Friday, March 23, 2012

Charleston Social Diary

A Map of the Province of South Carolina; James Cook; 1773.
Charleston Social Diary: “Hunting For Lowcountry History”
by Ned Brown
, Winter 2012

Hunting is not a feature one would come to NY Social Diary to read about; but in recent months, NYSD's Augustus Mayhew has been running a series of pictures from the collection of Ellen Glendinning Frazer, which includes hunting vacations on several South Carolina plantations captured back in the 1940s to early 1950s.

Ellen Glendinning Frazer outfitted for the day's shoot in Mackay Point Plantation, Yemassee, South Carolina, December 1945. From the Collection of Lucius Ordway Frazer©.
Chlotilde Martin wrote about dozens of Lowcountry plantations as a reporter for the Charleston News and Courier from 1928 to 1932.
What Frazer’s photo essays are about is a segment of the lifestyle that existed for the wealthy from the 1920s to the 1950s covering: Palm Beach, Newport, Fisher’s Island, Northeast Harbor, and South Carolina. While I knew pieces of the history about hunting plantations in South Carolina, I wanted to learn more about how notable northern families such as the DuPonts, Huttons, Whitneys, Guggenheims, Vanderbilts, Baruchs and others were drawn to the Lowcountry lifestyle extending from just north of Charleston down the coast to Savannah. I also wanted to update the story to today, how hunting has evolved, and is very much a part of the southern lifestyle.

The story really begins back in the 1930s when the publisher of a local newspaper, the Charleston News and Courier, hired a young woman reporter named Chlotilde R. Martin of Beaufort, SC, and told her to get into her automobile, and find out why all these northerners were buying so many plantations for their personal enjoyment – many of which were used for just a couple of months each year by their owners. What came of Ms. Martin’s work was a local weekly social column called “Lowcountry Gossip” that ran for decades. In recent years, authors Robert B. Cuthbert and Steven G. Hoffius updated Martin’s work, and edited it into a book, Northern Money, Southern Land.

Probably no person can be credited more with the marketing foresight to sell these properties to rich northerners than a local Charleston real-estate man by the name of Elliott Hutson. Hutson recognized these plantations had 3 attractive qualities back during the Depression: their unique beauty, the land was cheap, plentiful, and the labor to maintain them even cheaper. And he had motivated sellers. After the Civil War, it took another 75 years before the Lowcountry area could rebound economically. The “War of Northern Aggression” continued for decades in Washington where northern politicians deprived the South of much needed federal funds to build the local economy.

A case in point about land prices during these times is Kiawah Island, which today is a world-class vacation home community with a resort hotel and spa. General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt has a home there, and Vice-President and Prof. Biden like to vacation there with their children and grand-children.

But back in 1950 when the Vanderhorst family estate wanted to sell Kiawah, and I mean all of it, there was not much there except for an abandoned manor house and an old caretaker who looked after the place.

I am told that the caretaker could be convinced to let the locals hunt the land, which was plentiful with game, for a fifth of whiskey. The first deal the Vanderhorst trustees accepted was for $90,000 from a local group of businessmen, which subsequently fell through when they couldn’t secure the bank financing.
Vanderhorst house on Kiawah island, c. 1930s. Courtesy of Historic Charleston Foundation.
The Vanderhorst family papers (1689-1942). Courtesy of South Carolina Historical Society.
The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
The back-up deal then went to an Aiken, SC timberman by the name of C.C. Royal, who bought it for $125,000. And being that Kiawah was only accessible by boat at the time, Royal invested another $125,000 to build a bridge from the mainland to Kiawah along with the right-of-way. Royal was all-in for $250,000, and immediately proceeded to regain his investment back ten-fold over the next five years by harvesting timber off the island. And once the timber was cleared, he now had the raw land to build beachfront homes.

So, back to Elliott Hutson, and the assemblage of the hunting plantations for rich northerners. A good example is one featured in Frazer’s photographs, Mackay Point Plantation, owned by George B. Widener, former President of Belmont Park and an award-winning horseman.

Hutson actually assembled four contiguous plantations with the land purchased by Widener and originally owned by the Mackay family since the Civil War; hence the name. Widener’s plantation was just south of Charleston in Yemassee, SC, where he could take his private railroad car and the town (what there is of one) had a small rail station.

Widener would use Mackay for just eight weeks each year to hunt and entertain his friends, and as Frazer’s pictures noted, he liked to cook the quail himself on a charcoal grill set up in the field where they were hunting.

Another Hutson assemblage was the 10,000 acres he put together near Mackay Point Plantation for Eugene DuPont III, which became Nemours Plantation, named after the town from which the family emigrated from France. Actually, this is a common practice among prominent South Carolina families of French descent who own hunting plantations.

For instance, the Manigault family still owns Rochelle Plantation north of Charleston on the Santee River, and Rochelle, France is where the family originally came from after King Louis XIV rescinded the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and French Huguenots (Protestants) like the Manigaults, had their rights taken away. A whole passel of Huguenots, many of them prominent merchants, made a speedy departure for the colonies like “Les Carolines” in the New World.
Wolcott Blair and George Widener at Mackay Point Plantation. From the Collection of Lucius Ordway Frazer©.
Today, Nemours Plantation, situated on the Combahee River, has been deed restricted and is now the Nemours Wildlife Foundation. The DuPont descendants still sit on the foundation’s board. The Nature Conservancy has identified the Nemours area as one of the most beautiful and picturesque in the U.S.

