Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gone With the Wind

More than 100 years before Kansas even became a state, the son of Major John Boone planted live oak trees in 1743, arranging them in two evenly spaced rows. It took two centuries for the massive, moss-draped branches of 88 trees to meet overhead, forming today's natural corridor at Boone Hall Plantation.

As I peered down the long dirt driveway of the plantation near Mt. Pleasant, S.C., I couldn't get the theme song from "Gone With the Wind" out of my head.

We've been celebrating Kansas' 150th birthday this year. But Kansas is just a toddler when compared to the history steeped in one of America's original 13 colonies.

Boone Hall is also one of America's oldest working, living plantations. This is the fourth home on the site, and it's only 75 years old, built in 1936.

They've been continuously growing and producing crops for more than 320 years. Once known for cotton, indigo and pecans, the plantation now operates a U-Pick farm with strawberries, tomatoes, and pumpkins, as well as many other seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Consider this: Our farm just became a Farm Bureau Century Farm a few years ago. They've been growing crops on this plantation for three times as long.

I asked a tour guide if the profits from the U-Pick operation went back into the upkeep of the home and grounds.

He laughed.

"What profits?" he answered.

Our visit to Boone Hall was the only rainy morning of the trip, but the moisture just added to the beauty of the gardens.

(The plantation's smoke house, built around 1750, is in the background.)

There is, of course, a less beautiful side to the story of any plantation. Back in the days before the Civil War, slaves did much of the work to produce the cotton and indigo raised for sale. Eight of the original slaves homes, built between 1790 and 1810, are still on the property.

The photo taken through a window in the slave cabins shows the curved brick wall at the front of the plantation home.

The horses on the property are polo ponies, not the workhorses of the past.

These days, the plantation is open for tours every day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving. And their most lucrative "crop" may be serving as the setting for movies, television and photos, along with the admission fees for individuals and school groups.

You may have seen the Avenue of Oaks featured as Patrick Swayze charged up the lane in the ABC mini-series, North and South, in the 1980s. It was also featured in the movie, Queen, based on Alex Haley's book of the same name.

Southern brides and their photographers also pay for the privilege of using the grounds as a backdrop.

Who could argue with that?

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