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Arcadia: Sporting series goes beyond the gates at historic plantation

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Participants in a program sponsored by Hobcaw Barony this month will get the rare opportunity to visit and learn about another plantation on the Waccamaw River that attracted the rich and powerful to its beautiful grounds.

Matt Balding, grandson of George Vanderbilt and son of present owner Lucille Pate, will welcome guests to Arcadia Plantation’s gardens, outbuildings and grounds as part of Hobcaw’s four-part series called “Plantation Sportsmen” Jan. 29 and 30.

Opening night of the program will begin with a catered dinner by chef Jeff Tuttle at Hobcaw House and conclude with a lecture by Stephen Huffius, editor of the autobiography “Neal Cox of Arcadia Plantation” and co-author of “Northern Money, Southern Land,” documenting the social and economic transformation of the Lowcountry .

A day-long field trip, “Arcadia Plantation from the River to the Sea,” will be conducted Jan. 30 and include a tour of the 6-acre gardens that were the life work of Cox under the guidance of plantation owners Isaac Emerson, George Vanderbilt and finally Mrs. Pate. It will include an interpretive tour by Hobcaw’s Lee Brockington and Richard Camlin and picnic lunch at Arcadia with a side trip to the rice chimney at Fairfield Plantation and conclude with a visit to DeBordieu Island and a hike into the maritime forest, once the site of 19th century summer cottages. Cost of the two-day event is $150 per person.

Emerson, a pharmacist who amassed a fortune off his invention of Bromo-Seltzer, bought 12,000 acres of plantation land at the western end of Waccamaw Neck that included the 18th-century mansion at Prospect Hill. President James Monroe visited Prospect Hill in 1819, and George Washington stayed at nearby Clifton during his Southern Tour. Emerson combined eight plantations under a new name, Arcadia, that rivaled the nearby holdings of Bernard Baruch. They included Prospect Hill, Oak Hill, Forlorn Hope, George Hill, Rose Hill, Clifton, Bannockburn and Fairfield. Clifton had been the home of William “King Billy” Alston, the richest of the Georgetown County rice planters.

Emerson envisioned a large formal garden between his mansion house and the river. A large “E” is the feature of a wrought iron gate at the western end, and two bronze pineapples given him by Anna Hyatt Huntington stand atop a second set of gateway pillars along the path to the house. On the gate facing the gardens and house is a plaque affixed by Emerson that says, “Here art and nature on equal grounds did meet and wrought a picture beautiful which your presence makes complete.” The Emersons hosted Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington when they were seeking land for their own winter retreat.

Emerson added two wings to the main Prospect Hill house and continued landscaping the gardens leading to the river with terraces, pools and gateways. Centering the third terrace is a star-shaped reflection pool. Camellias line the pathways and drives, and azaleas bank each section of the gardens. These varieties were selected because they bloom during the time when the owners were present: winter and early spring.

Emerson hired Cox in 1930 shortly before his untimely death. He left Arcadia to his 16-year-old grandson, George Vanderbilt, who leaned heavily on Cox to run the plantation and continue development of the gardens. “Neal Cox was a father figure for George Vanderbilt,” Brockington said. Cox collaborated with Belle Baruch on grafting camellias after she bought Hobcaw from her father. He developed a snow white variety named for his wife, Mary Alice Cox. One of those bushes grows at Bellefield, most likely a gift.

The gardens are not so much a restoration than a continuation of Emerson’s vision with the exception of an H-shaped garden developed under the Huger family’s ownership and discovered while clearing away debris from Hurricane Hugo. The gardens at Arcadia are in the class with those at Magnolia and Middleton plantations, according to Alberta Lachicotte’s book “Georgetown Rice Plantations.”

Visitors on Jan. 30 will also walk to the pond where President Franklin Roosevelt was invited to fish while he was visiting Hobcaw Barony. The story is that Roosevelt wasn’t catching any fish at Hobcaw or on trips to the ocean and a request was made to Cox to bring the president to Arcadia. “Give me 24 hours,” Cox said, and he sent his staff out to catch fish and stock the pond. FDR’s cane poles bent so steadily that he handed them off to Secret Service guards to bring the fish to shore while his little Scottish terrier barked at the fish flopping on the bank.

Brockington said Cox will be prominent in the dialogue during the tour. “Managing the property is as great a story as owning the property,” she said.

Call Hobcaw Barony at 843-546-4623 or go to hobcawbarony.org to register for the Arcadia program and tour.

Other programs in the “Plantation Sportsmen” series include the plantations on Pee Dee River with Suzanne Linder, author of the “Rice Atlas” in February; the Santee Delta in March and the ACE Basin in April.

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