Many of Frazer’s pictures running in NYSD feature Gertrude Sanford Legendre, on her family’s plantation, Medway, located just north of Charleston in Goose Creek on a branch of the Cooper River. Sam Stoney, the prior owner of Medway, is reputed to have prayed daily after the Crash of 1929, “Lord, send me a rich Yankee to buy Medway."

Apparently his prayers paid-off when Gertrude and Sidney Legendre bought the plantation as a hunting lodge in 1930. The plantation was originally 12,000 acres, and is still an impressive 6,700 acres today. It was deed-restricted by Gertrude in 1991, so it cannot be developed.

An oft unwritten component of the transfers of numerous South Carolina lands is the role many of the native African-American “Gullah” families have played with them. It is a great story of continuity. When Sam Stoney sold Medway, his only requirement was that the Gourdine family continued to be employed on the new owners and live on the land. That provision has been maintained by the Legendre family wanting the Gourdines to remain connected to Medway even when they sell.

Local real estate gossip is that Legendre’s daughter Bokara “Bobo” Legendre, the noted New York-based artist and writer, has Medway under contract for sale to a foreign individual. It was recently listed for $15,000,000. Bokara’s sister, Landine, also in Frazer’s pictures, married into the aforementioned Manigault family. Who would have thought that of all the wealthy northern social-types who bought property in South Carolina as personal hunting preserves, probably none was a better-known sportsman or accomplished shot than Gertrude Sanford Legendre.
Gertrude Sanford Legendre and Landine Legendre on the lake in Medway Plantation. From the Collection of Lucius Ordway Frazer©.
Medway Plantation, today.
One of the elements that captured my interest in Frazer’s pictures was how these gentlemen and ladies dressed for a day of bird hunting in the field. I recently met a charming and gifted individual at the annual Charleston sportsmen’s show, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition.

His name is Ralph “Lefty” Fabricius, and he is the President and owner of the W.C. Russell Mocassin Company located in Berlin, Wisconsin.  Fabricus wisely married the daughter of the former owner, Bill Gustin, who himself had acquired the company in 1929. Lefty joined in 1956. Russell Mocassin was started in 1898. Fabricius's daughter Sue is in the business as the Plant Manager. The company has 37 employees and makes approximately 12,000 pairs of custom made shoes and hunting boots each year – no more and seeming, rarely less.
Lefty Fabricius showing NB the custom-made Russell hunting boot. Lefty measuring a client. Boots take 5 months to make.
On the back of the Russell catalog is a commentary on traditional field dress:

“In time gone by when gentlemen and ladies went afield, they dressed in natural fibers ... wool trousers, collared shirts and high socks, oiled cotton field coats and fine leather boots. Trousers were normally ‘bloused’ inside the sport’s boots to keep critters, water, dust and cold breezes on the outside where they belong. Very utilitarian. Ryan Stalvey, Creative Director for Sporting Classics magazine, laments the fact that hunting has changed so dramatically in modern times. Stalvey yearns for a return of classic elegance afield—one in which well-dressed outdoorsmen with spirited bird dogs out front once again pursue clever, fast-flying feathered quarry—in a gentlemanly manner.”
Charles Waring III and Dr. Michael Hull. Winter hunters in the Lowcountry.
One such individual who does carry on this sartorial tradition in the field is my literary buddy, Charles Waring III, Publisher of the local social paper, the Charleston Mercury. Waring believes there is a proper way to dress when hunting that elevates the sport, and it does not include “camo” garb. Of Elliott Hutson and his contributions, Charles likes to say, “He shot on more South Carolina plantations than General Sherman.”

The recent winter edition of the Charleston Mercury magazine is devoted to hunting and the outdoors. The magazine also contains some wonderful field pictures by Elizabeth Sher, a noted southern photographer who captures pictures of fox chases, bird hunting and other game. Sher’s work can viewed in more detail at www.elizabethsher.com.
Bill Green, famous Gullah chef and professional deer driver, in pursuit.
Waring summed-up his commentary on appreciating the South Carolina countryside as follows, “When we bring our families into the field, we continue a tradition of sportsmanship, simple appreciation of our surroundings or a deeper understanding of our flora and fauna within our woods and waters.”

And speaking of the future of field sportsmanship, the recent Wildlife Exposition held a dog dock-diving competition to see which dog could leap the furthest to retrieve its prey. One of the contestants was a standard poodle named, Mose, and his junior handler was none other than Gertrude “Gigi” Legendre Manigault (ably assisted by her older sister, India), daughter of Pierre and Elizabeth “Lee” Van Alen Manigault. Gigi and India are great-grand-daughters of the legendary Gertrude Sanford Legendre. The circle of female sportsmen continues in the Lowcountry.
India, Gigi Manigault, and Mose in line for the jump warm-up.
Papa Pierre Manigault (with Mott) watching Gigi and Mose in line.
Gertrude "Gigi" Legendre Manigault preps Mose for his jump.
Mose makes his retrieval.
 

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