in the Charleston–North Charleston–Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area. Charleston City has a population (2014) of 130,133. Eighteen percent are under eighteen and twelve percent are over 65. Twenty-five percent of the population is African-American and three percent are Hispanic or Latino. Nineteen percent of the people in Charleston City live below the poverty line.
Charleston City is home to over 150 historic sites, tours, and museums, including plantation homes, carriage rides, the Charleston Historical society and the Charleston Museum. Drayton Hall is a plantation home which is situated directly across the Ashley River from North Charleston, in the “Low country.” An outstanding example of Palladian architecture in North America and the only plantation house on the Ashley River to survive intact through both the Revolutionary and Civil wars, it is a National Historic Landmark. The house is operated by 30 staff members and 30 volunteers and is supported by private funds that funnel in through the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust and its board of 23 members. Drayton Hall was constructed in 1742 and is the oldest preserved plantation house in America that is open to the public.
Drayton Hall’s mission is to research, preserve, and interpret Drayton Hall and its collections and environs, in order to educate the public and to inspire people to embrace historic preservation. Most of the visitors are tourists from out of town and this seems to be an easy demographic to reach. Drayton Hall must focus on its involvement with Charleston City by building in to community partners and expanding on its current interpretive themes in order to increase its visitor numbers from local communities.
Though no conclusive visitor survey has been conducted at Drayton Hall, national trends show that visitors to historic sites and their expectations are changing. High impact and highly interactive museums are thriving while traditional historic house museums are struggling to adapt. In today’s media saturated society, visitors are more technology driven than ever. Historic house museums must search for ways to creatively incorporate new technologies while remaining true to their image, identity, mission, and purpose. This is a momentous task and requires the support of staff, boards, and volunteers, as well as financial investment. Drayton Hall should expand its interpretive focus to bring more local population in and they can do it with the following:
- Focus on plantation farming: economy and community during the Drayton Hall Plantation era. Family life and plantation management. Reconstruction plantation community.
- African American life on the plantation. Sharecropper systems.
- Drayton Hall construction. Architectural changes in the house. The sale of Drayton Hall.
These interpretive themes are concepts that are vital to achieve understanding and appreciation of the historical significance of the people, structures, and events that transpired at Drayton Hall which would hopefully appeal to a larger local population.