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Hobcaw Barony: Virtual tours will expand views of historic property

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Tom Lacas felt as if he knew his way around Friendfield Village at Hobcaw Barony before he actually visited it.

He had explored the former slave street with its tiny white houses, church and doctor’s office virtually on a website in production called betweenthewaters.org. He had watched a video of the late Minnie Kennedy, a child of Friendfield Village, lead videographers on a tour, recalling how Methodists and Baptists shared the church and a doctor visited on Wednesdays. “The first time I saw Friendfield Village,” Lacas told a group of 35 scholars, fellow web designers, South Carolina Educational Television officials and visitors to Hobcaw last week, “I felt like I had been here before.”

ETV and the ETV Endowment have received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for nearly $300,000 to build an interactive website exploring the history, nature and culture of Hobcaw Barony.

The website, titled “Between the Waters,” has also been funded by a grant from the Humanities Council of South Carolina to document work done at Hobcaw by the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. Lacas said the grant is one of the NEH’s biggest of the year for web development.

The project will take the ETV documentary “The Baruchs of Hobcaw,” archival film, photos, maps and recordings and combine them with new techniques that open the 16,000-acre property in detail online. A beta site has been in the works for 18 months. The grant will fund its completion. “We want to make everything feel more immersive,” Lacas said. Visitors to Hobcaw will be able to download an iPad app in the future and listen to the interviews as they walk around the property, he said.

Betsy Newman, the ETV projects director who produced the documentaries “The Baruchs of Hobcaw” and “Saving Sandy Island,” said she visited the Waccamaw Neck during the summers as a child and remembered it as a mysterious and fascinating place. She said a member of the ETV Endowment called after visiting Hobcaw and said it had everything — history, nature, sex — and would make a great documentary. “This project,” she said, “has changed my life. It’s meant so much to me.”

She told the people who gathered at Hobcaw last week that the project has implications up and down the Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor, across the state, nation and world. “The Baruchs, the African Americans who lived here, the native Americans whose imprint is felt very deeply here, the Jewish tradition, the difference in gender all come together at Hobcaw in the most amazing way,” she said.

Using the documentary as a starting point, ETV obtained a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to do a prototype. “This is very much the beginning of the implementation of the website,” Newman said. “The prototype is really good. The whole thing is just going to knock your socks off.”

The interface is based on a drawing, “Chart of Hobcaw Barony,” by artist Rockwell Kent, best known for his illustrations of the 1930 edition of “Moby Dick.” Kent was a guest at Hobcaw Barony in 1927. It will include virtual tours of Hobcaw House, and other buildings as well as a walk through a longleaf pine forest with Baruch Foundation executive director George Chastain. Others include visits to a rice field and Friendfield Village and viewing Clambank Landing from a fire tower.

The virtual tours will use a new interface developed by Swiss designers that allows the viewer the perspective of walking down a street or rowing through the water. The virtual tours inside the house and buildings will be enhanced by using robotics to turn the cameras.

The present day will be continually mixed with history via multi-media. Film of Belle Baruch riding in Europe will dissolve into old black-and-white photos and then into the present-day stable where her horse Souriant lived and died. “She is the reason why this is not a Hilton Hotel today,” Newman said. “How proud she would be to see 50 years after her dream come true: this property devoted to education, history, arts and sciences.”

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