Spend some time walking around the grounds and inside the historic Ashtabula house near Pendleton, South Carolina, and after a while the typical reminders of modernity start to fade into the background. The mind wanders and the colonial-era brick underfoot inside what once was a traveler’s tavern attached to Ashtabula’s main house seems to almost whisper its secrets. What joys and sorrows did these floors witness? What would the 200-year-old white oak trees out front say if they had the words?
The two-story, clapboard main house at Ashtabula dates back to 1828 and was built by Lewis Ladson Gibbes and his wife Maria daughter at a time when the Upstate was known as the “up-country” and had little more than rural farms and small towns dotting its rolling hills. Ashtabula was sold several times in the decade that passed, and the families who owned Ashtabula grew rice, cotton, and vegetables and raised Hereford and Jersey cattle.
In 1961, the home and ten remaining acres of land were donated to the Pendleton Historic Foundation, which restored the home to its former glory. Today, the foundation offers tours throughout the year led by expert guides knowledgeable about both Ashtabula and the families who called the plantation home.
Stepping inside from the exquisite wrap-around porch, the home inside is filled with elegant antebellum antiques, many having been donated by the descendents of the property’s former owners. Guides tell stories about the history of the home’s owners, ranging from simple Christmas tales and stories of visiting politicians like John C. Calhoun, to more harrowing bits of history, as when William Warren, who owned Ashtabula in 1865, was held at gunpoint next to one of the large oak trees while Union soldiers raided the house.
But perhaps the most powerful voices from Ashtabula’s past come from what remains of the recollections of the slaves who harvested the crops, raised the cattle, and lived a much humbler existence than their masters in the main house. One story told at a recent Christmas reenactment was of a young slave boy who was granted a two-week pass to visit his mother, whom he hadn’t seen in two years, after she was sold away from Ashtabula to another plantation.
This important and at times deeply personal history of hardship and joy, a story filled with both prosperity and poverty, is told with great respect and attention to detail by the folks of the Pendleton Historic Foundation. And while the Upstate is certainly a much different place than when cattle roamed the fields at Ashtabula, stepping onto these historic grounds makes the 19th century seem much closer, at least for an afternoon.
For more information on visiting Astabula, visit the Pendleton Historic Foundation’s website.
Christopher George is a freelance writer and multimedia professional from Spartanburg. He is a former editor and publisher of the Spartanburg Spark, and his writing and video work has appeared in numerous online and print publications including Mountain Xpress in Asheville, NC and in titles by the Hub City Writers Project.