The Ebb and The Flow

2019 Project Spotlight Series: Boone Hall Plantation

Boone Hall Plantation, 599 acres, Charleston County

Earlier this spring, when The Post and Courier kicked off a new series entitled “Boom and Balance,” they reported that the population of the tri-county region had recently surpassed 800,000–a figure researchers anticipated we would reach in 2030. 

There are few places where this staggering growth is more evident than Mt. Pleasant. Drive over the Ravenel Bridge and up through Mt. Pleasant, and you’ll find neighborhoods and shopping plazas where there were once open spaces. Just past Long Point Road along Highway 17 North lies one exception: Boone Hall Plantation. For over 300 years, Boone Hall has been a working farm, first as a lucrative plantation and today as a one of the most popular attractions in the Charleston area. 

Owned by Elizabeth McRae Peterson and the late William Harris McRae, whose parents purchased Boone Hall in 1955 and opened it to the public in 1956, Boone Hall could have been sold and redeveloped. And not on a small scale. Current zoning would have allowed for as many as 1,800 homes, and a sale of their property would have made the McRae family tens of millions of dollars. 

But Elizabeth and Willie wanted something different for Boone Hall. Instead of cashing in, they placed Boone Hall’s 599 acres under conservation easement with LLT, preserving forever its forests and working farmland for agriculture, education, and tourism. “I first fell in love with this place during my childhood,” said Mr. McRae shortly before his death. He moved there with his family from Ellerbe, North Carolina when he was just one and lived there ever since. “It has been hard work. By placing Boone Hall in a conservation easement with Lowcountry Land Trust, I know that the vision my parents had for this special place can live on forever.”

“Protecting Boone Hall–this is truly ‘community’ conservation,” explains Ashley Demosthenes, president and CEO, Lowcountry Land Trust. ”It grounds the region with a sense of place and connects people to the land through its programs and shared experiences.”

Together the Charleston County Greenbelt Fund and the South Carolina Conservation Bank provided critical funding to purchase the “bargain sale” easement, conservation-speak for a sale in which the landowner requests compensation for only a fraction of the value of the land. In the case of Boone Hall, which is valued at over $30M, the McRae family donated more than 75% of the land value. That makes their gift one of the most valuable private donations to conservation in the history of South Carolina.

“Boone Hall is certainly one of the most significant conservation projects in South Carolina in the past generation, perhaps ever,” explains Raleigh West, executive director, South Carolina Conservation Bank. “Given its history, public use, scenic beauty and the growth pressure in Charleston, it’s in a class of its own. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. McRae and his family.” 

Because the truth is, Boone Hall’s development once seemed inevitable. The McRaes proved all of us wrong. They showed us that anything is possible–the conservation of one of the last remaining green spaces in one of the fastest growing cities on the East Coast–even the impossible.

[At the May 21st Board of Trustees meeting, the LLT Board recognized the McRae family, owners and stewards of Boone Hall Plantation, with a resolution honoring Elizabeth McRae Peterson and William Harris McRae. Boone Hall Plantation is a monumental land conservation project, one of the most valuable private donations to conservation in the state of South Carolina. Thanks to their generosity, Boone Hall “will always be a magical, mystical place.”  Read the full resolution here.]

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