A Visit to Rose Hill Plantation in Union County, SC

The first stop on my Southern Campaign Weekend Road Trip was a plantation that was first established in the early 1800s, after the American Revolution: Rose Hill Plantation. Located in Union County, SC, within the Sumter National Forest, the Rose Hill Plantation Historic Site is home to Rose Hill House, the rose garden the house is named after, and several outbuildings including the kitchen. There is also a nature trail that leads back to the remains of a tenant farm house that dates back to when the plantation shifted from slave labor to tenant farming after the Civil War.

Built somewhere between 1811 and 1830 by the Gist family, Rose Hill House was originally a brick Georgian style house, but it was remodeled in the 1850s and 1860s to a Greek Revival style. The historic site offers three tours a day of the house, which is partially restored; they’re still doing work in some areas and not all of it is open to the public. Adjacent to the house is a rose garden; the plantation’s rose garden is what the house was named after and the current rose garden is planted to represent what they think the original looked like. While entry to the park is free, the house tour is $10, but very much worth it. William Henry Gist, the owner of the plantation was the Governor of South Carolina just prior to the Civil War and played a key role in secession. The tour covers this, the family slave holdings, and how the family treated slaves and then the former slave tenant farmers after the war. While there is plenty of discussion of the ornate house, slavery and later tenant farming is not swept under the rug.

There are also several outbuildings that remain, including the kitchen, which has been restored. Part of the kitchen presents how the slave cook would have worked and another portion serves as the site’s gift shop/admission desk. Another of the outbuildings is a recreated loom house with weaving loom to represent the labor of the five slave seamstresses who made the clothing for the plantation’s slaves and possibly some of the family members as well as other textiles. If you walk the park’s trail, you come around to the granite footings and what’s left of the brick fireplace of a tenant farm house. This is really the only slave/tenant structure left; they have been doing archaeological searches for any remains of the slave cabins, but so far they’ve come up empty handed.

The Rose Hill Plantation Historic Site is definitely worth visiting if you’re anywhere near Union County or the Sumter National Forest. The tour is definitely worth taking, as it ties the house and its owner to the history of slavery and the civil war, the transition from slavery to tenant farming during Reconstruction, and the experience of the former slaves during Reconstruction.

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